I found this book deceptively tricky to review. I want to tell you that I believe Owly may be the Next Big Thing, but I don’t want to divulge any aspect of the story. It is essentially a “silent” story, told exclusively through the art and without any voiced narration, and revealing the plot could ruin your enjoyment of the book. Andy Runton could be the next Charles M. Schulz, waiting for the unaware masses to discover this charming character.
The characters in Owly don’t speak, but there are some descriptive captions that could have be “written” by Owly. I like to think that Owly did write those captions. Sorry to keep repeating Owly’s name, but I couldn’t find any gender-specific traits and I dislike calling such a fun creation “it”. In fact, one of the most charming aspects of the work is that it tells a wonderful, engaging story without falling back on gender stereotypes.
Flipping back the front cover to the nearly identical black and white “picture” of Owly and friends makes me want to see the book in color. I think it’s something for Mr. Runton to consider if trying to expand his audience. It would work perfectly as a cartoon for a post-millennium Pink Panther crowd. They could be short, voiceless vignettes with a soundtrack of fun, upbeat music.
Style is everything in this book. The rich, black ink sits solidly in the paper, making the artwork more “real”. Because of my background as an English major, I usually feel “unimpressed” after reading a textless story, but the simple design of Owly is absolutely endearing. The story is cute and enjoyable for all ages.
My only complaint of this version of this beautiful book was page 36. That’s where the binding on my book broke. After marveling at how enchanted I was by this book and then having that happen and letting out multiple profanities, I was upset at my joy being spoiled. I later gently reread it with no further damage. So, while the collector side of me painfully looks at that broken binding, I know this self-produced edition will pay for itself one day. But, it does happily force me to purchase the newer edition from Top Shelf, which includes the additional story The Way Home. Like so many comics fans, I’m a sucker for those “extra” pages. Owly is the kind of story where you want as many pages as you can get.
Hopefully, unlike a non-gender-specific honey-eating bear named Winnie, Owly will continue to hold small joys special and won’t become just another mass-marketed “product”.