Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The Magical Adventures of Phoebe and Her Unicorn is a 448-page book collection of Dana Simpson’s daily newspaper strip. Nine-year-old Phoebe Howell skipped a stone across some water and accidentally hit a unicorn in the face. This led to her and the mythical beast becoming best friends and now Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils are constantly together every day. This book combines the first two volumes in the series, Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Unicorn on a Roll in one chunky special edition reprint. Originally called ‘Heavenly Nostrils’, the daily strip began 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.
This strip slots neatly into the space established by Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes with its relationship between a child and a magical creature. Simpson’s drawings are very reminiscent of Watterson and the way the unicorn relates to the little girl, sometimes wise, sometimes ridiculous, has the same dynamic as Hobbes the tiger’s friendship with his little boy. However, this series is far less sophisticated. The ongoing exploration of the enchanted world of unicorns introduces some intriguing ideas but they are barely explored beyond the most obvious starting points. The cartooning is solid without being particularly quirky or memorable. But the premise is so strong that the execution almost doesn’t matter. None of these issues are important to the middle-grade readership this strip is aimed at.
Parents may find it difficult to tell one strip from another but they will be happy there are no gross or challenging situations in these pages. There are also no children who aren’t white, a fairly significant omission in this day and age. The situations which Phoebe and her magical friend get themselves into at school, home and elsewhere are all safe for the youngest of readers who might even be incentivised to learn some new words to keep up with Marigold’s vocabulary. The fourteen book collections currently available include two graphic novels, featuring longer stories: Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm, and Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater.