I’m a subscriber to gocomics.com. And while most of that website’s prime content are newspaper comic strips that are several decades past their glory days, there’s some exciting (or at least funny) new stuff to be found as well, including Dana Simpson’s Heavenly Nostrils.
Dana Simpson is a cartoonist I’ve been following since the beginning of her career. She had a breakthrough of sorts with the popular furry comic Ozy & Millie (1998-2008) under the name D.C. [Dana Claire] Simpson. Debuting in 2012 and running steadily since then, Heavenly Nostrils is her first syndicated comic. Now the first collected edition has just been published with a foreword by none other than Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn. The book itself is published Andrews McMeel, the company behind pretty much every collection of American newspaper comic strips since Calvin & Hobbes.
And while Heavenly Nostrils is hardly a rip-off, it has some obvious similarities with Watterson’s modern classic. Like Hobbes, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils the unicorn has a gigantic ego, not as much on behalf of herself as on behalf of her species. Like Hobbes, she regards her kind as the pinnacle of creation, while her human Phoebe – like Calvin – regard her non-human friend with a mix of indulgence and admiration. And like Calvin, Phoebe can be both weird, sassy and self-centered. Though not quite as badly as the spiky-haired blond; Simpson clearly wants us to side her, after all.
One important difference, however, is that while Calvin’s interaction with Hobbes appears to be only in his own head (though I know this is widely debated) , it’s quite obvious that Marigold is supposed to be a real live unicorn walking amongst us. So why isn’t her presence getting more attention? Because of a deus ex machina known as the Shield of Boringness, a spell that makes humans indifferent to the fact that they are looking at a unicorn. Conveniently, this also explains why Phoebe doesn’t become more popular by riding to school on a unicorn every day. Not surprisingly, Phoebe is an outsider, the one who is too weird to be liked by the popular girls. Dana Simpson’s sympathy for the unpopular kids that don’t follow the crowd is well known to those who have read Ozy & Millie.
While Marigold boasts more about the supremacy of her species than she can show proof of (again, not unlike Hobbes), she does have magical abilities and she is a beautiful, elegant creature. Simpson modelled her after medieval illustrations of unicorns, so she doesn’t look just like a horse with horns. Her biggest flaw is her ego and narcissism; the first time Phoebe met Marigold, she accidentally saved her from being stuck admiring her own reflection.
The strip’s biggest flaw is that it’s a bit too dependent on jokes based around Marigold’s character traits (funny though they may very often be). She’s arrogant and narcissistic (yet overall quite friendly) and takes things too literally – Innocently arrogant, as Peter S. Beagle so aptly describes her in the foreword. Ozy & Millie used to have a little more varied characterization. What saves the strip is the combination of heart and clever verbal comedy. Simpson combines the snappy dialogue – often emphasized through use of fonts – with simple, yet effective facial expressions.
You may read the entire archive of Heavenly Nostrils here (you can also order the book from the same place) but I bought this collection because sometimes it’s nice to have the strips collected and handy. Also, the strips have been colored for this edition*. However, I have a faint suspicion that Simpson can’t have been 100 % happy with the design of the book. Most likely someone in the publishing company thought “Ah, so this is about girls and unicorns. Then the cover must be pink and glittery”. But Phoebe is not a particularly “girly” girl, and certainly no “little princess” type. Her parents are hipsters and geeks, and she is clearly taking after them (I’m guessing that Simpson is seeing something of herself in Phoebe’s artistic mom). The comic as a whole is not all that feminine, either. Like all the best comic strips, it breaks down the borders of gender and age.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson
Andrews McMeel Publishing
*For practical purposes, most of the illustrations in this review are pasted from the website, where the daily strips are in black and white. However, the book is entirely in color.