Congratulations to creator Dana Simpson on the 10th anniversary of Phoebe and Her Unicorn. After winning the Amazon-sponsored Comic Strip Superstar Contest in 2009, Andrews McMeel Syndication signed Dana to a development deal for Heavenly Nostrils, which was later renamed Phoebe and Her Unicorn. The strip made its debut on GoComics in April 2012, with the first book and newspaper syndication following in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Dana took some time to participate in a Q&A in honor of the anniversary. Get to know her a little better by reading the interview below.
What do you think it is about Phoebe and Her Unicorn that has made it so popular with readers – and editors – for so long?
I truly believe nobody knows what they’re doing most of the time, and I think that applies to artists and writers most of all. So my first impulse is to say, I really have no idea why it works!
It’s definitely succeeded way beyond my expectations for it. And I guess I have some theories about why.
I have some awesome grownup fans too, but my main audience is kids, and I mean, what kid wouldn’t want to have a unicorn for a best friend? One who lets you ride her to school? I know I wanted that when I was a kid. I never stopped wanting that.
I also think I’ve always been pretty good at talking to kids on their level. I remember being Phoebe’s age pretty clearly, and I could always tell when adults were talking down to me. I liked when they used words I didn’t always understand. I got to learn things.
And I think Phoebe and Marigold are just people (yeah, unicorns are people) who readers like spending time with. Also, people seem to think they’re funny! Funny counts for a lot in a comic strip.
What has been your favorite part about creating this strip and these characters for 10 years?
I made it my job to draw unicorns! I think it’s the greatest job anyone has ever had. I like pretty much everything about it.
But if I had to pick one thing? It’s getting to interact with fans. Especially young fans. Kids are the best possible audience to write for. They’re so unreservedly joyful about things they like. I’ll never get tired of seeing it.
Do you have a favorite strip that you’ve created? If yes, which one?
I actually have a standard answer to this question. I have for years. It’s sometimes hard to laugh at your own comics — you’re a little too involved in the joke — but I do at a few, and at this one in particular.
It’s from the storyline where Phoebe is trying to think of something to get Marigold for Christmas, and she’s making a list of things she thinks Marigold doesn’t have. The first thing she writes is “pants.” Then she laughs. And then Marigold walks in wearing pants and says, “Look what I have!” And Phoebe scowls and crosses out “pants.”
There’s other strips I love but I don’t think any other one has made me laugh more times than that one.
I also kind of want to mention the very first strip, the one where Phoebe skips that rock and hits a unicorn in the face. I played with a few different ways of beginning the story, and I’m really happy with that beginning. You only get one shot at that.
How has your experience been working with Andrews McMeel?
It’s been extremely positive! Everyone there has been kind and professional. I feel very fortunate I get to work with them, and I hope it goes on for a really long time.
If you launched Phoebe and Her Unicorn today, what would you do differently?
Oh, absolutely nothing. Everything has turned out really, really well, and I’m afraid if I changed anything at all, it would be like one of those stories where someone goes back in time, and steps on a butterfly, and it changes the whole future. No, I’d do everything exactly the same all over again.
What is one thing readers don’t know about Phoebe and Her Unicorn?
Phoebe’s last name is “Howell” after a kid I lived across the street from when I was in preschool. He was my first best friend. It felt fitting for a strip about friendship.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about Phoebe and Her Unicorn?
“Your books were there for my child during a difficult time, and it meant a lot to them.”
What do you hope to see in years to come with Phoebe and Her Unicorn?
I really, really hope the animated series gets made, and I hope it’s good and I hope people enjoy it. Other than that, I’d just like to keep doing this, and keep finding ways to make it fresh and fun for myself and for my audience, for many years to come.
Is there anything else you would like to add about Phoebe, or about your life as a cartoonist?
I just want to repeat that I think I have the best job anyone’s ever had, and I feel endlessly privileged to have ended up in this position. I get up every day and imagine myself as a kid whose best friend is a unicorn, and think of all the fun and funny things that could involve. I’m grateful to everyone, readers and publishing folks alike, who have made that possible.
Would you ever increase Phoebe’s age over the years if you ever decide to conclude Phoebe and Her Unicorn?
For the 10th anniversary, I’m pushing her age up from 9 to 10, which isn’t going to make a huge difference in the strip day to day but does indicate the slow passage of time. If it goes another decade, maybe she’ll turn 11. But we won’t ever see Phoebe grow up, because I personally have no plans to grow up. Turns out, sometimes you can just be a kid riding a unicorn, forever.