'Over Easy': Mimi Pond Talks About Her Memoir of 1970s Cafe Life

The LA Times cartoonist and former TV writer on her debut graphic novel, and coming to terms with the fact that she was creating a graphic novel at all.
The LA Times cartoonist and former TV writer on her debut graphic novel, and coming to terms with the fact that she was creating a graphic novel at all.

Over Easy, the fantastic new memoir by Mimi Pond, marks another new achievement for the LA Times and National Lampoon cartoonist and occasional television writer (Amongst her accomplishments, the first full-length episode of The Simpsons): her first graphic novel.

“I have always considered myself first and foremost a cartoonist,” Pond told THR about the move into the new format. “Being a TV writer was definitely the departure for me, rather than the other way around. My dad was an amateur cartoonist and a great fan of comics and I was raised to believe that is what I was going to do. I spent 8 years in New York doing primarily comics and humor books — five of them, beginning with The Valley Girls' Guide to Life — and only kind of wandered into doing a little TV writing.”

Over Easy tells the story of Margaret, a student in 1970s California who goes from the overly-sincere world of art school to the exciting, novel and not altogether safe world of the Imperial Cafe in Oakland. Based on Pond’s own experiences — the Imperial is based on Mama’s Royal Cafe, which remains open to this day — it’s an honest take on a particularly important time in her life.

“The story of Over Easy is one that I have been waiting to tell from the first day I went to work in that restaurant,” she explained. “It was always a complete compulsion. The characters were so complex and the place itself visually was so rich that it was like a character, it just begged to be told.”

It’s taken 15 years for Pond to complete the book, with some false starts along the way. “I initially wrote it as a conventional fictionalized memoir,” she admits. “There was a very early false start, where I tried telling it from both Madge's and Lazlo's point of view. It didn't go over well. I realized it had to be a single voice. I finished it and my agent couldn't sell it. I finally had to break down and admit to myself that it wanted to be a graphic novel."

The problem with the idea of telling the story as a full-length graphic novel -- Over Easy runs 270 pages, and only tells the first part of the story -- was that, Pond said, "the amount of drawing involved was so daunting, for someone with two children and a house to manage. I kept saying to myself, ‘I could never do that much drawing!" and then this little voice in the back of my head said, "Yeah... but you like to draw.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, yeah! I forgot!’ I mean, you really, really, really have to like to draw to take on something like this."

For a short time, Pond considered a more cinematic alternative. “Everyone who experienced the scene there has agreed that it has always felt like a movie,” she said, “but the longer I spent in Hollywood, the more I realized that if I wrote it as a screenplay, it could be taken from me at any time and ruined, or simply dropped down a well. Since cartooning is my first love and my passion, it seemed like the obvious way to tell the story the best way I could.”

The result is something that’s clearly filled with affection for her days at Mama’s Royal, but unafraid to recognize the reality of those days. “I chose fiction because there were just so many people whose lived and swirled around the place. I couldn't let it turn into a Russian novel,” Pond joked. “I wanted to capture the essence and spirit of the time and place and people. Facts can be so dry.”

Over Easy is released today, April 15; you can read a preview below.