In Conversation with ‘Welcome to Mina’s’ Editor Emily Lampson

Edited by Emily Lampson and featuring stories from over 20 creators, Welcome to Mina’s is the latest anthology to be published by Cloudscape Comics. The book collects stories set in a fictional diner in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The heartwarming comics that fill its pages follow the diner, its employees, and its patrons from its inception in 1919 up until today. This past week I (virtually) sat down to chat with Emily to find out what inspired Welcome to Mina’s.

Kathleen: Where did the idea for Welcome to Mina’s come from? What was the catalyst that made you want to make this book?

Emily: We talked a lot about the idea of doing a diner anthology inspired by a place near Cloudscape HQ and I decided one year I would pitch it as an idea. The shared universe and historical angles came from feedback while workshopping the idea.

Kathleen: Welcome to Mina’s is set in a very specific part of Vancouver—what are you hoping the book shows its readers about the city, and the Downtown Eastside in particular?

Emily: The Downtown Eastside is a strange area to explain concisely. It’s a place where you can have a good time, there are many restaurants there. Food establishments in DTES have a unique relationship with the area. It is both iconic and notorious, as you can see the extreme wealth and poverty there. There’s a place to eat everywhere but not everyone can go eat at those restaurants. DTES is home to a lot of positive and negative history, such as the Anti-Asian riots, covered in one of the stories Our Long National Nightmare is Over. In another story, Helping Hands, it shows a more positive interaction between a homeless person and a former volunteer based on the writer’s own experiences. However, many stories are of just regular people just passing through.  The area is complex in it’s experiences but it’s definitely not a boring place. I think, for it’s strengths and flaws, represents Vancouver the most.

Kathleen: The stories in this book all touch on various moments of Vancouver history. Do you have a favourite historical tidbit about our city—whether or not it made its way into the book?

Emily: I find it really cool that Jimi Hendrix has history and family here. I first learned of this by encountering the Jimi Hendrix shrine in DTES. I also met the owner at an event I was hired to do artwork for. Hogan’s Alley is overall interesting  but I think maybe is a topic best explored on it’s own.

Kathleen: What role do you think historical fiction plays in our lives and the narratives we create about the past?

Emily: Historical fiction can allow for a more empathetic story to be told. History is facts and while you can imagine what the lives of those people were like, it’s easier when there’s a character to follow along with. I think with empathizing and understanding historical fictional characters or somewhat fictional accounts of real people, you gain a different outlook of a historical event than you normally would. Sometimes you can see that point of view because somethings remain the same. While a very different background, the characters from my story are also partially based on my own experiences, because unfortunately in some regards they haven’t changed. Being of mixed race still can garner some strange looks and reactions.

Kathleen:. What’s your favourite part of the creative process? Writing, drawing, something else entirely?

Emily:  Drawing definitely. I particularly love drawing characters.

Kathleen: Welcome to Mina’s revolves around the titular diner and how it is a meeting place and space for community. Do you have any places like this in Vancouver? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?

Emily:  The Cloudscape studio itself and the meetings! But the idea for the book comes from near the Cloudscape studio. There’s a place we love to go to before or after meetings called Duffin’s. We get donuts from there and bring it to the house too. My mother and I like to talk to one of the waitresses there.  Another inspiration was this diner in Downtown Eastside I went to with some classmates and had the thickest french toast ever. I unfortunately do not remember the name, just vaguely what it looked like. But the experience at that place is what I remember most that day. Another favourite from years ago was Fresgo’s and I used to go there all the time.  Before the pandemic, there were a lot of restaurants I liked to meet at with friends.

Kathleen: What’s your go-to order when you eat at a diner?

Emily: This depends where I go. Bacon cheeseburger with a side of gravy to dip it in at Duffin’s. I like to get large filling meals, if it comes with gravy, I’m partial to it. 

Kathleen: Do you have any tips you’d like to share with readers who might be thinking about curating and editing their own anthologies?

Emily: 1) Have someone to work with. While I did have assistance from Cloudscape, I hadn’t considered getting another editor, I had just focused on polishing my submission and other details. Having another set of eyes will help with looking for errors. 2) Have a unique email and use gmail’s labels! It really helped with organization. 3) Be flexible and able to improvise. Editing is a two-way process that may involve compromise. There might be a way to fix something big without starting over.

You can find out more about Welcome to Mina’s over on Kickstarter. The campaign ends in mid-December.