Before her popular Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, Dana Simpson wrote a long-running webcomic, Ozy and Millie, about two foxes. They live through the everyday drama of school, annoying teachers, arguing with parents, and conflicts with peers, but also offer commentary on the human drama, contemporary events, and life in general. For this collection, Simpson picked some of the more timeless strips, mostly from the middle period of the ten year run, and they are in color for the first time.
Ozy (Ozymandias) is a serene and mature gray fox who always wears a top hat and quotes Buddhism. Millie (Millicent) is a free thinker and a troublemaker, never happier than when she’s rocking the boat and stirring up trouble. She’s a red fox and sticks to a simple pair of blue overalls. Both apparently live in single parent families; Ozy’s adopted father is a dragon and Millie’s single mother primarily works from home. The two have a small circle of frenemies; a stereotypical nerd, wannabe cool raccoon who hangs out with them until something better comes along, and a hate-hate relationship with the queen bee (a lamb named Felicia) and the school bully.
Some stories last for a few pages, like one where Felicia, in typical mean-girl speak, “Okay, so, like, omigaw, ‘kay?” needs Millie to fill in for jump rope practice. Millie, however, just can’t keep from causing trouble and her “creative” rhymes end her brief time in the popular crowd. Others last only three to four panels, as when Millie exults to her mom that she got an A… only for her mom to discover that what her teacher actually gave her was “AAAAAAAAUGH.” Ozy interacts with the bully and figures out that, while he may cause the bully some internal suffering, it doesn’t make reposing in the trash can any more fun. Other storylines feature Ozy’s dragon father telling dramatic and unexpectedly goofy stories about his colorful past, Millie dreaming of homework revolting, and Ozy exhibiting his caution in many a silly joke.
The main character in these selections is almost always Millie. She’s the active participant and Ozy is there primarily as a foil for her to react, or cause to react. Her popping primary colors of red and blue keep her to the front of most strips and Ozy’s black, white, and gray color scheme shows his more relaxed and serene approach to life. Like most of AMP’s cartoon strip collections, the strips are cleaned up and neatly presented in four-panel sections, with a few sections of trios running diagonally down the page. The cartoons are also populated by colorful, in all senses, characters from the zebra music teacher who has some thoughts about the division of school-funding to the long-suffering kangaroo teacher, complete with gray bun and flowered hat poking out around her ears. Simpson herself reflects in the introduction on how her artistic style has evolved, and readers can see the lines of characters and punch lines alike tighten up, with more zing to the stories as they progress. Simpson’s sense of humor is clear throughout however, and she did an excellent job of choosing strips that highlight this without including too much dated technology or references.
In addition to Simpson’s introduction and reflection on her work, there is back matter that includes a glossary and list of some of the more obscure people and concepts referred to in the book.
While some publisher information and reviews say this collection is aimed at adults down to middle school, I would happily place it in an all ages or juvenile collection. It’s true that the average fourth or fifth grader is unlikely to understand a reference to Machiavelli, however, neither are they likely to understand the philosophy included in Watterson’s classic Calvin and Hobbes or the adult jokes of Garfield, but these comic strips remain perennially popular with all ages. It’s tempting to compare Ozy and Millie to Calvin and Hobbes, with Millie as the reckless Calvin, willing to spout mature concepts and philosophy when it suits her purposes; Ozy as the relaxed Hobbes, going with the flow and proving to be a foil for Millie’s endless energy and wacky ideas. However, while there’s a similar vein of humor and philosophy, both are very much their own animal and are sure to delight fans of comic strips that showcase both humor and a more thoughtful reflection or too.
Ozy and Millie
By Dana Simpson
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11