Sunday, March 29, 2015

'Unicorns are everywhere': Cartoonist Dana Simpson shares lessons on friendship in comic strip 'Phoebe and Her Unicorn'

Published: Sunday, March 29 2015 12:03 a.m. MDT
Updated: 8 hours ago
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On March 30, the comic strip “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” will begin syndication in newspapers across the United States, including the Deseret News. For cartoonist Dana Simpson, it’s a “very, very exciting moment.”
Hitting someone with a rock may be an unconventional way to make friends, but it works for 9-year-old Phoebe when an errant stone she skips across a pond collides with the face of a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils.
Marigold feels indebted to Phoebe for accidentally freeing her — she could not tear herself away from the sight of her own beauty reflected in the water — and offers to grant Phoebe a wish. Thinking on her feet, Phoebe wishes for the unicorn to be her best friend. Marigold reluctantly agrees, and so begins the adventures of “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” a comic strip by Seattle-area cartoonist Dana Simpson.
On March 30, “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” will begin syndication in newspapers across the United States, including the Deseret News.
For Simpson, 37, it’s a “very, very exciting moment.”
“I’ve really always loved comic strips since I was a little kid,” Simpson said in an interview with the Deseret News. “My mother had this big ‘Peanuts’ treasury that was my first exposure to comics, and I remember reading that cover-to-cover and being fascinated by it. I started trying to draw my own comics as early as second or third grade. It was just kind of always something I did, always something I wanted to do.”
She wrote several comics throughout her childhood and teen years, continuing to create during and after college, including her Web comic “Ozy and Millie,” which gathered a large following online during its nine-year run. In 2009, she won the Amazon/Universal Uclick Comic Strip Superstar Contest and was awarded a two-year development contract. In April 2012, the comic “Heavenly Nostrils” was launched online, where it continues to be published and was recently renamed “Phoebe and Her Unicorn.”
When Simpson first started developing the strip that would become “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” it was called “Girl” and didn’t have a unicorn in it. The little girl who would become Phoebe hung out and talked with animals in the forest, and one day a unicorn showed up.

“It was originally a one-off gag that there was a unicorn there, but as I was drawing that strip, I just sort of knew: This character needs to hang around,” Simpson said. “She was like the missing piece. And that made sense to me because I like unicorns … but it wasn’t something I necessarily so much planned as something that happened, and then I realized, ‘Oh, that’s it!’”
Some of Marigold’s personality was influenced by the description of a unicorn in one of Simpson’s favorite books, “The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle.
“The way that the unicorn’s described in the first scene, where she lives near a crystal pool so she can stare at her reflection, I sort of took that idea and cranked it up to 11,” Simpson said. “When Phoebe finds Marigold, she’s just staring at her reflection in a pool, and I try to suggest that this is the sort of thing that happens to her a lot. She just sort of walks around in contemplation of her own beauty all the time.”
Marigold’s full name, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, came about by way of an online unicorn name generator.
“I typed ‘Dana Claire Simpson’ … and it gave me back ‘Marigold Celestial Nostrils,’” Simpson said. She changed “Celestial” to “Heavenly” to avoid confusion between her unicorn and the character Princess Celestia from “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”
In contrast to Marigold and all of her magic, beauty and all-around splendor, there’s Phoebe, a smart and sweet but otherwise fairly average fourth-grader.

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