Ryan Thomason

Interview with Nate Simpson – Writer/Artist of Nonplayer from Image Comics

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I had a great opportunity to talk to Nate Simpson, the man behind the new and gorgeous Nonplayer comic series that Image is putting out. If you’re a fan of Sci-fi, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and you’re tired of the same old superhero comics, this is a interview you definitely can’t miss.

WPR: First off, how did you hone your drawing skills to the point where we got the incredible Nonplayer six issue series?

NS: I’m a pretty big fan of trial and error, which means there are a whole lot of embarrassing artistic missteps tucked away in my parents’ garage. I don’t feel that my drawing abilities are anywhere near where they need to be — when I look at the pages for Nonplayer, all I see is stuff I would have done differently. I suppose being perpetually dissatisfied with one’s work is probably a good way to ensure some growth over the years.

WPR: Where did the idea come from for the setting of Nonplayer?

NS: There are a lot of ideas being discussed by futurists like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil that aren’t dealt with too often in comics. When I look at the stands these days, I see a lot of zombie and post-apocalypse comics, but I don’t see too many depictions of augmented reality or robust AI. I know that these topics get a lot of exposure in the world of hard sci-fi novels, but they’re pretty scarce in the comics world. Plus, I love drawing both monsters and robots, and since Nonplayer is equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, I can scratch both itches at once.

WPR: Is the process going to take longer between issues for you because you’re handling the writing as well?

NS:That’s certainly part of what slows things down. The drawing and coloring are by far the slowest processes, though. Going back to that trial-and-error philosopy — with digital tools, it’s possible to revise your artwork as many times as you like without having to worry about erasing through the page. This is a great gift, because it lets you keep polishing a page until you’re happy with it, but it can also murder your release schedule.

WPR: If there was one thing you’d give up control on Art or Writing, which would you rather focus on for the comic? Or would giving up that control be something you can’t do?

NS: A big part of why I left games for comics is because I wanted to be able to control every aspect of a project. This is a medium for control freaks. For Nonplayer, it’s pretty hard for me to conceive of handing it off to another writer or artist. I do have another story that I plan on doing after Nonplayer wraps up, and for that one I may concentrate on just the writing. But for now, the one-man-bandness of this medium is what makes it exciting for me.

WPR: Honestly, how bad do you want to play a game like Javrath?

NS: I think that MMOs have already gotten to a point where they can completely destroy your life. I played some World of Warcraft before beginning this story, and after a couple of weeks I realized that I was teetering right on the edge of a very deep chasm. Had I fallen in, I don’t think I even would have started this comic. So when games get to the point where they’re fully immersive and more beautiful than anything in the real world, we’re going to be in some very deep trouble, productivity-wise. I’m even more interested to see what happens when those technologies intersect with a Minecraft-type design philosopy. Imagine playing god in a world where you can control appearance, physics, climate… the real world is going to seem increasingly shabby, by comparison.

WPR: What were you doing before Image gave Nonplayer a greenlight?

NS: I’ve worked on-and-off in video games since 1993. Most recently, I was the lead artist on Demigod, from Gas Powered Games. I’ve also been involved in Supreme Commander 2, Space Siege, GoPets, and Starfleet Command 2.

WPR: The amount of detail you put into the artwork has been blowing people away, how long did it take to draw the full first issue, and will you have to do less to keep up with a schedule?

NS: The first issue took something like a year, but a good chunk of that time was spent reinventing wheels. I’d never finished a comic before, so there were a lot of basic lessons that I had to learn the hard way. The second issue is coming along a little faster. Given the choice between releasing on a fast schedule and completing the run at a consistent level of quality, I’ve chosen the latter. I’m sure many people will be annoyed by my slowness, but I’m trying to take the long view — once the trade paperback is on the shelves, I don’t think anybody will care how long it took the individual issues to come out.

WPR: If Nonplayer really takes off (Which we assume it will) is there a future for the series?

NS:I have left myself an opening for a sequel series, so if there’s demand, I’m game.

WPR: What is your favorite break from working on Nonplayer?

NS: I don’t get too many breaks these days, though I have been enjoying Portal 2 in bits and snatches. I ride a bike to and from my studio every day, and that forces me to notice the real world for a bit, which is good. If I were doing this at home, I think I’d turn into a hermit pretty quickly.

WPR: Has there been any new job deals made since the launch of Nonplayer and the huge support you’ve gotten from your first comic series?

NS: There have been some offers, but I’m doing my best to turn Nonplayer into something that can keep me afloat on its own. I really want to avoid distracting side work, though I may do a cover here and there to make ends meet. Nonplayer is my main priority, so if I can get things to a point where that’s all I think about all day, I’ll be a happy camper.

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