Women in Comics Month: Interview with Dana Simpson
Mar 06, 2018
In honor of Women in Comics Month this March, PREVIEWSworld talks with Dana Simpson!
PREVIEWSworld: Who is your current comics employer?
Dana Simpson: My work is syndicated to newspapers, and also published in book form, by Andrews McMeel.
PREVIEWSworld: What is your primary job title? In a quick phrase or two, could you define your job’s key responsibility?
Dana Simpson: Cartoonist. Writer and artist of comic strips and graphic novels.
PREVIEWSworld: Could you please explain how your work helps make comics a reality? (Connect the dots for us. Where are you in the flow of getting a book into reader hands?)
Dana Simpson: I start from nothing and create a more or less finished product! I don’t want to diminish what editors, colorists, publishing people, etc. do, but in terms of actually making my comics I’m kind of a one-woman show.
PREVIEWSworld: What’s the part of your job you enjoy the most?
Dana Simpson: Drawing. Writing is work. Writing requires focus. Drawing is relaxing. It’s my reward for having put in the work of writing something.
PREVIEWSworld: What comic titles have you worked on?
Dana Simpson: Since 2012, “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” the comic strip and graphic novel series. Before that, I used to be a web cartoonist; I self-published strips called “Ozy and Millie” (1998-2008) and “I Drew This”(2004-2008).
PREVIEWSworld: While there are loads of professionals in the comics industry, there are only so many folks who get to do what you do! How did you get started? How did you learn all the skills you needed for your position?
Dana Simpson: I’ve kind of been making comics, and thinking about doing them for a living, since I was a kid. I drew my first comic strip when I was five years old. I loved comic strips, and I knew I enjoyed writing, and drawing…and I also am not big on working with other people’s creative visions, I always wanted to bring my own ideas to life, which is part of why I wound up in comic strips instead of, say, comic books, or animation. It took me until my 30s to get my foot in the industry door, though, so no one can say I wasn’t persistent.
I’m pretty self-taught, in terms of skill. Not entirely—my parents saw that drawing was kind of my thing and put me in after school art classes in elementary school—but I don’t have an art degree or anything. I just learned by drawing a lot for a very long time.
PREVIEWSworld: Talk to us about the heroic people in your comics life. Who do you admire? Who inspires you? Why?
Dana Simpson: I always admired, and tried to learn from, a bunch of different creators, a lot of which won’t surprise anyone. Like pretty much any cartoonist under 50, I was heavily influenced by Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.” It’s hard not to draw a line between that particular kid-and-animal-friend strip, and the one I’m doing now.
As a kid I also loved Berke Breathed’s “Bloom County.” It was challenging and a bit over my head, but I loved that about it. I learned a lot of new ideas and concepts from it. Lynn Johnston’s “For Better or For Worse” was kind of the same. Those two comic strips introduced my young self to the idea of being invested in a story told in a daily comic strip format.
As a teenager, I discovered Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip “Pogo” and got obsessed with it for a while. It was before my time, so thank goodness for the local library. The art was dense and elegant but cute and cartoony, and the characters were broad and wacky but also discussing important ideas. I wanted to make something like that too. And I’m still studying how Kelly drew trees. Same thing with Jeff Smith’s “Bone,” which was like dropping Donald Duck into the middle of “Lord of the Rings.” I loved things that were cartoony and funny but also telling complicated stories.
Most recently I have to credit the show “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.” For one thing, I learned so much about drawing cartoon horse anatomy from that show, which is part of how I’m able to make my own unicorn character feel like she’s moving naturally. And the show, with its multiple female protagonists, was part of what inspired me to do a comic where both leads are female. Why should all the stories have to be about boys?
PREVIEWSworld: Please tell us about the coolest experience you’ve ever had thanks to your job.
Dana Simpson: Oh, there have been so many. Part of me wants to name-drop some famous people.
But the very coolest is the experience of knowing my work has positively impacted a child’s life. Little girls (and some boys—I really do love this generation) regularly tell me I inspired them, or I’m their hero. Parents thank me for getting their children into reading. It feels amazing to hear that.
PREVIEWSworld: Every industry professional has something they absolutely love about comics. Whether it’s a particular title or format or audience or tradition or something else, we’re all hooked. What’s special about comics for you? Would you be willing to share a treasured memory about it?
Dana Simpson: Again, there are so many. And probably the most amazing part is getting to speak at schools and interact with children.
The best experience like that that was a school I did in 2016 where the kids went way above and beyond. Before I went up onstage, they performed a skit based on the first “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” story, starring a girl dressed as Phoebe and a life-size cutout of Marigold the unicorn, drawn so well that I honestly could not have done better. Then I got walked to the stage, to the instrumental version of the “My Little Pony” theme music, flanked by four kids in unicorn pajamas. They also gave me some unicorn pajamas—they got my size right!—and some other fun, thoughtful unicorn-themed stuff. One of the most fun days of my whole life, right there.
PREVIEWSworld: If you had one comics-related wish—no limits—what would it be?
Dana Simpson: For all of my cartoonist and comics industry friends to be paid what they actually deserve to be paid. It’s a tough way to make a living, and there are so many brilliant, passionate people who deserve more.
PREVIEWSworld: Do you have an online presence we can link to and share with our readers?