SPX Spotlight: Owly Volumes 1-4

This is part of Panel Patter's SPX Spotlight, a series of reviews of work from creators or publishers who will be attending SPX in 2011 leading up to the show on September 10th and 11th, 2011!

[This is also Sarah's first post! Yay!-Ed]

Written and Illustrated by Andy Runton
Top Shelf

One cannot criticize the Owly series by Andy Runton - it would be like kicking a puppy. The series is just that cute, friendly, and innocent. Owly is an all-ages series in the true sense of the word, as it is enjoyable for both kids and adults. The stories are told in a silent mode where the black-and-white Expressionism-via-cartoons panels tell the story. Owly and his equally cute woodland friends do not talk, but convey ideas and emotions through facial expressions or the occasional speaking or thought bubble that just shows an icon or punctuation or another smaller image. Because of this feature, Owly is likely a fun series to read aloud to children. The only issue is that outside of the two main characters, you never learn the names of the secondary characters until the end of each book, in what appears to be an "Owly's scrapbook" section.

While each volume can work as a stand-alone piece; if you read the series altogether you will notice certain themes. Owly is a lonely, but friendly character and much of the series is about him trying to make new friends by helping other woodland creatures. The creatures initially refuse his help because of either their own nature (bluebirds being territorial, possums being skittish) or because they are afraid of the owl, a predatory creature. The only quibble I have with the Owly series is that it is a bit formulaic at times - it even has a "brain"-type of character. The raccoon who runs the plant nursery is also a librarian of sorts, explaining to Owly and Wormy what sort of plants or objects may help attract or protect the creatures that they are trying to help. So the series is also educational because it teaches you about certain plants and flowers, as well as more unusual creatures like flying squirrels. Runton is subtly encouraging readers to make friends with nature by gardening and putting up birdhouses, since you obviously cannot and should not hug owls, possums, worms, butterflies, and bluebirds (although Top Shelf does sell an adorable plush Owly toy). As the series goes on, it becomes more about being brave and facing your fears, and we learn more about Owly and why he is not a predatory creature, as well as more about his best friend and constant companion Wormy.

Owly is a good entryway into graphic novels for children as it is friendly, easy to read and follow, and is educational. And as long as you're not an adult who is opposed to cute things and anthropomorphized animals, adult readers will enjoy the series as well. Owly in particular tends to serve as a good break from darker reading materials.