Owly: Just a Little Blue
by Andy Runton
Only the blackest of hearts won’t be charmed by Andy Runyon’s Owly. And if yours is among the unmoved, I don’t want to be anywhere near you, as it probably means you don’t have a soul. If even my little blackened heart… I mean, two (TWO) pages into Just A Little Blue, and I was already tearing up when Owly handed his friend Wormy a juicy apple to eat and Wormy had about the sweetest smile imaginable as he took a big, joyous bite. Yeah, basically, I read the whole thing through blurred vision. I can’t help it, damnit!
Owly is everything that modern Disney cartoons try (and fail) so hard to be — sweet, unpretentious, simple, direct and a celebration. Each episode/story is told wordlessly, with action and facial expression telling these small tales of friendship, nature and life. The stories in Owly burst with the same openhearted innocence and purity that only a few strips have managed over time. Charles Schulz’s Peanuts springs to mind immediately, though without the melancholy fog that often settled over his more thoughtful character. Owly and Wormy are that rarest commodity in comics and, indeed popular fiction as a whole, earnest and good without your wanting to strangle them. Or them judging you. This leads me to believe that Owly would make absolutely excellent children’s reading, whether with parents, a storytime at school or a reading at a library, say?
Artist/writer/creator Andy Runton has a very cartoony yet very naturalistic rendering style (mostly in terms of his depictions of the forest Owly calls home) It’s just like that of the artist I think his aesthetic is closest to: Walt Kelly of Pogo fame. And of course there’re hints of Carl Barks and classic “funny animal” stuff like Peter Porkchops and other Dell/Archie fare. Each chapter in the Owly saga is sold in a small “digest” format, similar to how you see anime sold in bookstores — high-quality, bound paperbacks that are black-and-white only (just like daily comic strips) with, again, no words or text to speak of. Several pages of this volume contain one oversize panel, and I swear, they’re like little stand-alone art pieces, but not enough to distract from the unhurried flow of the story. Special mention should be made of (and I know I’m going to mess this up) Runton’s inking of his own pencils: it’s a gorgeous, thick line that really adds contrast and character to a page without color. In fact, it takes you a few minutes to realize it, he’s that deft.
Just A Little Blue introduces the characters Flutter (a butterfly) and Little Blue (a young bluebird) to the Owly cast. The story begins with Owly and Wormy out gathering delicious apples in their cart. When they notice some birds are eating seeds they laid out, the twosome hide in the bushes to watch. Owly accidentally steps on a branch, and one of the birds divebombs him, imagining him to be a predator. Owly decides to help the bird family out (they live in a scraggly dead tree) by building them a birdhouse. In one of the more heartbreaking moments of the book, Owly and Wormy decide to build the birdhouse out of their beloved applecart. They do, and Flutter tags along when they go to hang it up in a tree as a gift to the birds. Through a misunderstanding (or the natural order of things, y’see) the birds reject the gift and chase Owly and friends off. Owly, Flutter and Wormy try to cheer themselves up with tea, another awesome scene, before bedding down for the night. Outside a rainstorm begins to brew… Any more than that would be telling. Suffice to say, you’ll be charmed and captivated.
It’s like eating 50 pieces of candy and then getting the warmest hug of your life.
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