Shawn Pryor originally wrote a short comic alongside artist George Kambadais that was supposed to be published as a back-up in another comic, but that comic series was discontinued before his story would have run.
Left without a home for the comic, about domestic violence from a child’s perspective, he got an idea: what if he turned each panel into a whole page and instead released it as a children’s picture book?
“It was mind-blowing,” Pryor said. “The reason why was because a lot of the story is just black background. So you’re focused on the character or place or presence. Your eyes are always focused on the subject at hand, and you’re not focused on any kind of background stuff. It brings the characters and the feelings and the emotions closer to you.”
Pryor decided to take the children’s picture book, called The Fire Within, to Kickstarter, where he’s already reached the $2,800 goal and is now trying to fund stretch goals that would make the book longer and improve its production quality.
Known most prominently for his comics work, Pryor has written comics like Cash and Carrie, a Fillmore, Scooby Doo and X-Files inspired all-ages mystery book and F.O.R.C.E., a football comic, both of which originally funded by Kickstarter. In recent years, Pryor has also gotten into writing children’s picture books and graphic novels, making this project fit in nicely with his portfolio.
Pryor launched the Kickstarter campaign Aug. 21 and reached his main goal in less than a week. With 15 days left in the campaign, Pryor is nearing his first stretch goal of $4,000, which would add four pages to the book. Later stretch goals, which climb as high as $8,000, would further add pages to the book, outfit the book with a glossy cover and laminated pages and include, for certain backers, additional books from other creators.
Pulling from personal experience witnessing domestic violence as a child, the stories he’s heard about the issue from friends and family as well as research he conducted, Pryor wrote a story he hopes will encourage conversation about the tricky issue. The story is told from the perspective of a fictional boy named Andre who witnesses his mother suffer abuse from her husband.
“We don’t talk about domestic violence. We really don’t. Or, if we do, we don’t know how,” Pryor said. “We don’t talk about getting help, and we don’t talk about sometimes why people don’t leave relationships that are mired with domestic violence.”
We especially don’t talk about how domestic violence affects children, Pryor said. He also said that folks in the Black community often have a hard time grappling with this issue.
“Black communities, a lot of times, we don’t talk about domestic violence. We don’t,” Pryor said. “A lot of times, when we do, is when it’s all said and done and the couple’s split or someone’s been tragically hurt. We speak on it afterward. We don’t talk about it during. Sometimes, we don’t know how to talk about it. I just wanted this to serve as a bridge.”
The artist, Kambadais, had never before done work about this subject matter.
“What he brought back was even better than I envisioned in my head,” Pryor said. “Because, as creatives, we have in our heads what we think it’s gonna look like, and when you give it to somebody, it’s always going to be different than you expected. And what he brought in return was even more powerful.”
Pryor has now found himself in a place in his career where he’s able to make not just comics but also children’s picture books and other types of writing. He’s currently working on another football comic and a scary graphic novel for kids. He’s happy to have a career that lends him more freedom than ever before.
“It’s taught me that, ‘yeah man, you were always versatile. You just didn’t believe you were versatile. You were led to believe that this one spot was the only spot you were ever supposed to be in.’ A spot in a business that really isn’t kind to people who look like me,” Pryor said. “So, you can also take your talents elsewhere too and do really well. And it’s been great.”
update; 12:30 PM september 2: a previous version of this article misspelled shawn pryor’s last name. apologies!
all images courtesy of shawn pryor. you can support the kickstarter at thefirewithinstory.com.
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