Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 by Laura Braun
Mimi Pond is a career cartoonist, illustrator, author, and mother
Chances are likely you're already familiar with cartoonist and illustrator Mimi Pond's (Drawing 1978) work.
Of her five books, The Valley Girls’ Guide to Life is a 1980s cult classic, and she holds the credit for writing the first episode of The Simpsons -- a job Matt Groening, the show’s creator, personally offered her.
Pond's latest book, Over Easy, released in April to rave reviews.
She also furnished Seventeen magazine with a full-page comic for each issue during the early 1980s as well as worked with National Lampoon, the Village Voice, the New York Times, Adweek, and many more publications.
Breaking into Show Business
Pond’s first big break was a weekly cartooning gig for The Spectator, a somewhat illicit Berkeley publication. The clippings helped her get a foot in the door at National Lampoon in New York, where she eventually moved and met her husband, the renowned artist Wayne White.
The couple collaborated on an episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a cult-television favorite.
Over Easy: From Slow Start to Best Seller
Last month Pond celebrated the publication of her graphic novel Over Easy, a semi-autobiographical chronicle of her transition from full-time CCA art student to 20-something waitress learning the ways of the real world.
Over Easy has quickly made its way up the New York Times best-seller list in the hardcover graphic book category, much to the delight of Pond, who has dreamed of this day for years.
Citing the book as the most candid thing she’s ever written, she says the process of getting it out of her mind and onto paper was a journey that took a bit of encouragement.
“I started working on it 15 years ago, but it was coming slowly. Then one day I had a conversation with Art Spiegelman, the author of the graphic novel Maus, and he told me, ‘Just do it!’ When Art Spiegelman says ‘Just do it,’ you kind of have to.”
Inspiration with a Side of Hash Browns
It wasn’t just anywhere Pond waitressed, but at Mama’s Royal Café at 40th and Broadway in Oakland, which was then, and still is, a popular hangout for CCA students.
Pond fell short of graduation by one year due to financial hardship. Looking for an adventurous life change, she picked up a job washing dishes, and eventually moved up to the counter as a waitress.
Even at the time, she says, she knew she was gathering material that would one day make a great story.
Waitressing Source of Rich Material
Mama’s was special because it provided not only a paycheck but also daily inspiration. The boss and the staff had a mutual understanding the eatery was merely a day job -- a way to pay the bills while everyone worked hard outside the café to launch their preferred careers.
“The most important thing about working there was that you never felt like just a waitress. You were an artist, there to spy and take notes and incorporate it all into your artwork.
“A lot of CCA grads worked there, and I watched as they went from the art-school world to the working world and its many temptations. Real life can whittle away at your dreams, and you have to decide if you’re going to continue to make art.
“If you want to do it really bad, you’ll find a way.”
Three Decades of Mama’s
“A lot of Over Easy,” Pond continues, “is about navigating of the moral swamp of the 1970s. There were a lot of gray areas then. ‘Just say no’ didn’t exist. It was ‘Just say yes . . . to everything!’ And we did.
“But I think, especially if you’re an artist, it’s important to go out in life when you’re young and be stupid and make mistakes in order to get material. Sometimes you just need to wake up in the back of a speeding car not knowing where you’re going.”
Community as Inspiration
Many of Over Easy’s characters are still in touch with Pond. Some even still work at the café. Tragically, the inspiration behind Martha -- one of the main characters -- passed away just days before the book’s release.
Pond’s return to the café for a reading that week was bittersweet, as staff and regulars mourned the passing of one of their own and celebrated a permanent remembrance of her.
“It is fiction; I’ve changed a lot of the details. But the characters are inspired by real people. It was a little surreal being back in the Bay Area for the launch. I was nervous, but also really excited. When the owner saw his copy, it was so fun watching him read it.”
Cartooning at CCA
Pond first honed her craft at CCA(C) in the 1970s. “I visited the campus one day -- walked up a hill and through some trees and wandered into the studios,” she recalls.
“People talked to me and told me they liked their classes, and I just felt like I was home. It was very welcoming and cozy. The whole Printmaking department was great.”
Although CCA’s MFA in Comics wouldn’t be inaugurated for another few decades, the young artist found ways to incorporate writing and illustration into her coursework wherever she could.
It was in one particular printmaking course taught by Betsy Davids she began to see the potential of her pending degree.
“I had always loved books, and the idea that I could write one and do the drawings felt unreal. But empowering, of course!”
Pond says it was Davids’s supportive words and unique project assignments that helped her find her place in the art world.
“Betsy invited me to do a book with her. I had made three books in her class already, including one fashioned as a purse and another as a wallet. The one I did with her was made with a shower cap.
“She also encouraged me to write in my own voice -- to write how I talk -- which was exactly the encouragement I needed. It was so gratifying.
“She couldn’t have given me more as a teacher.”
A Family of Artists
Pond took some time off from her career to raise her two kids, who are following in the same footsteps as their parents. Their daughter, Lulu, started at Cooper Union last year and their son, Woodrow, is graduating from CCA this year, with a concentration in Painting/Drawing.
“Art was always kind of a family activity that they gravitated toward. We got lucky!”