Yesterday I talked about how I am thinking about what makes comics, namely the use of discourse and images. Today, I am talking about a series of books that have no (or hardly any) words in them. Owly has been coming out since 2004, initially published by Top Shelf but now self-published by its creator Andy Runton.
Owly is an adorable owl, and these books chronicle his various adventures in the forest. I have not met a young child who is not instantly rapt by these stories. They are simple, almost intuitive, to read but surprisingly evocative. They are excellent for pre-primer and elementary students, though I have known middle schoolers who also like these tales.
By now, it is pretty clear that each of these books has its own moral, like a comic version of a fable. That feature makes these books pretty accessible, but the artwork and easily read symbolic conventions and expressions make them attractive. They really bring life to what could a dry enterprise. Just check out these couple of pages from the first book, where Owly meets Wormy:
Owly books have won all kinds of awards, including the Harvey and an Eisner. All of the reviews I have read of these books have been positive. Sharon Adarlo called the character and books "very charismatic and kid-friendly." Brigid Alverson praised the "deceptively simple tales of a sweet little owl and his forest friends,
told without words but with plenty of emotion and gesture." Hilary Goldstein called Just a Little Blue "a fanciful, magical book deserving of a spot on anyone's bookshelf."
Runton speaks about his inspirations for and work on the Owly books in this interview.
These are only the first four Owly books, and there are more available for preview and sale here. There are also quite a few free Owly comics there to download as well.