Review by Woodrow Phoenix
According to legend, unicorns are incredibly, bewitchingly beautiful. They are also so vain that should they see their own faces in a mirrored surface, they are utterly captivated and unable to look away. One day a lonely nine-year-old girl named Phoebe Howell is skipping stones across some water, and one of these stones accidentally hits a unicorn in the face. The unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, had caught sight of her own reflection in the water and remained trapped there, gazing at it for an unknown number of days or months before Phoebe’s stone bounces into her face and breaks the spell. In return for releasing her from this trap, the magical creature grants the girl one wish. Phoebe wishes for the unicorn to become her best friend.
Writer/artist Dana Simpson began her daily strip Heavenly Nostrils as a webcomic on GoComics.com in 2012. It was renamed Phoebe and Her Unicorn and relaunched as a syndicated daily newspaper strip in 2015. In both drawing style and basic concept, Phoebe and Her Unicorn leans heavily on the template established by Bill Watterson’s massively popular Calvin and Hobbes: a quirky child protagonist sharing a friendship with a fabulous mythical creature that nobody else understands. The question of whether Hobbes the tiger is a real or imaginary being is the heart of the philosophical dimension in Calvin and Hobbes that adds a layer of complex emotion to elevate a funny animal strip into uniquely fascinating territory. But Phoebe and Her Unicorn is far less nuanced. Aimed at a middle-grade reading audience, Dana Simpson’s writing is not as surprising or her cartooning as inventive as Bill Watterson. But then, who is?
The hijinks that ensue from a supernatural being inserted into the boring and routine daily situations of Phoebe’s life at school or home are mild. The dialogue is pleasant commentary and puns with cute, functional drawings rather than rollicking jokes over expressive visuals and expertly-timed slapstick. Still, this makes the series easy for younger readers and the simple storytelling obviously resonates with them: collections of the newspaper strip are currently up to book 14. These include two graphic novels, featuring longer stories: Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm, and Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater.