Like hip hop, graphic novels are a self-referential form. You can draw? Your life is of interest. End of. Now Mimi Pond has had an interesting life so far, writing for The Simpsons, National Lampoon, Village Voice, New York Times, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Her latest book, The Customer is Always Wrong, doesn’t deal with any of that, though. This is a lengthy ensemble piece centring on a restaurant Pond worked in when she was cutting her creative teeth.
To begin with, the book sets itself up as Amy Schumer-lite: young woman makes her way in the world, shacks up with man who seems interesting but who eventually turns out to be a deadbeat. Gradually, however, the cast becomes more extended – Lazlo, the owner of the restaurant, Camille, a waitress with a drug dealing boyfriend called Neville, Persephone, Lazlo’s rebellious daughter, and then there’s Babette and Barnardo and Sammy and Frank and Ruthie – and before you know it, the book is coasting along on a sunny early John Irving sort of vibe, with the Mimi manqué a loose lynchpin around which various dramas unfold.
There’s a light touch to proceedings – you can see how Pond’s art would easily translate into a New Yorker cartoon – and, although there are not much in the way of actual markers as to the time in which the story is set (we sense Pond has worked hard to create a book that functions both as early memoir and plain old story about a young woman making her way), there is a slightly dated, cosy feel to the story (this is not the graphic equivalent of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More). Yes there are drug stories, yes there is violence, yes there is heartbreak and hardship – and the cast wouldn’t be out of place in a Lou Reed song. But the delivery – the art and the pacing – lacks the punch of Lou Reed. This is Lou Reed as covered by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.
Any Cop?: Definitely of interest to Mimi Pond fans, possibly of interest to graphic memoir fans, a footnote in the literary tradition of writers who shed their skins to move to New York and make a name for themselves.