30 Things I Like About Comics–#22 Owly

Owly and Friends Reading by Andy Runton

One of the biggest arguments in the comic book world isn’t if Captain America could beat up Batman, or is it better to buy print or digital comics. The question is are comics for kids or adults? To that, I say yes….there is age appropriate stuff for everyone.

That said, one of my favorite things in comics is Andy Runton’s Owly series of graphic novels. And yes, it is kid friendly.

Owly is exactly what you imagine he is…an owl. He live in the forest with his friends, like Scampy the squirrel and Wormy the worm. Andy came up with the idea from a recurring doodle he would leave on notes to his family.

After you get attached to the extremely cute Owly and his friends are, the second thing you will notice is that the book HAS NO WORDS?!?!?

Comic books and cartoon strips fall into the art category of sequential art, where a series of images are connected to each other in such a way that a narrative is constructed.

Owly is the perfect sequential art for youngsters who are learning or haven’t yet learned to read. The panels that make up the Owly graphic novels tell the story through the characters expressions and interaction with each other. Its pure visual literacy, as anyone, regardless of reading level or language, can determine what is going on. Andy explains his reason for doing it this way:

I don’t consider myself a writer so when I tried to write dialogue it was always lacking. The first Owly originally had words, but it just wasn’t working and I decided to leave it off and use his eyes and body language to tell the story. That was okay with me because I always loved silent characters, and it made me work harder to make sure the story was clear.  Snoopy and Woodstock, Looney Tunes, Dumbo, and Pete’s Dragon were all silent characters and were a big part of my childhood so that’s where most of the inspiration comes from. Besides, If I made Owly talk… how would he speak? Would he have an accent?

I decided… no… he won’t talk. I would embrace the silence and convey everything with expressions. But then I ran into some difficulties. Some things are hard to say in just static pictures. I learned a lot from Kurt Wolfgang, who used icons instead of dialogue, and even though I could never do what he does, reading his book Where Hats Go gave me the courage to use icons to help with my storytelling. I used to design computer icons for a living. Good icons can convey complex ideas clearly. I brought that into my comics. It does make some things hard to say, but that’s what makes comics so interesting for me. It’s a challenge!

The Owly stories mostly deal about friendship and adventure. They are always very light-hearted and remind me a lot of the old Disney Silly Symphonies cartoons.

Owly is for everyone, from a toddler to your grandparents. Don’t believe me? Andy has a bunch of comics up for download here. They’ll look really awesome on your iPad. I dare you to not find this cute.

Andy’s website features more Owly goodness, as well as some other fun cartoons. Also, follow him on Twitter.