I don’t really do spontaneous. I’m one of life’s planners, someone who likes to mull things over, let them percolate for a while before diving in. So the idea of coming up with a story idea, writing it, getting it drawn, coloured and lettered in just over two weeks doesn’t really sound like my like my cup of tea. At least not on the surface.
The times when I do break my cycle of meticulous preparation the catalyst tends to be either inspiration or the process of collaboration, which is why The Prompt was such a fascinating concept. The idea came from a friend of mine, writer and letterer Nic J Shaw, a fellow member of the Comics Experience workshop. He challenged people to come up with a one-page story and encouraged creators to work together to get it done to a relatively tight deadline. I’ve always felt that limitations and restrictions help fuel creativity and the one-page limitation was one of the key things that whet my writing appetite. That and the thought of getting to work with a new artist for the first time. The other stipulation was that the story had to encompass the theme, the prompt itself “Coming Home”.
I approached an artist. Someone I’d been wanting to work with for some time, Alex Moore whose work I knew from her contributions to the Unseen Shadows universe. Thankfully she said yes and once I knew she was on board I found inspiration by rummaging through her online portfolio to help generate some ideas. It didn’t take long to come up with something that I felt would suit Alex’s art style and that also answered the brief.
I wrestle with my creative decisions when writing fiction, agonise over my choices and beat myself up if things don’t go as well as I hoped. The very notion of The Prompt was completely liberating. This wasn’t the writer who can spend days reworking a single line of dialogue or panel description, this was the writer who used to write radio ad copy against the clock, the writer who’d write and draw multiple stories each day during long Summer school holidays.
I originally envisaged Frontier being silent and presented as a nine panel grid, but as you can see neither of those things came to pass. This wasn’t me sticking to the plan, this was me bobbing and weaving, going with the flow and allowing the natural ebb of a new creative partnership to take shape. Like all of the artists I’ve worked with before, Alex’s approach to visual storytelling surpasses the images that were in my head when writing the script. The changes she made enhanced the storytelling and made the story better than it would have been otherwise. There were some similar stories from other people who were taking part in The Prompt, so I needed to work out what made our story different. In the end, by adding the President’s speech, it gave the story a bit more depth to go with the humour. It also stopped it being an unintentional homage to Escape from the Planet of the Apes. I’m extremely happy with what we’ve ended up with, it feels self contained without being slight, something I wasn’t sure I could achieve within a solitary page.
You can see the first few Prompt one-page stories on tumblr, where more will be posted in the coming weeks. This wasn’t a one off event and a new Prompt has already been posted for next month. March’s challenge ups the ante further, with a bit of a twist and some extra specifications to consider. At the time of writing this, 187 people are members of the closed group on Facebook. I have a feeling that The Prompt will become a fixture of the creative landscape and will give readers some interesting new stories to read and creators some valuable experience along the way. I’m certainly hoping to be part of it again.