In the Evening Standard tonight, Hermione Eyre, introducing her review of Dancing in the Dark: My Struggle 4, summarizes David Shields’ Reality Manifesto as predicting “that literature would be at its sharpest when it was most real, when it’s genres were most blurred and, one might add, its authors, their ex-partners and relatives most embarrassed. Realism, with its good-mannered conventions, was to be replaced by the exciting and dangerous process of incorporating raw life into literature.
The story of an art student working in a diner is a familiar trope, and for anyone who has worked in any creative field, it has a truth. Over Easy by Mimi Pond isdescribed by the publisher, Drawn and Quarterly, as “fictionalized memoir”, and it straddles that divide nicely. There is a sense that it is lived experience, but the lives of some of the customers and the other workers in the diner seem to be heightened.
Madge starts out studying art at San Diego Community College, but needing to move away from home, she transfers to California College of the Arts in Oakland. Until she gets a letter in her last year saying that there is no more financial aid, she is trying to make her way as an artist. It is at this point when she talks her way into a dish washing job at the Imperial Cafe. Lazlo, the general manager, makes new hires tell him bad jokes, and Madge’s is bad. She is the observer of the other workers and the customers watching as they go through bad and worse relationships, show bad and worse attitudes towards one another, and yet, despite tensions, the group are close, and Madge is drawn into the community bad and good.
Pond’s drawings have an wide-eyed innocence about them even when they are recounting sex in tatty flats and and the difficulty of making ends meet. Madge eventually becomes a waitress, and the story ends at poetry reading organized by Lazlo. At this point, Madge has a gig drawing for the weekly paper with all the sex ads, but she is moving on. Pond went on to become a television writer, cartoonist and illustrator. This is her first graphic novel. A life re-imagined. A story well told. Wry humour, with the real frustration of trying to make it when you don’t know where you are heading.
Pascal has broken up with his girlfriend, he’s sleeping on a friend’s floor, and he’s a writer, and he doesn’t know where his next book is coming from. Then one day, he hurts himself running. His life has hit the pavement face first. One day he spots a woman shoplifting a book from a book shop, and when he runs into a second time, he follows her and finds out where she works, and contrives to run into her at a health club. and they end up going to a party together and beginning to date. She has stolen other books, and Pascal tries to help her stop, and to find out what happens, read the book. The drawings are scratchy. Detailed but suggestive. Somehow this gives a nervous energy to the panels. Neither Pascal nor the women are people it would be easy to hang out with, but I wanted to see how his self-righteousness and her petty callousness about her stealing, and I did. So many of the graphic novels I am reading these days are about people trying to find themselves and actually doing it in various ways. I don’t know how much of it is fiction and how much memoir, but the scripts and the drawings allow the characters to close in on your life and your feelings. Unlike a movie, you can set the speed yourself, unlike a novel, it reaches you verbally and visually–maybe I should begin thinking of the to the Howard Gardner School – Seven Ways of Reading. The theft is petty; the people are petty, but real.