Another Phoebe and her Unicorn Adventure
Unicorn on a Roll (v2) (May 2015)
Unicorn vs Goblins (v3) (Feb. 2016)
Andrews McMeel Publishing
OK so what do you call a comic that is often compared to Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” and Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts”? I mean seriously, how often does that get tossed around? Ok…probably too often, but still. You add that plus the fact that the introduction to the first book was written by Peter S. Beagle. Yeah…the guy that wrote “The Last Unicorn.” The second book’s introduction was written by Lauren Faust, the woman that brought My Little Ponies back to life and the most recent book’s introduction was written by Corey Doctrow and his young daughter, you add all of that up and…dang. That’s…that’s kinda of impressive isn’t it? How can you not give this comic a try?
It was a somewhat foggy morning out by the lake and Phoebe was out skipping rocks, wishing she a best friend. Also standing by the lake that morning was Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, who was entranced by her reflection, which was a common occurrence for her. One of Phoebe’s rocks hit Marigold in the forehead by her horn. Oh, right, Marigold is a unicorn and she offers Phoebe one wish. Phoebe’s wish? Marigold to be her best friend. Bound by the laws of unicorn magic, and being a generally nice unicorn, Marigold grants the wish and thus begins a journey of friendship and awesomeness.
Each book collects a year’s worth (sorta of) of the comics as we see Phoebe’s relationship with Marigold grow and mature. These latest two volumes cover the awesome adventures rollerskating, goblins kidnapping Phoebe’s frenemy Dakota (because she has awesomely magic hair, duh!), and going to camp and meeting Sue! Someone that shares a similar spirit to Phoebe. Through it all Marigold is by her side to give her someone to laugh with, share her thoughts with, and learn about alternate perspectives of the world.
I’m not sure how many people remember it now, but Dana Simpson had a long running webcomic titled Ozy and Millie (http://ozyandmillie.org/), which ran from 1998 to 2008. Ozy and Millie was set in anthropomorphic universe and featured a young fox and wolf growing up and discussing contemporary life and having adventures. It was here that I first fell in love with Simpson’s storytelling and artwork and sense of adventure much of which carry over into Phoebe and her Unicorn.
The comparison with Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” is inevitable, as while there are other characters in the comic, the bulk of the strips focus solely on Phoebe and Marigold. And Marigold being a unicorn, isn’t always seen by other people. But this is not Simpson’s attempt at trying to be like Watterson, which all too many comics have tried and failed at. It is Simpson letting us intimately explore the friendship between these two characters. Over the strips we as readers get to watch Phoebe and Marigold discover things about each other, life, the modern world, and just having fun and adventures with each other. I mean in what other strip are you going to meet Todd the Candy Dragon? No where, that’s where. While unicorns are typically viewed as the realm of young girls, Phoebe and Marigold have a sense of humor and adventure that will appeal to everyone. Particularly the dragons and goblins and pranks and other things that show up from time to time. And as Corey Doctrow correctly points out in his introduction, Calvin is kinda of a brat. He doesn’t really get along with anyone other than Hobbes. Phoebe though? She gets along with pretty much everyone. Even Dakota! I mean how often do you see that? A character that doesn’t go out of her way to be mean back to her bully. Instead, she just continues to be her normal Phoebe-self towards her. Which admittedly at times can create trouble…like magic hair and getting kidnapped by goblins. But still! Dakota is better for it. I mean how many kids can say they’re besties with a goblin princess huh?
The comparison with Peanuts is not as evident, but after reading the strip for some months I have realized that there is a certain sense of…gravitas to the strip. By this I mean despite the main characters being kids (or at least young at heart), they act like real kids do. I mean, sure Phoebe and Marigold have fun, but they branch out into areas that we don’t often see in the comics world. Like characters not having many friends, or being told that they’re weird, or different, and discovering that despite all of this…it is ok to forge your own path into the world beyond. This was something that Schulz was a master of, at reminding us that kids really do discuss deep events in life and they are different. While Simpson is not at Schulz’s level (let’s be honest, who can be?), it is something that she explored heavily in Ozy and Millie and continues to explore here with Phoebe that we can have a kids strip that shows aspects of the real world, while still being fun. While some parents might be leery of this, kids are sure to enjoy having a comic that doesn’t try to talk down to them and has aspects of themselves they can recognize in it.
Simpson’s art style is somewhat simple, capturing the outlines of the characters quickly and backgrounds as needed. But this is all that we really need. The characters have their own unique designs, are easily recognizable. For example, Phoebe has thumbs, which she teases Marigold about for a while. Until Marigold points out that she has a tail, which can do a lot more. Simpson captures what we need to tell a good story easily and her color choices complement the characters and backgrounds well, often being soft and natural to make us feel at ease. Something else that Simpson does well, is never letting the background overwhelm the characters. Simpson only gives us the background when we need one and often has no background or simple cross hatching to make sure our focus is on the characters.
One last thing to mention is that this is part of AMP’s comics for kids collection. The other comics in this series, Peanuts and Big Nate, already have a fair amount of traction in the book world so it is a pleasant and happy surprise to see AMP release this collection so that others can discover the joy of Phoebe and her Unicorn. While this series is marketed to kids, Phoebe has broad appeal to all ages.
Review copies provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing