Andy Runton

October 2005) Andy Runton is the creator of Owly, published by Top Shelf. His stories of Owly, Wormy, and their forest friends has attracted fans of all ages. A new book, Owly: Flying Lessons, is coming this month and Westfield's Roger Ash contacted Runton to find out more about Owly and this new book.

Westfield: For those who have never read Owly before, what is the book about?

Andy Runton: Owly is a kind and gentle, yet lonely, little owl who knows what it means to be human. That basically sums it up. It's a simple concept, but the stories are what I'd describe as emotionally complex. There's a good chance you'll see a little bit of yourself in Owly as he tries to find friendship in a world that's full of animals that distrust him because they think he's a predator.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the new book, Flying Lessons?

Runton: Well, It's kind of hard to say too much without giving anything away. I suppose I can tell you that Owly and Wormy meet a new friend and learn the value of trust. We also learn a little about Owly's ability to fly. I had originally planned to reveal more in this volume, but the story took some unexpected turns while I was writing it, so some of the details will have to wait a little while. But I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

Westfield: The entire book is told in pantomime. Why did you decide to do that?

Runton: Well, I had struggled with the dialogue in the comics I did before Owly. All of the sentences came out , well... clunky. When it came time for Owly to say something, it just didn't feel right making him talk. How would he speak? Would he have an accent? I decided that I'd try to convey everything with expressions and body language. But then I ran into some problems. Some ideas are difficult to convey in just static pictures. Then I saw Where Hats Go by Kurt Wolfgang. I could never do what Kurt did, but I used to design computer icons for a living. Good icons can convey complex ideas clearly, so I brought that into my comics.

Westfield: There seems to be a real love of nature in the book. Is that something you're trying to get across?

Runton: Absolutely. The inspiration for Owly comes from my own backyard and the secret lives of all of these little creatures that live there. There is so much going on and there's so much beauty out there that it's something that I'll never get tired of. Before I really jumped into comics, I worked for corporate America. The company I was working for closed down our office and basically cancelled the projects we had been working on for two years. I wasn't sure what I was going to do next. While I searched for what I wanted to do, I ended up spending a lot of time watching the birds and other animals in my neighborhood where there are thankfully a lot of trees still left. I had always loved nature, but I really connected with it now. I spent more and more time outside. I saw things I had never seen before, and it all inspired me. I can't help but bring that into my comics.

Westfield: A stuffed Owly toy is coming out in a couple months. How did that come about?

Runton: I've always loved stuffed animals. Whenever I'd see a movie, that was what I wanted, a stuffed Dumbo or Pete's Dragon or whatever. Most of those were pretty rare when I was growing up, but needless to say, the desire was always there. So when a few fans started asking about Owly toys, I decided we'd give it a shot. It was something I wanted to do myself because I had to make sure it really turned out the way I wanted. I was concerned if he'd even work in three dimensions. My mom and I designed him, examining all kinds of toys, books and patterns trying to understand how a stuffed animal was created. Our first efforts were pretty sad honestly, but we stuck with it. Eventually, we came up with something that was close, and my mom sewed him all up in time for me to take him with me to SPX (Small Press Expo) last year. Well, the response was unbelievable. We had to keep telling little kids and adults that he wasn't for sale and that was tearing me up. So we decided to make enough of them so that everyone would be able to take Owly home with them. We're still refining him, but he's really looking good at this point so I'm very excited about it.

Westfield: Are you working on any other projects you'd like to mention?

Runton: I've been putting all of my efforts in to Owly, so he's pretty much my only project.