Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2004
By: Amos Simien

Creator(s): Andy Runton
Publishers: Top Shelf Productions
From: 1282
Price: $10.00

Owly is a little owl. He is a kind, yet lonely fellow who is always on the search for new friends, and if that search means going on adventures, he doesn't shy from it. If helping a friend means self-sacrifice on his part, Owly's willing to give all of himself.

Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer is the first in an all-new series of small graphic novels featuring Owly from Top Shelf Productions. At the size of 5 1/4 x7 1/2 and a page count of 160 pages, Owly handles like a traditional comic book. It's not quite floppy to hold, but its compact size and its tactile qualities make it a close cousin to our "normal" comics.

As for the contents, two "novellas" comprise the book. In the first, The Way Home, Owly rescues a stranded young earthworm who was separated from his parents. Owly eventually decides to help the little guy find his parents, and the ending will delight and surprise. In The Bittersweet Summer, Owly and his worm buddy befriend a hummingbird couple one beautiful summer day, but as the summer ends, Owly struggles to find a way to keep his new avian friends from having to leave his garden and head south.

Cartoonist Andy Runton created the stories in Owly using silent comics (also known as pantomime). Instead of dialogue, Runton relies on a mixture of symbols, icons, and facial and bodily expressions to move the narrative. Although Owly may sometimes look like a children's book, the pacing and flow is common to sequential comics. Runton's art is made of simple and clean line work and ordinary shapes, but the result is a clear visual language that could almost be universal. In fact the book seems (to put it in a term used by nostalgic feeling folks), "old-timey," as if Runton created this back when comics contained tales that were so simply told.

The combination of Runton's broad visual communication and stories that feature familiar conflicts and human emotions creates a comic that is literally all-ages. This book is so accessible to children that it seems to be an alien presence in the Direct Market comics landscape. It works like an ordinary comic, but doesn't really look like one. It also reads like an ordinary comic, but is squarely aimed at an age group abandoned by most comics publishers decades ago. Yet there is something about it (when added to TOKYOPOP and Viz's books) that says Owly is the future even though its contents hark to the past.

In a Word: Heartfelt.

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