Here, there be choices: A new book shows how power of decisions shape life's experiences

Published: Saturday, June 8 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

James A. Owen signing a comic book cover at the 2013 Phoenix Comicon.

James A. Owen

The first time James A. Owen sat on a particular bench on top of a hill in Ireland, he was sure he was living his dream. It was 1992 and Owen had sold almost everything he owned, kissed his wife of only four months goodbye, traveled 5,000 miles and, in a few minutes, he was going to walk down that hill to apply for an artist job at the Sullivan Bluth animation studio in Dublin.

He didn't have an appointment.

What he did have was what he thought was inside information. A friend told him that the studio had several unadvertised jobs open for someone with drawing skills to help make animated features like the studio's "All Dogs go to Heaven" or "An American Tail." As someone who sold his first self-published comic books at San Diego's Comic-Con in 1986 when he was 16, Owen was certain the studio would hire him on the spot.

They didn't.

The second time he sat on that cold bench was only a few hours later. The studio wasn't advertising its openings because it was shutting down. All the money in the world that 21-year-old Owen had was in his pocket — he had one Irish pound.

"I had realized I was staking my choices and my plans on other people's goals," Owen says. "I had gone to Ireland fairly starry eyed with the idea of contributing what I could to the goals of this studio. And then finding out it was not going to happen. ... But I already had goals of my own, I had those goals as a teenager and I had gradually moved away from the goals that were important to me."

So with the harsh reality of failure staring him in the face, Owen decided it was time to start his own comic book publishing company.

Now this type of story is either going to drive people crazy or inspire them. Either way, Owen's new book, "Drawing Out the Dragons" (Shadow Mountain, $19.99), is a great catalyst for new graduates or anybody needing to make important decisions in their lives. It is that rarest of self-help books — it is utterly unique, quirky and insightful. And even if some might find it puzzling, it makes people think.

Success and setbacks

Owen, a tall man who speaks with a soft voice and who has a penchant for wearing vests, has had many successes in his life. He has written and illustrated seven books in the bestselling series "The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica" published by Simon and Schuster. He has had the book "Here, There Be Dragons" optioned for a movie. And he recently cut a deal to publish three inspirational books through Deseret Book's Shadow Mountain imprint ("Drawing Out the Dragons" is the first) and five other fantasy novels.

But, as he recounts in detail in this new book, he has had devastating setbacks as well. In addition to the Ireland incident, he almost died of a blood disease when he was 11, his drawing hand was crushed just as his comic book publishing company was taking off, and his studio and business almost were in foreclosure. He struggled for years and years before his "Here, There Be Dragons" books.

But this is not the way he thinks about things.

"Our lives are what we focus on," Owen says. "So you can either focus on what's gone wrong or you can focus on what's going right and make it better. That includes things that happen to us that aren't our fault. That includes choices we made that were our own mistakes. You can either dwell on those things and have them pull you down, or you can learn from them and learn to choose better."

Deciding

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