What did you do during the isolating months of the pandemic? Did you clean, bake, binge watch TV or create Tik Tok videos?
For American cartoon artist Dana Simpson, she spent her days drawing comics. “I didn’t know how long it was going to last, so I decided that the comic would be a safe place for me where adventure was still possible.”
Simpson is best-known as creator of the syndicated comic strip Phoebe and Her Unicorn, as well as the long-running webcomic Ozy and Millie. By vicariously living through Phoebe, Simpson had many adventures with her unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils.
Recently, Simpson visited Bainbridge Island for a book signing event at the BARN and spoke with unicorn fans about her career.
When she was 5, Simpson drew her first comic strips that featured Superman about Pac-Man for her personal newspaper, The Simpson Gazette, which documented events of her household. She was into comic strips because her mother had a big Peanuts collection that she had since the 1960s, “and I remember reading it and thinking that’s really cool. It’s cool that someone has that as a job.”
She was greatly influenced by Coco by Walt Kelly, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts and The Simpsons.
When she was about 18 she decided that she wanted to be a comic artist and came up with one called Ozy and Millie about two middle-school students in Seattle who happen to be foxes.
At the BARN, Simpson regaled the audience, many of whom were wearing unicorn hats, with inside stories of Phoebe and her adventures. She explained that she came up with Marigold’s name by using an online unicorn name generator and thought Heavenly Nostrils was funny so she kept it.
Simpson has published 17 books in the Phoebe and her Unicorn series and has won many awards, including the Washington State Book Award. In 2016, Hollywood took notice, and Simpson began taking meetings with studios that wanted to option her book series for a cartoon show.
“The journey to make Phoebe and Her Unicorn into an animated series has been a long and somewhat frustrating one,” Simpson said, adding the project has bounced around from Amazon to NBC, then Disney and finally landing with Nickelodeon.
She’s not sure when the show will ever debut. Simpson said they have a script and a head writer, but now, the studio doesn’t think the show will appeal to boys. So, Simpson wrote a new treatment for the show featuring Max as one of the main characters. “That will have to be good enough because I’m not changing it,” and so far, Nickelodeon seems to be going along with that.