|"Owly: A Time to Be Brave"|
Though the concept of "Owly" and his stories are pretty straightforward, the use of silent communication makes the books unusual for the genre of children's books and nearly unique in comics. This signature trait of the Owly books was a case of necessity giving birth to innovation. "When I tried to write dialogue, I wasn't happy with the results," Runton said. "The first Owly story originally had words, but when it just wasn't working, I decided to leave them off and use his eyes and body language to tell the story. That was okay with me because I always loved silent characters, and it made me work harder to make sure the story was clear to anyone who reads it. Not having words also makes it easier for me to know what's working and what isn't. It's important that everyone can follow and enjoy the story, and I think that's why it appeals to both children and adults.
Time with Mom played a large part in Owly's creation, as well. "Owly started out as a simple little doodle on a post-it note. When I was in college, I lived at home and would stay up really late working on design projects," Runton said. "I would leave little notes for my mom and let her know what time I went to bed and it was always late, so she called me her little owl. She's loved my cute little drawings - the cuter the better. So I drew this little owl named Owly on the notes to make her smile. Over the years, Owly sort of became my mascot." Though he did not initially set out to make an "Owly" comic, Runton saw that he had already created a strong visual character with something like a story to support him. "One day, I just looked at Owly and saw what I had. He already had his own group of friends that I had been adding to the notes now and then, and I loved drawing him. He had been there all the time, but I had overlooked him in my searching. After that, everything just unfolded, and I started writing stories based on Owly."
The fourth Owly book "Owly: A Time to Be Brave," focuses on overcoming fear. Owly and Wormy try to make friends with an opossum, but Wormy thinks the new critter might be a dragon while the opossum has an instinctual fear of owls. Runton says that both the story set up and the moral are drawn from life. "The main story of book 4, like all of the Owly stories, has an element of truth to it," he said. "A while ago I created a little barrier under our deck out of wire fencing to help keep the stray cats from hiding under there and jumping out at the unsuspecting birds. I thought it was ingenious! Unfortunately, one night a little 'possum ended up getting caught on it. Don't worry, he wasn't hurt by it, just stuck in it. But that was what I used to build the story. That way, all of the emotion was real. The expressions of the 'possum in the story are taken straight from my memory, and Owly's feelings of fear and guilt were my own. The fear aspect came from my own fears of the unknown. Not knowing what the future holds and who is a friend or a foe, but knowing that in the end there aren't any dragons. The reality is that everybody has fears that can make them act different ways. If we understand each other, then we can all be friends and face the fears together."
To promote the latest "Owly" adventure, Runton will be making his comic convention rounds. "I've been going to conventions since 2004, and the list of tour stops just seems to grow with each year," Runton said. "I'm still getting the schedule together, but this year I'll end up doing at least 10 convention appearances. I'll be visiting all of my favorite conventions such as MegaCon, Fluke, Heroes, MoCCA, San Diego, Baltimore and Dragon*Con as well as visiting some new ones! Free Comic Book Day is always a wonderful day, and I'll be somewhere special for that!"
Given the nature of "Owly," though, the artist is also stopping off at more education-minded venues. "The coolest thing is that I've started to be invited to more and more libraries, schools, comic stores, bookstores, and book festivals throughout the country, so I'm sure it'll be quite a busy year indeed."