Game On: Nate Simpson's "Nonplayer"

Long time video game designer Nate Simpson has stepped aside from that world to create something wholly his own with "Nonplayer" a six issue Image Comics miniseries kicking off in early April. Following the adventures of Dana Stevens as her online video game adventures begin to infect her real life, "Nonplayer" has been the recipient of a wave of online buzz before a single issue hits the stands thanks in large part to Simpson's highly detailed artwork.

"My style is very heavily influenced by comic artists, especially Geof Darrow, Moebius and William Stout," Simpson told CBR NEws. "Arthur Rackham is also a big hero of mine. I'm really impressed by a lot of the concept art that gets made these days, especially by guys like Craig Mullins and Vinod Rams, but I never really had a knack for that painterly approach. I was often told -- usually as part of a rejection letter -- that my style was 'too comic-like.' So I finally took those comments to heart and moved over to comics!"

Having made the jump from video games to sequential storytelling, Simpson finds he appreciates the freedom the new medium provides, both creatively and stylistically.

"Working in games requires a lot of compromise," Simpson said. "Most decisions are arrived at by consensus, and the artwork in particular is shaped by all sorts of budgetary, technological and scheduling constraints. After devoting 18 months or more to a game project, an individual artist's contribution is often lost among the equal contributions of dozens or even hundreds of other developers, and in most cases, the project is then quickly forgotten by the public. Unless you're in a lead position on a triple-A title, it's pretty thankless, demoralizing work. That said, they do pay you money!"

While the script for "Nonplayer" has been finished for a year, Simpson has been hard at work illustrating his story, honing his craft and the final product at his own pace.

"My experience with the comics industry has been pretty limited, since the vast majority of 'Nonplayer's' birth happened in private on my own dime," Simpson told CBR. "It's certainly refreshing to be able make creative decisions without worrying whether they'll pass muster with a bunch of marketing and business development people on the other side of the building. It's nice not to have to spend energy justifying my choices, either. For example, my decision to dispense with thought balloons and an omniscient narrator would probably have been shot down during the focus-testing process. Image, on the other hand, has been very hands-off and supportive. I think that's why so many unique, powerful books are getting made over there these days"

While pleased to be able to work without the traditional constraints of the video game industry, the writer/artist did not stray too far from his roots for his first comic project. As such, the series' main character, Dana -- who he named in tribute to Rocketeer artist Dave Stevens -- spends much of her free time immersed in the world of a MMORPG where she takes on the role of a ruthless killer.

"Dana's a talented but directionless young woman who splits her time between a menial fast food job and a career as an assassin in the online world of Jarvath," Simpson said. "She's kind of given up on the idea of achieving anything in the real world -- the only reason she bothers with a job at all is to help pay for her little sister's school tuition. When she's not delivering tamales or kicking butt in the game, she builds her own virtual worlds as a hobby. She has some amazing creative gifts, but having received a single rejection letter from a game company, she's decided she's not good enough. Personality-wise, she's one of those people who thinks she's irrelevant and ends up 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."

While Simpson remained elusive about exactly how far the world of Jarvath will intersect with the real world, not wanting to spoil the series, he did briefly discus where his protaganist's problems stem from, telling CBR, "Dana's problems start when she kills the wife of a celebrity game character right around the time that the characters are achieving sentience, the causes of which remain mysterious. But I'd like to allay the fears of those who think I'm skirting this issue -- there is a logical explanation, and it's not just a spontaneous singularity-type event. King Heremoth is understandably miffed at Dana for killing his wife, and he's pretty set on getting revenge. The steps he takes to get back at her may or may not be limited to the confines of the game."

Nate Simpson's "Nonplayer" debuts in stores Wednesday, April 6

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