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Nonplayer: Nate Simpson Talks About His Much-Anticipated Debut [Exclusive Art]

Nate Simpson has generated a level of excitement for his upcoming Image comic that many creators never see; his work has been praised by industry giants and he’s a special guest this year at Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown Comics Festival. Oh, and his first book hasn’t even been released yet.

Simpson is bringing advance copies of Nonplayer #1 to WonderCon this weekend, which features pin-ups from Brandon Graham, Ben Templesmith, and Moritat. But before he left for the convention he gave ComicsAlliance an exclusive two-page-spread from the issue that hits stands next week. Keep reading to see the full image and to read an interview with the creator about his plans for the much-hyped series.We recently previewed several pages from Nonplayer and called it the “next Image Comics classic,” and apparently our readers agree. So, we decided to ask Simpson about his background, his plans for the new series, and what it’s like to have such high expectations before eve publishing. As an additional treat, Simpson has provided a gorgeous two-page image from the first issue that hasn’t been seen before. Please note that all the images in this interview can be clicked-on to opened for a larger view. Hope you enjoy the load time. It’s worth it.

A bit of background: Simpson has been working in videogames since 1993, and currently lives in Seattle. He saved some money, left his job, and is putting all his effort into his original comics project, Nonplayer. The series is about a tamale delivery girl in the future who’s a super-badass at the world’s most popular full-immersion MMO called “Warriors of Jarvath.” But things start to get weird when she sets out on a raid against celebrity, non-human character King Heremoth. Simpsons says things diverge radically in the second issue, but won’t go into more details than that, which is probably best for readers.

Comics Alliance: What made you want to quit your job in video games?

Nate Simpson: Well, I think a lot of game artists covet the autonomy and notoriety that comic artists enjoy, maybe as much as comic artists envy game artists’ paychecks! I’ve always been interested in comics as a medium — it’s about as far as a lone creator can go in bringing a large-scale world to life. The comic artist is pretty much unlimited in his or her choice of cast and setting. That’s pretty hard to beat.

But in terms of proximate 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 personal expression, and so vast in its scope. I really wanted to see if I could get within spitting distance of that achievement. I don’t think I have, but I’m glad I tried all the same.

CA: Do you want Nonplayer to become a film?
NS: Absolutely. I fantasize all the time about who I’d cast and what music I’d use. I assume everybody does that.

CA: Would you prefer it to be animated or live-action?
NS: I suppose that depends on your definition of “animated.” Movies like Avatar really blur the lines between the two types of filmmaking. Honestly, I could see either approach working — if Pixar came to me with an offer, I would first dodge the flying pigs and then immediately sign on the dotted line. But then I see movies like Monsters, by Gareth Edwards, and that’s such a powerful, transporting experience. If you had access to actors and effects of that caliber, that would be pretty great, too. So I guess my answer is “I’d be happy with either, provided the people making it cared about it.” Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be forced to make that particular choice any time soon.

CA: Are you worried about backlash from hardcore comics people who feel like the film industry is ruining comics in some way, or might feel like you’re only doing this for a movie deal?

NS: I’m a little worried about all sorts of backlash from hardcore comics people. I don’t think I’ve got much of a chance with them to begin with, given the slowness with which I’ll be releasing the comic. But as far has having to choose between the comics and movie camps — I think that’s sort of a false choice. I got into this because I love exploring new worlds, and I’m happy to access those worlds in all sorts of ways, whether it’s through comics, illustrated books, films, or games. If everybody who drew a comic was resistant to making a film, we wouldn’t have classics like Akira and Nausicaa. I don’t plan on ever really choosing sides on this issue — Nonplayer could get picked up by a movie company tomorrow, and I’d still finish the comic. I want to see both versions.

CA: Would you want to develop Nonplayer to be a videogame?

NS: Heck yes! What with Inception’s popularity, I assume the Russian dolls thing will be in vogue for a while. MMOs inside of MMOs should be just the thing! That said, I’m well aware of the Herculean labor that goes into finishing an MMO — if Nonplayer were adapted for a game project, I don’t think I’d be able to play much of a direct role in its development for fear of going insane. Perhaps I could just wield some sort of veto power. Or, I could be the jerk who comes into the office, makes a bunch of chicken scratch on a whiteboard, and then leaves it to the hapless art team to decipher my hieroglyphics.

CA: Why did you decide to start Nonplayer as a comic?


NS: Well, the choice of medium was pretty simple — I’ve been trying to make comics since I got my first copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Somewhere in a garage somewhere, there are huge piles of my failed attempts. I came close to making an issue happen about five years ago with Gordon and the Stareater, but I fell prey to my own inability to think in terms of story rather than cool-looking scenes. It sort of lacked a reason for being, so it ran out of steam half-way through. If Nonplayer is different from those other attempts, it’s because I’ve tried to start out with a coherent story arc and emotionally distinct characters. The action sequences have grown from interactions between characters, rather than the other way around.

CA: Were you always a comics fan?

NS: I think it was a copy of Silent Interlude, the dialogue-free issue of G.I. Joe, that got me hooked. I remember where I was standing in my house when my dad handed me that comic. That was 1984, so I’ve been a comic guy for almost exactly as long as I’ve had a crush on Mary Lou Retton. I sort of dropped out of comics when I went off to college, so I missed out on a lot of great work over the last couple of decades. I’ve spent the last year or so playing catch-up. It seems like the medium is crawling with geniuses right now. It’s very intimidating.

CA: What’s it like to receive praise from some of the industry’s most prestigious creators before your first comic has gone on sale?

NS: It certainly feels nice! When my friend Joe Keatinge called me from France to tell me that Moebius liked my comic, I couldn’t help but yell and jump around in circles. Still, I sometimes take a dim view of my own work, so when the hype machine grabs hold of some of these quotes and gives people the impression that the comic will do everything short of curing cancer, I have to fight the urge to go hide in a hole. I won’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a backlash, where people look at the comic and say, “Hey, this is just 25 pages of drawings and text! I want my money back!” Granted, I have been repeating the Moebius and Darrow quotes everywhere — sometimes being your own promoter can make you a little schizophrenic. I just hope the comic hasn’t been oversold. I did my best, but it’s got flaws, just like e

very other comic.

CA: How did you wind up publishing the book at Image Comics?

NS: I posted a few of the earliest pages at my blog when I first started the project, and Brandon Graham ended up posting a couple of them over on his blog. Apparently Warren Ellis reads Brandon’s blog, and he reposted the same images. The next day, my inbox exploded. Over the next few weeks, a few companies expressed interest, including Image. In the end, Image seemed like a good fit for a comic as unusual as Nonplayer. And of course I was very excited about the prospect of having my book on the stands alongside all their other great creator-owned titles.

CA: How long did it take you to finish the first issue?

NS: I’ll rip the band-aid off as quickly as possible here: it took about a year. Now, that’s including a bunch of breaks for other stuff, and doesn’t take into account a very steep learning curve. Part of the reason I set up the Project Waldo blog was to try to get input from others on the web who had experience making comics digitally. This was the first time I’d tried to make a full-color comic completely in Photoshop, and I think I’ve sped up considerably in recent months.

CA: When will the second issue come out?

NS: I’m putting in crazy hours on the book, but it’ll still be a few months before the next issue hits the stands. I’m aware that this will miff some retailers and fans, and I’m doing everything I can to streamline my drawing process without sacrificing quality. Image and I have gone out of our way not to solicit until we know the next issue is ready — we don’t want to set up any expectations that I can’t meet. All I can promise is that I will finish the 6-issue arc. It may be a slow road, but I hope a few people are willing to ride along with me at tortoise-pace.


CA: How far along are you on issue two?


NS: I’m about half-way through right now.

CA: What if a film option comes about before you’re done with the final issue?

NS: I won’t let other events affect the shape of the comic. The story is already written, and it will be completed as planned. If a film option happens before we get to issue 6, that may actually benefit the comic by putting food on my table. The more comfortable I feel in this new role, the easier it will be for me to concentrate on the work.

CA: Are you interested in doing comic work outside Nonplayer?

NS: In the abstract, absolutely. I don’t want to impact Nonplayer’s release schedule too much, however, so if I take on side-work, it’s unlikely to go beyond the occasional cover or pinup. I do have another sci-fi story ready to go once Nonplayer is finished, and depending on how well Nonplayer does, I also have some ideas for a second Nonplayer series. So my dance card should be pretty full for a few years, at least.

CA: Are you still working on Gordon and the Stareater?

NS: For now, that project is in cold storage. I don’t think I have good enough writing chops to manhandle all the epic high-concept baggage with which that story is saddled. I mean, it’s a love triangle between a star-sized galaxy-traveling super-probe, a pan-galactic postal worker, and the smartest girl in the universe. It’s hard to make a space probe relatable, you know? That’s a pretty tall order.

CA: What’s that project about, and do you have the same idea as with Nonplayer to eventually make it into a film or videogame?

NS: I’m not one to ever say “never,” but it’s pretty hard for me to imagine doing anything with Stareater in the near-term. I wrote a Stareater screenplay a couple of years ago, and it turned out pretty darn terrible. Maybe in a decade or so, I’ll be able to come back to it with fresh eyes.

(Click to enlarge our exclusive double-page spread from Nonplayer)

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