Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer

By Andy Runton
160 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

One of the high and low points of reviewing is looking through books by creators you’ve never heard of. You’re always hoping for the next big surprise inside the cover, that it’s someone you’re going to be keeping your eyes on. More often than not, though, your hopes are far too high and it’s disappointing when the book is merely good (or perhaps not so good). But when you do strike gold… it makes all that digging through strange books worth it.

Owly is, as his name certainly implies, an owl. Living in his hollowed out tree home, all he wants is friendship, some other animals to share his adventures with. Can a bird known for its hunting skills, though, become friends with smaller creatures like worms or hummingbirds? Or is Owly wasting his time?

Collecting Andy Runton’s two mini-comics into a single volume, Owly was one of those rare books that grabbed me on the very first page and never let go of my attention. The first story, “The Way Home”, says more about trust and friendship without using a single word than many other longer, prose-filled works I’ve seen over the years. Runton’s story of Owly and Wormy’s search for Wormy’s home moves at just the right pace, with obstacles and solutions at just the right intervals, each with solutions that are carefully set up and well thought through. The same is doubly true of the second installment, “The Bittersweet Summer”. Runton uses the extra pages here to really build up the development of friendships, letting the reader see rather than merely be told about the strong feelings that the characters have for each other. People who don’t feel their heartstrings getting tugged on by “The Bittersweet Summer” may, in fact, have a lump of ice in their chest.

Runton’s art is a clean, attractive look that moves his story along nicely. Owly’s rounded eyes and body give him an innocent, almost childlike visual that works well. Even though Owly’s fellow animals in the forest may not trust him, the reader instantly knows that Owly is not a threat and in fact anything but. My favorite character designs so far, though, are those of Tiny and Angel. The two hummingbirds with their petite bodies and frantically beating wings remind me so much of real hummingbirds, yet still have a stylized appearance given to them by Runton, that they’re just about perfect. Runton’s page layouts work well, providing plenty of action and progression on each page as he typically packs in five or six panels without ever making it seem clouded. When Runton does put a single panel on a page, it’s a nice dramatic trick to draw the reader’s eye to the single image and apply additional weight to the event. That’s not the only storytelling device that Runton uses here, though. He’s got some other tricks up his sleeve to tell his story, like using a photo album for the passage of time. It works surprisingly well, with the combination of pictures and notes next to them to help move the story forward as well provide a visual break from the norm for the reader.

Owly is charming from start to finish. I’m almost afraid to call it an “all ages” book because it seems to scare away most older readers, but it’s certainly true. It’ll speak to different aged readers at different levels, but everyone can read and enjoy Owly. Owly ships to stores in September 2004, and is currently offered in the new Previews on page 342 in the Top Shelf Productions section; or, tell your retailer to order you a copy using code JUL04 3246. Trust me, it’ll put a grin on your face within seconds.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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