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Talking ‘Nonplayer’ With Nate Simpson

With the first issue sold out and a very high review score, I had the chance to sit down with the creator/writer/artist Nate Simpson of Image Comics' Nonplayer and ask him a few questions about the book and a good mix of where he started and how he came to comics.

PA) First of all congrats on Nonplayer #1 selling out at the distribution level and going back for a second print. Are you surprised by the success of the title?

NS) Totally. I've been getting emails from friends I haven't talked to in decades, saying they've heard about the comic. That's downright weird. I'd really expected this thing to go completely under the radar. It's very gratifying to know there are people out there waiting for the next issue.

PA) The biggest thing that stands out on your resume is that you've worked in video games since 1993. What made you leave one industry for the other and what are the major differences?

Nate SimpsonNS) I think a lot of game artists are jealous of the autonomy and notoriety that comic artists enjoy -- when you make games, you're burdened with all sorts of design limitations, technical constraints, and deadines. By contrast, comic artists get to work on a vast canvas with virtually no externally-imposed limits. The main drawback is the isolation. I miss being around creative people all day. Also, I miss having money.
But in terms of direct causes for my career change, I quit pretty soon after seeing a book of Hayao Miyazaki's storyboards for Nausicaa. It was such a pristine, complete vision, and all from one guy! That was very exciting to see.

PA) Are there any games that you worked on that you can talk about? Any highlights to your career?

NS) I was the lead artist on Demigod, and I'm still very proud of what that team achieved. I also did either concepting or modeling for Supreme Commander 2, Space Siege, GoPets, and Starfleet Command 2.

PA) Nonplayer is obviously influenced by video games, but what inspired the idea and lead to it's development?

NS) I think it came from a lot of things that I'd been reading about but that didn't seem to be popping up too frequently in contemporary fiction. Americans, in particular, seem to be stuck in an apocalyptic mindset right now, so all we're getting is zombies and vampires. I don't think that's the future that's in store for us, though. There's all this amazing stuff on the horizon -- augmented reality, robust artificial intelligence, true virtual worlds. Maybe my work in games kept me on the outskirts of these disciplines, so I've been watching them with a lot of interest. Guys like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have been very influential to my way of thinking about the future. Nonplayer comes from all of that.

Nonplayer CoverPA) What was your main influence for the main character Dana? What personalty type do you see her as and what will she become as the story progresses?

NS) Dana's a gifted but aimless young woman who splits her time between a minimum-wage fast food job and a secret life as an assassin in the online world of Jarvath. She's given up on the idea of accomplishing anything in the real world -- the only reason she bothers with a job at all is to help pay for her little sister's tuition. On the side, she builds virtual worlds as a hobby. She has some amazing creative gifts, but having received one rejection letter from a game company, she's decided she's no good. 

As far as her personality, she's one of those people who thinks she's irrelevant, and gets surprised when people are hurt by her offhand rudeness. In the real world, she's an ant. In Jarvath, her actions feel like they have consequences.

PA) Personally I was drawn to the book by the art style. How long have you been drawing for and are how did you learn or are you self taught?

NS) Like pretty much everybody else, I've been drawing since I was a kid. I have very strong memories of this other kid in first grade who drew much better than I did, and how envious that made me! I was socially awkward and spent many hours by myself, so that gave me plenty of time to live in make-believe worlds. And I think I came across inspiring artwork at exactly the right times in my life, so I always had someone to emulate. First it was the dinosaurs of William Stout, then Moebius, then Geof Darrow, and finally Arthur Rackham in high school. Those four guys had all the answers, art-wise.

Page 1I have had some formal art training, as well, though to be honest I'm not sure it had much effect on my development as an artist. My parents sent me to an art class in LA called KidsArt in my early teens, and I copied a lot of old paintings there. And after giving up on paleontology at the University of Chicago, I transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I did a lot of figure painting. I think I probably learned a few things about color there.

PA) Aside from the art itself the coloring of the book is some of the most impressive in comics today. What do you use to color? I'm guessing it's a computer program, but I could be wrong.

NS) Everything from rough layouts through final color was done in Photoshop using a Wacom Cintiq 21UX tablet monitor. I usually don't have very strong ideas about color, so digital tools allow me to experiment with different sliders and blend modes until something suggests itself. And I get a lot of mileage out of layers -- some of the pages come close to 200 layers of color.

PA) What's in the future of Nonplayer? Is there anything you can tell me about the second issue or the overall story arc?

NS) Nonplayer is planned for a six-issue run, though as has been reported elsewhere, I've been running into some challenges fitting the entire arc into that many issues. There may either be a seventh bonus issue, or we may look into making the sixth issue double-length.
I can't talk about the second issue very much without getting into spoiler territory. All I can say is that the scope of the story expands significantly over the course of the series, and that observant readers might find some clues as to the nature of that expansion somewhere within the first issue.

Page 2PA) Do you have further plans for a second series of Nonplayer or even an ongoing series or is it a self-contained story?

NS) The story is completely self-contained. I like beginnings, middles, and ends -- an ongoing format can sometimes encourage meandering. That said, there may be a sequel series that's its own complete story. That mostly depends on how the first series is received.

PA) If so what project do you see yourself working on after Nonplayer?

NS) I've got another comic I'm thinking about, but I have so little time to think about anything other than N
onplayer that it's stuck on the back burner for now. It's nice to know I've got something in the hopper for the future, though. I've got enough material to keep me busy for at least a decade.

PA) Last question: Who would win in a fight? Stan Lee in his prime or Jack Kirby in his prime?

NS) I just did an image search for young pictures of both men, and I gotta say that Kirby looked like he could throw down. I suppose Lee might have some special charm attack or something, but if it comes to bare-knuckles, my money's on Kirby.

We'd like to thank Nate for taking the time to talk to us and if you want to know more about Nonplayer then check out our review and the preivew as well.

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