Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reader's Diary #1103- Andy Runton: Owly, The Way Home/ The Bittersweet Summer

The second wordless (actually, there are a few words here and there, often of the onomatopoeia variety) graphic novel in about a week, Owly is not as profound as Shaun Tan's The Arrival, but certainly the sweeter of the two, involving the improbable friendship between an owl, a worm, and in the 2nd novella, a couple of hummingbirds.

Runton's characters are simply drawn but very expressive (they reminded be of Ashley Spires Binky characters to some extent). The more realistic and beautifully coloured backdrops you see on the cover aren't representative of the book inside, where it's all black and white and the backdrops are as cartoony as the characters, but I still walked away with an appreciation for Runton's artistry. I especially enjoyed how he controlled the pacing (an important skill for a 160 book in which readers could devour in less than hour). One particularly well done moment, comes after Owly's friend-to-be Wormy nearly drowns after a rainstorm. To slow down the pace while Owly is shown waiting for Wormy to pull through, Owly is shown sitting by a candle. From panel to panel, the candle slowly gets smaller and the shadows getting bigger, Owly’s eyelids slowly close. Perhaps more importantly, each panel gets its own page, contrasted with most of the pages which typically follow a six-panel structure, really slowing a reader down. Next day, Wormy recovers.

Though adults could enjoy Owly as well (I did!), I think Owly would be a good book to introduce graphic novel literacy to younger children. Besides the aforementioned highly expressive characters and skilled pacing, Runton also does a lot with basic and familiar symbols (e.g., a horseshoe for good luck), which will come in handy for kids who wish to go further into the world of comics. The wordlessness will focus readers on the flow and story of the sequential images, without getting tangled in complicated vocab which might come later.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

That does sound like a charming book! Very clever use of pacing.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: "Charming" is a good description, for sure.