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The Next Big Thing: Nate Simpson Talks NONPLAYER

Written by Christian Hoffer on Tuesday, March 22 2011 and posted in Features

Nate Simpson, the creator of the hyped Image miniseries Nonplayer, stops by the Outhouse to discuss his first foray into the comic book industry.

Nate Simpson is the writer and illustrator of the soon to be published Image title Nonplayer.  Nonplayer has received early hype from several major comic book websites such as CBR and Bleeding Cool and has been mentioned by several industry insiders as the next smash indy hit in the vein of Morning Glories and 27.  Nate stopped by the Outhouse to discuss his first foray into the comic book industry. 

Cover to Nonplayer #1
The Outhouse: For readers who haven't heard of the book, what's Nonplayer about?

Nate Simpson: Nonplayer follows the exploits of Dana Stevens, a tamale delivery girl in the future who spends most of her time inside a full-immersion MMO called "Warriors of Jarvath." Unbeknownst to her, The AI-driven characters within the game have recently achieved sentience, and they've decided they don't like being hunted for sport. When she kills the wife of celebrity game character King Heremoth, she ends up on the receiving end of a major blood vendetta.

OH: What was the inspiration behind Nonplayer?

NS: I'm not sure if I can point to just one inspiration -- Nonplayer contains ingredients from the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Ray Kurzweil, Vernor Vinge, Moebius, and Geof Darrow, among others. Specifically, it was Miyazaki's storyboards for Nausicaa that got me to start thinking about world-building as a career.

OH: Tell readers about Dana Stephens, the main character of Nonplayer. What do you feel makes her unique as a character?

NS: With all the buxom super-babes and pixie dream girls on the stands these days, I felt like credible, real-life girls were underrepresented in fantasy/sci-fi comics. Dana is far from normal -- she's an excellent gamer, as well as a talented designer of virtual worlds -- but she also has self-esteem problems, she doesn't know what to do with her life, and she faces a lot of mundane daily challenges. She gets zits. She wonders if she plays too many games. She thinks her actions in the real world don't really have consequences, and she's sometimes inadvertently rude to people. She doesn't have a boyfriend, isn't sure she wants a boyfriend, and might find it challenging to get a boyfriend if she ever sought one.

Interior art from Nonplayer #1
OH: Nonplayer seems like it will deal heavily with both online and offline video game culture. What made you decide to focus on this aspect of gaming culture?

NS: Having worked in games for the last decade, I've gotten really interested in the relative value of real versus synthetic experience. So the thought experiment for Nonplayer was "what if we just dispense with that real/fake hierarchy and just have two equally-valid realities alongside one another?" It's a little weird at first to think of it in those terms -- especially when films like Tron and the Matrix go to such great lengths to make virtual realities feel cold and fake. In no time at all, our "fake" realities will be richer, more rewarding, and more beautiful places than the one we live in now.

OH: You're both drawing and writing Nonplayer. What additional challenges have you faced because of the additional responsibilities?

NS: The biggest problem is time. Between writing, drawing, and promoting the comic, my progress feels pretty glacial sometimes. It can take a bit of an effort to switch between writing and drawing mode, as well. And of course, because I'm new to comics, I'm often quite terrible at the marketing and business sides of the job. Just talking about money stuff can sometimes make it very hard to get back into a creative head space.

OH: Your art has been highly praised by many notable sources, including Warren Ellis, CBR and Bleeding Cool. Who influenced your art and what do you feel sets it apart from the average comic book artist?

Interior art from Nonplayer #1
: My big four are Moebius, Geof Darrow, William Stout, and Arthur Rackham. They're just all untouchable, immense talents. Whenever I get stuck on something I go back to them for guidance. As to what sets my stuff apart -- I'm not sure, really. I think I'm too new an artist to have settled into a style yet. I mean, you look at an early Mignola page and compare it to his current style, and it looks like two different people did the work. I hope there's some evolving in my future, as well.

If something distinguishes my work, it might be the time that I take with each page. Not having the deadlines that hobble most comic artists, I can put a lot of love into every page until it feels finished. That's nice!

OH: Nonplayer has been subject to a lot of hype online recently, mainly due to your excellent artwork. How are you expecting Nonplayer to do when it hits news stands? Are there any plans for additional Nonplayer miniseries if the book is successful?

NS: This being my first comic, I have no idea how it's going to do. The recent burst of internet interest definitely boosted initial orders at the retailer level, so we'll see how easy it is for stores to get those comics into customers' hands. I really hope that people like the comic, because I'd sure like to keep drawing it! And yes, there are places for the story to go after this six-issue arc has been completed. That's pretty far out right now, though, so we'll just have to wait and see how the comic does.

Interior art from Nonplayer #1
OH: You're a well-known video game designer. How does producing a comic book differ from producing a video game? Which do you prefer?

NS: Video games are such a collaborative process -- the whole art-making experience at a game company is about managing relationships and communicating effectively, which can be both gratifying and exhausting. A lot of creative decisions are constrained by budgetary and technical considerations, as well. When you draw a comic by yourself, there's this liberating sense that anything's possible -- you're making a movie with an unlimited budget in which you can cast any actor you like. That's pretty hard to beat. Then again, it can get lonely working by yourself all day! Everything's a trade-off, I suppose.

OH: Do you have any other upcoming projects coming up?

NS: For now, Nonplayer is my whole world. There's another story in cold storage for later, but it'll be a while before I'm able to give it much thought.

OH: If you had to sell readers on Nonplayer in fifty words or less, what would you tell them?

NS: If you want to see somebody shoot for the fences in both the fantasy and sci-fi genres simultaneously, Nonplayer might be worth your time. I may strike out, but nobody can accuse me of not putting my back into it.

Nonplayer #1 hits stores April 6th.

Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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