Zach Kennah has always had a love of art and storytelling.
The former Green River High School graduate now lives in Los Angeles, moving there after he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art from the University of Wyoming in 2014.
Zach recently saw his education, hard work and dedication come to fruition when after two years of working mostly nights and during any free time, he published his first graphic novel, Crowheart Butte.
Set against the majestic backdrop of the Wind River Mountain Range in Fort Washakie, Zach describes the novel as both a horror story and a social commentary about life on the reservation.
“The inspiration for the book probably came from my dad which is why I dedicated it to him” Zach said. “Because my dad and grandfather have a Shoshone background, I always had this interest in Native culture and Native history.”
Zach’s father Henry often told scary bedtime stories to him and his sister Olivia when they were growing up “which was really exciting for us and kind of freaked us out too,” he chuckled.
Zach said Native Americans along with other minorities are often underrepresented in movies and books, and that was one of the reasons he wanted to create Crowheart Butte.
While Crowheart Butte examines a number of issues facing Native Americans living on reservations, the book also has a horror and fantasy element built into the narrative. In one portion of the book, a grandmother tells her grandchildren about the legend of the Nimerigar, a tribe of creatures that, let’s just say, doesn’t have a lot of empathy for their human counterparts.
Without giving away any plot spoilers, the Nimerigar make another appearance in the book, and the drama begins to unfold.
The main goal was to tell a horror story, but I knew if I was going to be focusing on these characters in this setting, I had to be truthful with certain aspects of life there.Zach Kennah, Author and Illustrator, Crowheart Butte
And his story pulls no punches. It addresses everything from alcoholism and poverty to domestic abuse on the reservation, and it’s told in an honest and genuine way. But Zach also made a point of saying that not every single family on the reservation is suffering from equal hardship, and he wanted to share all of those various experiences with his readers.
A Dream Come True
Zach drew all the illustrations and wrote the narrative for the story beginning work on the project back in September 2018. He currently works at FedEx while he’s building his art career, and he said he used weekends and free time at night to work on the novel.
Two years later, at the end of August 2020, the book was complete. The next step was trying to get it published.
“I started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to try and get it printed because that’s extremely expensive.” Zach said. “That was successful enough to do a pretty good first print run, and since then I’ve just been trying to promote it.”
Zach said it’s been a challenge getting the book promoted because he’s “unknown in the comic world,” and COVID-19 put many publishers in a bind about getting new works out in the market. So that’s when he decided to “go the self-publishing route.”
Zach’s reputation is growing, and he’s been doing more work in his field with freelance illustrating and other work on the side. He said he learned a lot from this experience of writing, illustrating and publishing his first graphic novel. He’s recently begun illustrations for his is second novel while producing independent, stand-alone art. He also recently finished all the illustrations in a ‘zine for a local independent record label.
Zach was recently accepted to the Sam Fox School for Design and Visual Arts in St. Louis, MO and is deciding if he will attend in the fall. He said he will take his first publishing experience and learn from the process as he plans his next project.
Crowheart Butte is currently available on his website zachkennahart.com, and there are copies available at Red White Buffalo in downtown Green River as well. The University of Wyoming has also added several copies of the book to its library, and Zach continues to work with other outlets to get Crowheart Butte into more stores.