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Southwest Washington lore at heart of comic anthology

Matthew Merz has carried several eerie stories related to Southwest Washington in his memory since childhood.

As a writer, he wanted to retell, or repurpose, the tales of children disappearing in Yacolt while picking berries, and of the eater of men, Bakbakwalanooksiwae, as told to Merz by Chief Lelooska in the longhouse 10 miles east of Woodland.

“These stories melded in my mind after I had read ‘Lone Wolf.’ I’ve always remembered these stories and never really knew what to do with them. This character was the missing piece,” Merz said.

“Lone Wolf” is an independent comic book created by Doug Garrett, who resides in Jamestown, Tenn. Merz met Garrett through an online community of indie comic book creators and enthusiasts. Only one issue of the series has been released, but people in their social circle expressed wanting to help continue the story.

That help was needed following the release of the first issue because the original artist, Jeff Lasley, had too many projects going on to help with an immediate sequel. Fortunately, there was a cohort of backers willing to work for free.

“I told Doug, ‘If you ever do an anthology book, let me know, because I would love to write a local story for you,’ ” Merz said. “A lot of other artists and writers had also reached out, asking to do local stories. So, we said, let’s do it.”

An Indiegogo campaign was started for “Legends of the Lone Wolf” about a month ago. As of June 6, it had raised about $2,700 toward its $4,000 goal. The funds will be used to manufacture and deliver the final product. The full-color, 80-page anthology is a monster by conventional standards, and at a starting price point of $20 for the physical book, it’s a steal. Merz said the involved artists were more interested in people reading their stories than making a bunch of money.

“Lone Wolf” follows the story of a Cherokee warrior who dukes it out with evil supernatural beings. The main character, described by Garrett as the “last protector of Earth,” has been imbued with powers by five elders. The backstory of Wolf, as he is called by his mother in the first issue, has yet to be fully revealed. The inaugural story indicates he’s 200 years old; it also hints that he can survive severe injuries.

Garrett created Lone Wolf when he was studying his family history and discovered he had a Cherokee princess ancestor who married a mixed-race settler tasked with negotiating peace among indigenous tribes and colonizers.

“It was two worlds colliding, and that’s part of Lone Wolf,” Garrett said.

There will be a short story in the anthology that delves deeper into Lone Wolf’s backstory and powers, but that overarching narrative remains on hold for the time being.

The main feature

Merz’s story will act as the main feature of the collection. Most entries are about a dozen pages. Merz’s input will take up 38 pages.

This is his first time writing a comic book story. He’s co-written a script, produced documentaries in Portland and has been involved in other content creation. He’s delving into comics because colleagues advised him it can be a realistic path to selling a screenplay.

His Lone Wolf story happens near the end of the 19th century in Kalama and Yacolt, around the time electricity started spreading nationwide but wouldn’t have reached the area yet, Merz said. Wolf has found his way to Kalama (which Merz chose for its rich history and connection to Chief Lelooska) and hears about loggers who have gone missing in Yacolt (where the author’s grandparents lived). Merz’s family has lived in both communities for generations.

Yacolt is a Klickitat term that has multiple meanings. “Valley of evil spirits” and “haunted place” are among them. A story about children disappearing into the woods there has been mixed with another tale of a Klickitat maiden who suffered the same fate.

“After letting it marinate, the story poured out of me in two days,” Merz said. “These stories have existed locally for a long time, and I wanted a story completely steeped in Southwest Washington culture.”

Merz employed a colleague he met online to illustrate the story — Mior Muneer of Ipoh, Malaysia. He chose Muneer because his friend is “a good person with an interesting story himself,” and he wanted to see a Malaysian artistic perspective on Native American culture.

Muneer, who works at a small animation company as a character designer and storyboard artist, said in an email he has always been fascinated with myths from other countries and cultures.

“I think they’re all amazing. So when Matt sent me the script, and told me it’s based on an actual local legend from his area, I just knew I have to draw it. And not to mention that his script is just solid, man. It is just so good,” Muneer said.

“Legends of the Lone Wolf” has an estimated shipping date of September. For local folks, Merz created a “Northwest Natives Perk,” which removes the shipping cost for people wanting to pick up the book directly from him. He said he’ll drive copies out to Yacolt.

Additionally, 10 percent of all sales above the initial funding goal will go to the Lelooska Foundation.



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