The ‘70s were a strange time in the United States. After the hippies had their tie-dye-tinged days in a world where everything was perfect and nothing hurt, apathy and a crippling recession led to a feeling of uncertainty about what lay ahead. Punk was on the rise, drugs and sex flowed freely, and cartoonist Mimi Pond, needing funds in her last year of art school, got a job at a restaurant in Oakland and watched the madness flow by.
Pond’s first full-length graphic novel, “Over Easy,” gives readers a glimpse of the late ‘70s Bay Area from the point of view of Margaret, an illustration student who takes a dishwashing job at the Imperial Cafe in Oakland to make ends meet as she finishes college. From her humdrum life in San Diego to the cultural mecca of the Bay, innocent and bright-eyed Margaret — or Madge, as she is known in the restaurant — gets a firsthand look at the downfall of one counterculture and the cocaine-fueled ascendence of another.
In “Over Easy,” the Imperial acts as a space where hippiedom, punk rock and the general weirdness of the world can intersect. Fast-wheeling waitresses sling platters of brunch foods and sweet-talk customers, doing lines of coke in the walk-in fridge in between shifts. Foul-mouthed cooks berate and slander anyone who happens to be in the path of their self-important rage, and everyone seems to be having sex with everyone else, subsequently having their hearts broken.
It’s a lot to process in the span of 250 pages, and it reflects the craziness and instability of the time.
One of the things that makes the book so fun to read is the very fact that it is so fast-paced and unorganized. Pond’s loose, doodle-like drawing style does a great job following Margaret’s awkward but successful interactions with fellow cafe employees, illustrating what it means to be a young person in such a tumultuous period.
Another major strength of the book is its relatability, especially to college-age kids coming into their own today. Margaret is eager to become a part of this generation of young punks and hipsters, but one simply does not try to be hip: The hipness must come naturally, something people still struggle to realize. As she recounts ineffective attempts at casual hookups with her co-workers and late-night shows in San Francisco without a way to get home aside from the East Bay bus — something Berkeley students can definitely relate to — we get a sense of how out of her element she is.
Madge realizes that her fellow Imperial employees are just as lost as she is, and there really is no one way to make heads or tails of the strange world of the book. Pond does an amazing job of depicting the strangeness through her art and seafoam-green color palette. Her wide range of characters, each with his or her own fiery outlooks and styles, make “Over Easy” a captivating read as you find yourself wondering who Margaret will come across next in her coming-of-age journey.
Madge — and the reader — figures out at the end of the story that it doesn’t matter whom you sleep with or what drugs you take. Some people cover themselves in black leather, listen to punk and take speed; others smoke tons of weed and try to hold on to the rose-tinted vibe of the ‘60s. People do what they will to develop their identities, and no single process takes you on the road of self-discovery better than another. “Over Easy” takes place in the ‘70s, but the message behind the madness resonates today.
Mimi Pond will speak about “Over Easy” at Mama’s Royal Cafe in Oakland on April 17 at 7 p.m.
Youssef Shokry covers literature. Contact him at [email protected].