If someone came to me at the beginning of the year and said, what do you think will be the best book you read all year, there is just no way I would have had any inkling it would be about a girl and a unicorn, but Dana Simpson has made me a fan. Razzle Dazzle Unicorn was my favorite book of the year and once I read it I knew I had to get an interview with Dana, and she does not disappoint.
For the uninitiated, tell us about Phoebe and her Unicorn Marigold, do they live in our world? Can everyone see Marigold? Do all children have magical creatures? What sort of crazy world do they live in?
Think of it as our world. Unicorns are real in Phoebe’s world, but I’m not conceding they aren’t in OURS just because none of us has ever seen one. I bet they’re everywhere.
We can’t see them because of the Shield of Boringness, a magic spell I made up to explain how it all works; it basically prevents people who see unicorns from finding them interesting enough to comment on. It allows them to walk around without humans mobbing them like they’re the Beatles, which you know would happen.
So, unicorns can be seen, when they choose to be seen.
Most kids don’t have magical creatures for friends. And most magical creatures don’t have human kids for friends. Marigold and Phoebe are just lucky. (The story of how they met, which is in the first book, is still one of my favorite storylines I’ve done.)
After reading the book it seems that Phoebe and Marigold teach as well as make you laugh, how do you find the right balance?
I don’t really know. I’m glad it’s working.
I sort of start out with something I want to talk about, or something I want to see how the characters deal with, and then the humor comes organically from the characters as they navigate whatever situation I’ve put them in.
I often mine my own childhood for themes and situations to write about, so if kids find it relatable, it’s because I’m writing it as a former child myself.
I have to say I can’t wait until my daughter gets old enough to read the books, what age range were you writing for?
Well, I’m in my thirties, and in many ways I’m writing for myself, but that’s really not the answer people are looking for when they ask that, is it?
I’m aware that I’m writing largely for kids (not that the comic doesn’t have adult readers), and that does color what subjects I talk about and what references I make. When we were doing the first book, they had me take out some references they didn’t think kids would know, or that didn’t seem appropriate: people like Bono, stuff like The Godfather. I instinctively avoid those now.
I like to imagine I’m writing for any kid old enough to read and go to school.
Ok this is more of a college essay question, compare and contrast Phoebe/Marigold and Calvin/Hobbes, in two sentences. Are you ok with the comparison to Bill Watterson?
Phoebe and Marigold are girls, Calvin and Hobbes are boys. Also, Marigold is real, whereas Hobbes is…imaginary I guess, even though he feels pretty real.
I don’t mind the comparison. Anyone who writes a strip about a kid and an animal is inviting it, no? And I invited it more or less on purpose. In the “Tenth Anniversary Book,” which I read cover to cover multiple times when I was young, Watterson said this: “after so many strips about boys, I think a strip about a little girl, drawn by a woman, would be great.” I’m sort of taking him up on that challenge.
When I first came up with the concept for the strip, I thought, “hey, girl and unicorn…that could work. It’s sort of the girl equivalent of a boy and a tiger.” Really, I’m just glad people mostly say the strip is reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes, instead of “hey, she’s ripping off Calvin & Hobbes.”
Ok pick what you would love to see first, Phoebe and Her Unicorn Toys, Movie, or television show?
Let’s say TV show first, then toys, because the toys will sell better then. Then movie last, after the strip is so huge someone will pour a ton of money into it for CGI and voice talent.
But really, I’ll accept any of it in any order.
What has been your favorite fan moment? What do you get asked the most?
Oh, man, a whole lot of awesome kid fans are tied for my favorite fan moment. Any kid who ever came up to me at a convention dressed up as Marigold or Phoebe, or told me my book was their favorite, or was the first book they ever read…recently a little girl told me she read my first book in her class so often she got in trouble. She said this with a huge smile on her face.
Leaving aside “where do you get your ideas,” which people ask every writer all the time probably, maybe the most common question, at least from kids, is if there will be more books. I can happily answer in the affirmative.
Are Phoebe and Marigold based on anyone you know? If there was going to be a movie who would you want to voice those characters?
Both of them are based on me. Phoebe more directly–Phoebe is me if you knocked my age back a few decades and gave me a unicorn to hang out with. Think of her as a retcon of my childhood. Marigold is a specific side of me. She’s the voice in my head that’s all “I’m so awesome!,” without the other voices that immediately go “yeah, but here’s all your flaws.”
If I could cast anybody as Marigold I’d cast Jane Krakowski (Jenna, from “30 Rock”). She’s pretty much exactly how Marigold sounds in my head. I’ve always said I’d like for Phoebe to have an actual child playing her, but (name-drop alert!) my friend Tabitha St. Germain, aka Rarity from “My Little Pony,” does a really fun Phoebe voice.
How did your earlier work help you develop and draw the Phoebe and her Unicorn series?
Before I did this strip, I did an online comic strip called “Ozy & Millie” for about ten years, starting when I was a teenager. I always say that was my Ph.D. in cartooning. I learned how to pace a joke, how a visual gag works in comics…all the important stuff. I learned it by studying other comics I loved, and really just through trial and error. You can get very good at something in ten years if you keep doing it.
Even though your new book just came out we are already hoping you are working on your next Phoebe and her Unicorn book, please tell us this is happening!
Book 5 will be called “Unicorn Crossing,” probably, and should be out next year! And in the meantime, you can read the strip every day, on gocomics.com.
Thanks to Dana Simpson for taking the time out of her schedule to talk to us. Now go pick up all of the Phoebe and Her Unicorn books before Marigold thinks you don’t like unicorns, which can’t possibly be the case because everyone loves unicorns.