Fundraising to help pay for the $60-million Liberty Canyon wildlife bridge in Agoura Hills is in full swing, with contributions coming from businesses, foundations, government grants—and now an art book written and illustrated by local residents.
The book, “P-22: The Journey,” documents the male puma’s miraculous, death-defying trek from the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. National Geographic photographer Steve Winter took his famous picture of P-22 as it walked in front of the Hollywood sign one night in 2013.
Old Agoura artist Kathi Colman had already been busy over the past few years painting images of mountain lions known to have lived and died in the Santa Monica Mountains, but the book, she said, deserved some new images of the cougars to fit the narrative, which is appropriate for children, but is equally informative for adults since the history and travails of the big cats is only part of the tale.
The story was written by Agoura Hills resident Sherry Mangel-Ferber and Calandra Cherry. Mangel-Ferber is a retired teacher, and Cherry is a Burbank resident who works with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association at the Los Angeles Zoo. Yvette Berke, a Valley Glen resident who had worked at Disney, served as editor and “conduit” to assemble the hardcover, hand-stitched book. The women formed Ghost Cat Publications as part of the venture.
The story is told through the perspective of P-22, a daredevil of a puma that managed to successfully cross two freeways to land in the relative safety of Griffith Park.
“I am a mountain lion,” starts the narrative. “I live in Liberty Canyon. The sun shines bright over the chaparral during the day. The creeks flow with fresh water to drink.”
The photos and artwork in the book elevate the story to more than a children’s tale. Colman’s painting of P-22 lazing about on a mountain ledge subtly demonstrates the cougar’s need for larger territory.
P-22 must go in search of a new home because two dominant male lions can’t peacefully coexist in such close range.
“The land has always taken care of me,” P-22 explains. “It is the only home I have ever known. But it belongs to another mountain lion. . . . A male much more powerful than I.”
A beautiful, ghostly painting of P-22 is superimposed on the landscape with vast mountains ranges in back, an image that demonstrates how P-22’s journey will be long and arduous.
Readers are led into the story through the mind of the cat. “I let my nose lead me,” the cougar says. “The fresh mountain air, lacking the scent of my competitor, points me in the right direction.”
At her Old Agoura home and art studio, Colman discussed the book’s origins.
The idea for it was hatched in August 2017. By October, she had been asked to illustrate the journey of the cat.
“I figured six or eight paintings would be needed,” Colman said.
But when the storyboard was completed by Mangel-Ferber and Cherry, Colman said she “nearly fell on the floor.” It turned out that the book required 28 paintings, sketches and photographs.
Mangel-Ferber met Cherry at the Los Angeles Zoo while she was participating in a National Wildlife Federation event.
“Callie came over and said she always wanted to write a book about P-22,” Mangel-Ferber said.
Cherry said the meeting was quite “serendipitous.”
Berke met Mangel-Ferber at a cat rescue. Berke was a volunteer at the rescue.
“I came in for kitty therapy after the loss of my cat,” Mangel-Ferber said. “We hit it off right away, and I adopted two kitties.”
The women agreed that the story of P-22 had to be told from the cat’s perspective. “We thought about writing a children’s book, but then it became an art book that told P-22’s story through prose,” Mangel-Ferber said.
Colman said she had to strike a delicate balance in depicting the puma’s life and struggle to survive.
“I didn’t want to scare children,” she said about the need to show how P-22 must kill deer to survive.
Instead of depicting a gruesome, bloody kill, Colman showed a deer hunt in the wallpaper of a room within a painting.
Mangel-Ferber financed the book to the tune of $5,700. Upon its release, she will recoup her initial investment and hold back some funds for reprints as needed.
The book will be sold for $25, including tax. More than two-thirds of the money will be donated to the #SaveLACougars campaign, organizers said. If 10 or more books are purchased, a 10 percent discount will be applied. The women hope to sell the books at special events, at the gift shop at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, and other venues.
Events like Pie and P-22, Wine and P-22 and Music and P-22 will be hosted throughout the year. Other sales ideas are being discussed, including the use of a mobile book van.
Caltrans gave preliminary approval in May for a wildlife bridge at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. Early plans call for a 165-foot-wide by 200-foot-long vegetated bridge across U.S. Highway 101 with an extension over Agoura Road, a city street that runs parallel to the freeway on the south side. Once the design phase is complete, construction could start in late 2020, depending on funding availability.
George Colman, Kathi’s husband, said about $3.8 million has been raised for the wildlife crossing so far. He expects about $10 million will be contributed by the end of 2018.
An environmental report has been completed and approved by Caltrans and its architects.
IN A NUTSHELL
The first book signing for “P-22: The Journey” will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sun., Sept. 23 at Aldabella Custom Crush Winery & Storage, 31111 Via Colinas, Westlake Village. Visitors can sip wine and meet authors Calandra Cherry and Sherry Mangel- Ferber and illustrator Kathi Colman. Copies will be available for $25. For reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another signing event is planned for Oct. 27 at P-22 day in L.A.’s Griffith Park. The women will sign the book along P-22’s trail, starting in Agoura Hills and ending at Griffith Park. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Ghostcatpublications.