Smash Pages Q&A | Will Tempest on ‘Harsh Prospect’

The creator of the webcomic-turned-crowdfunded graphic novel discusses the science fiction/horror story, his approach to design and his work in the tabletop game space.

Will Tempest is an artist based out of Edinburgh in the UK, where he creates comics, tabletop RPGs and more in the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres. Last year he crowdfunded a print collection of his webcomic, Harsh Prospect, which is available to read on the web, on Webtoon or to purchase for download.

Harsh Prospect is a science fiction story in the vein of The Thing or Alien, as a struggling colony on an alien world discovers “a blob of goo” that proves to be more than they bargained for. The eerie setting is made even more so by Tempest’s designs; readers of Tempest’s work on Cities of Magick or Materials know that he has an eye for creative yet practical character and creature designs.

I spoke with Tempest about the project, as well as a tabletop game he’s developed with his brother. We discuss the comic, its influences, his approach to design, what I learned from crowdfunding and more. My thanks for his time.

I thought I’d start by asking about your secret origin. What brought you to comics, both as a reader and as a creator?

Probably the biggest moment for me was being around 11 or 12 years old  and picking up a copy of Wolverine. It was a Panini Comics Marvel reprint and had a few issues in there. The one that really stood out to me was an issue drawn by Rob Liefeld, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen and read it until the comic fell apart. That was the moment I said to myself I want to make comics. 

When did you first get the idea for Harsh Prospect, and what were some of your inspirations for it? 

I started Harsh Prospect back around the end of 2018. At the time I didn’t have a grand idea for the story, I mainly just liked the idea of drawing a comic set in a colony far from earth with some sort of monster in a cave. Basically, an excuse to design some fun sci-fi stuff. It was originally going to be around 80 pages but the more time I spent with it the more it kept growing. I couldn’t stop thinking of different aspects of the setting I wanted to explore. It was really only half way through the book I thought I should make some clear idea of where the story was going and how it should end. The whole process was a bit like a jigsaw, having all these different parts that I had to fit together. It was a lot of fun but also required quite a bit of reworking pages I’d already finished.

While I was working on Harsh Prospect I was reading William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy which I think inspired a few decisions. I did a little research on company towns in the UK and U.S. during the 1800s to help figure out how the colony might be run and structured. Also, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg movies (body horror in general is a big inspiration of mine), Mobile Suit Gundam and The Expanse were definitely inspirations for me while working on it. I always enjoy seeing different factions vying for power and the squabbling bureaucrats that go with it.

Finally, it was hard not to be influenced by the activities of the billionaires we have today and our current trajectory of outer space capitalism. 

One of the things I like about your work, which I’ve noticed both here and in your other projects, is your approach to character and creature design. How do you approach designing the people and creatures that populate your work? And in Harsh Prospect, were there any designs whose visual representation evolved significantly during the creative process?

When it comes to design I like to try and have a reason for each decision, whether that is something practical or a reflection of the characters history or personality. I like to have a level of physicality to my designs, for example I try to think about how certain aspects of clothing are put together, what are they for and what kind of material they are made from.

For Harsh Prospect I didn’t make fully finished character designs, it was a process of making lots of sketches. The main bulk of the design decisions were left to be figured out on the page. 

I try have more finished ideas for designs these days as I find it helps to have something to quickly refer back to. It also means the idea is more fleshed out in my head so there’s less hesitancy when it comes to putting them down on the page.

As both a graphic novel and a webcomic, readers are coming to Harsh Prospect through two different mediums. How did you adapt your work to suit the two formats?

I made the book with the printed format in mind but decided to also release it as a webcomic to make it as accessible as possible for people. 

The webcomic required quite a bit of work colour-wise and some resizing of dialogue to make sure it was still legible on the screen. 

Are there any panels or sequences in Harsh Prospect that you’re particularly proud of from an artistic standpoint? If so, what makes them stand out to you?

I would have to say the sequence where August first enters the caves after falling from the cliff. I really like the swirling texture of the alien lifeform, how that leads the reader’s eye and August through the environment. Adding that wasn’t a planned decision but something I thought of while working on the colours for the pages. I think it works really well. It’s also a reminder for me that there are still new ideas that can be added even that late in the process.

You funded the graphic novel through Kickstarter, and I was hoping you could share a little bit about what the process was like. What were some of the challenges and surprises, and what would you do differently? And would you do another one? 

I went into the process a little underprepared. During the campaign I was in touch with a few kickstarter veterans though that gave me a lot of good advice so I was able to update the campaign as it progressed. It was a very ‘learning on the job’ situation. The whole process is challenging, I don’t think I quite realised how much work actually goes into running a campaign, particularly on the promotion side of things. You have to be very pro-active.

The biggest surprise for me was simply hitting the funding goal. This was my first solo kickstarter campaign and I had quite a high goal so I wasn’t sure I’d actually reach it. I was blown away by all the support.

Next time I think I’d spend more time in the prelaunch phase connecting with other creators running campaigns at the same time so we can help support each other, and reach out to more stores and news outlets early on to help promote the campaign and get the word out there before it’s launched. 

I’d definitely do another but I would like it to be for another big project.

In terms of support, do you have any idea of how many people are reading Harsh Prospect on the web? And do you know how many of those readers may have supported the campaign? 

There was a few names I recognised supporting the campaign who had reached out before to say they’d enjoyed the book online but in terms of exact numbers I’m not actually sure.

Do you have any future plans for it now that you’ve completed the Kickstarter campaign — i.e. looking for a traditional publisher to reprint it, or doing a sequel?

I’m trying to promote the book as much as I can, as well as get it into as many stores as possible. I’d be open to a traditional publisher reprinting it but it’s not something I’m actively pursuing at the moment. 

I do have some ideas for a possible sequel but it will be a while before I start seriously considering working on it. I feel I need a bit of a break before I starting on another big story.

What else are you working on at the moment? 

I’m currently working on Short Sword Volume 2, which is going to be another anthology of short comics. I’ve been really enjoying working on them as it lets me experiment with different writing and art styles/techniques. I’m also working on a couple of tabletop game projects with my brother, Sam Tempest, which I’m really excited about.

Nice! Can you say anything else about the tabletop projects you’re working on with your brother? 

We recently finished our first project, The Flood Bell Tolls in Saint Magnus, which is a campaign setting you can use with whatever table top game you like. It’s a gothic science fiction, set in a drowning city on the verge of rebellion. Gargoyles, sunken space ships, mutant mosquito people; it’s a lot of fun.

We’re now working on a tactical RPG called Frogmen which is inspired by cartoons from our childhood like TMNT, Biker Mice From Mars as well as games like XCOM. Alongside that we’re also working on a Mörk Borg campaign book inspired by Celtic mythology.

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