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Interview: Andy Runton

This week I’m posting interviews with kids comic creators taken at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. Today’s interview (transcribed from the audio recording) features Andy Runton, creator of the popular and award winning kids’ comic series Owly (published by Top Shelf).

GCFK: Andy, how did you get started working in comics?

Andy: I always loved comics when I would read them as a kid. I would see animated stuff on TV, but it would be hard to duplicate that. I think seeing things printed, especially in black and white, made it a lot easier to realize, hey, I can do that, I can draw that! So I always, as far back as I can remember, I loved drawing cartoon characters. I loved the Sunday comics. My mom used to read those to me and I think that was a big part of me learning how to read. Eventually I got into comic books. I loved those, I loved drawing them. But I never felt I could do it as a living.

It’s strange, I think that most kids don’t realize that adults actually do comics, they’re just there. The first time I realized that they were drawn by someone was [Kevin] Eastman and [Peter] Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because they put their names on it. It was like, “wow, it’s these guys? Wow, that’s neat.” That gave me something to look at and think, hey, maybe I could do that, but I never thought that I could. I was a graphic designer, that’s what I went to school for. I lost my job in 2001, right after 9/11, when the dot com bubble burst, but I really wasn’t happy being a graphic designer. So I thought, “You know what? I’m going to try this.” Around that time I found small press, independent comics and I thought they were really interesting. I tried my hand at it and here I am!

GCFK: What were some other comic influences of yours growing up?

Andy: I loved Warner Brothers cartoons when I was growing up, that was my thing. I loved cartoons, period. I think everything about that from School House Rock to Hanna-Barbera, Disney stuff, that’s what I loved the most. Anything that had an emotional connection.

GCFK: How many years have you been working on Owly?

Andy: It was probably in the fall of 2001 that I actually created Owly, but I didn’t publish the first book until 2004.

GCFK: Have you worked on anything other than Owly?

Andy: I tried a few other things before I did Owly. I think that everyone goes through this. They try to create stuff that they think is cool. I did this little book called Orzo, which was a combination of all the things I thought were cool at the time–aliens, I loved the Powerpuff Girls, I love the more grittier style of stuff, but it was kind of cute too. I was really shying away from the cuteness. When I embraced it was when I embraced the way I really wanted to draw and that was Owly. When I found Owly I’d been searching for him for a long time.

GCFK: Are you working on any new projects right now?

Andy: I’m working on a new Owly book, actually two new books, with Simon & Schuster which will be full-color, wordless, 40 page, larger format Owly picture books. I just finished one of those and I’m working on the second. I’m also working on the sixth Owly graphic novel.

GCFK: Do you have any advice for teachers, librarians, parents on working with kids who are excited about comics?

Andy: The funny thing is that I always had trouble reading, so I never considered comics to be a lower art form or anything like that. That was for me the gateway drug to reading. I think that some people think that, “no, you need to graduate to these bigger books.” Some people even think that comics are done by children, but there’s a lot going on in these books. Take the time before you make a judgment, read the comics, see what you think about them. Figure out what makes them interesting to readers, talk to them about it, show them other things like that. Don’t be afraid of [comics] and don’t just dismiss them. It’s like any other kind of art form.

GCFK: Do you have any advice for young comic creators?

Andy: Draw what you love. I think that if you try to draw something that you think someone else is going to like, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. You just need to draw the stuff you enjoy. For instance, I always had trouble drawing people. To this day I have trouble drawing people. I used to think that because of that I could never get a job at Marvel or DC [Comics] or anything like that and therefore I could never create comics. But that’s not really the case. You can tell the stories you want to tell and draw the stuff you want to draw and you can make it work. Don’t feel like you have to fit into some little kind of scheme. And don’t even worry about the label. Just draw what you love and see what happens.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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