“I’m in Vancouver — Canada’s life-sized Sim City map!” – Nate Simpson
This being a recollection of my brief yet enjoyable chat with Nonplayer’s Nate Simpson.
A week ago, Nate Simpson (the creator of the new hit Image comic, Nonplayer) came to Vancouver and spent the day as a guest at my local comic book show – I would call it a ‘comic con’, however the term ‘con’ implies something larger than this show ever is: the Vancouver Comicon at Heritage Hall in Vancouver is a smaller local show for local comic book collectors and dealers and as such offers a more intimate and homey feel for its patrons. The organizer of this well-established show, Leonard Wong, has been able to straddle the line between organizing a smaller local show and still being able to bring in recognizable, known creators as guests on a regular basis. Anyway, as stated, this time around one of the guests at the show was Nate Simpson. Both Simpson and fellow comic creator Moritat ( Elephant Men) were there to meet face to face with their Vancouver fans. It is so nice to know that creators are aware of their Vancouver fans, y’know?
Okay, I’m straying from the point of this post: Nate Simpson.
At this point it is not news to anybody to say that his recent book, Nonplayer, has become something of an indy hit and that his rich, detailed artwork and fluid storytelling ability have garnered him an instant following. I originally missed the boat on Nonplayer by choice: after seeing the impressive preview pages online, I decided that I would pass on the first issue and just pick up the trade down the road. Well the gods smiled on me and decided to give me a second chance by having Image release the 2nd print of Nonplayer 1 the same week that Nate Simpson came to my hood. With such a concurrence of events, I had no choice but to partake of the delights of this book. (Yes, that means I enjoyed it a lot) I particularly enjoyed how the story did not just rely on the stunning art to carry it but instead was complimented by dialogue that reflected more how people speak to each other than how comicbook characters are want to over describe events to the reader. I also felt that the dialogue succeeded in helping to move the story along at a decent pace. Within a few days of picking up the book I had the opportunity to meet the man himself. I got to find out first hand that he is a very cool gent, easy going and a pleasure to talk to. When I got to his table at the show, he had just finished signing a fan’s copies of Nonplayer #1 as well as a couple of posters that he had for sale. (all featuring art from the comic and still for sale on his book’s website, nonplayercomic.com) After exchanging some pleasantries and offering my praise for his recent effort, and realizing that there was a lull in the fan greeting action, I took the opportunity to throw a few questions at Nate. I have to admit I felt spoiled because in most situations you will maybe find yourself with the opportunity to ask just a couple of questions of a hot creator before feeling that you have outstayed your welcome because of the line of fans behind you all waiting for their turn, but on this day at this show I found myself with the necessary time to exhaust every question that I had in my head for Nate and he was gracious with each one of them. (luckily for me)
I started out by asking him about his artistic influences. After browsing his blog it was obvious that Moebius was on his radar: he had a quote from the man that made it clear that Moebius had received a preview copy of his book – and more importantly had liked what he had seen. I asked him about that and Simpson confirmed that sure enough Moebius was high on the list of his artistic influences. When I asked him about the Moebius quote, he laughed and asked me, “which one?” Turns out I had not browsed back far enough on his blog. My bad. I then asked him about Geoff Darrow – not because of any mention of Darrow on his blog, but just because of similarities in their approach to storytelling. Sure enough, Simpson indicated that Darrow was another influence on him.
I then moved on to his storytelling style and asked if it was a result of his work in the game industry and in animation. It was at this point that Simpson was quick to point out that although he worked in the gaming industry, he would not go as far as to describe himself as being a true animator. This seemed to be a fine point for him and one that he wanted to be clear to make. I suspect that many non-gamers (such as myself) are often guilty of just lumping everybody in the industry into one murky pool, ascribing the same job duties and divisions to nearly everyone in the industry. Hey, I work in healthcare and you would be surprised how often somebody just assumes that I am probably a male nurse. (I’m not, I’m a care aid) Nate commented that he would love to take the time to complete some indepth animator training but does not see himself finding the time for that any time soon.
Following on this subject, I asked him if he was influenced by the works of Ralph Bakshi, a famous animator of the 70’s and 80’s, and while he suggested that he was aware of his works, he didn’t feel any strong affinity for his work as any kind of influence on his. Even though it had already been established that Nate was not involved in traditional animation, I found his lack of association with Bakshi ironic since I personally see some strong similarities in the ‘look’ of their art.(I get this from seeing a comic layout-styled magazine version of one of Bakshi’s movies years ago)
Finally, I peppered Nate with a couple of questions about his publisher. I asked him about his decision to go with Image comics and whether he went to them or they came to him. He said that going with Image was his choice and that he went to them with Nonplayer because they are one of the only larger publishers who do not have any stringent requirements for newer creators to have subsequent issues ready before going to press with a first issue. Sure you could argue the merits and detriments of this kind of relaxed policy at a company like Image but it does allow for new creators to at least get their wares out there for public consumption. Nate admitted that he did not like the thought of having to have two issues of Nonplayer ready to roll before having the first one see the light of day, seeing as how the first issue was a labour of love that took him the better part of a year to complete to his satisfaction. Just browsing the comments section on his blog or the back page editorial of the 2nd print of Nonplayer 1 (not found in the 1st print, according to Simpson) you can see that he has taken some well-meaning flack for the suggestion that it might take some time for him to get a second issue out to the public.
I also asked him if he had any feelings about the built in ‘heat’ that many Image first issues seem to have these days, whether he felt that it made it harder to gauge just how many people were buying his book for its own merits vs buying it out of speculation? This didn’t seem to be much of a concern for Simpson who suggested that he was just glad that it was a book that sold well enough to affirm the trust that Image put in his work in the first place.
Before the release of Nonplayer, the anticipation generated online for the book was in large part a result of Simpson getting the word out about his work at conventions, through comic news sites and through his network of friends. His efforts seem to be the latest definition of mission accomplished. I asked him about this and whether despite all of his own efforts at public awareness he was surprised by the widespread attention his book has received? The answer? A resounding (and head nodding) ‘YES!’ A pleasant surprise no doubt.
As I wrapped up my polite interrogation I happened to notice that Nate had an open sketchbook nearby with a half finished work on the page; I teased him about having the time to sketch for others and whether I should press him for a commision then and there. He laughed and intonated to me that the work was a favour for someone involved in covering the cost of his meals while in town. I laughed and suggested that if he was at next year’s Emerald City Con in Seattle, I would have to harass him for a commission, knowing already which comic characters I would like to see him tackle. The good news for me is that he didn’t flat out refuse my suggestion. lol
It would seem that the list of potential candidates for my sketchbook next year has alrady started and that Nate Simpson is at the top of the list…