Robot 6

Robot 6 Q&A | Nonplayer’s Nate Simpson on the art (and business) of comics

Editor’s note: With Tim O’Shea being out this week, Chris Arrant was kind enough to step in and provide an interview for us this Monday. Tim will be back next week.

One of the most exciting new talents to come into comics last year was cartoonist Nate Simpson with the debut of Nonplayer #1 last April. It was made official when, only three months later, he received the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Since then he’s gotten a movie deal and been approached with a variety of comic opportunities, but also had his share of bad luck with a broken collarbone in September. 2011 was a year to remember for Nate Simpson.

Now Simpson is back at the drawing board working on Nonplayer #2, but his whirlwind success (and spill) forced the cartoonist to take a more earnest look at this business he left his full-time career in video games for back in 2009. On his workblog he says it best, describing it as place where he “learns to draw comics by drawing a comic.” And what he’s learned is that there’s a lot more to comics than just drawing them. I talked with Simpson this past weekend about the status of Nonplayer #2, his outlook on comics, and the struggle between seeing comics as an art form and seeing them as a business.

Chris Arrant: Nonplayer #1 burst onto the scene with a lot of fever last year, but a nasty bike accident in September left you on the sidelines before you could finish #2. First off, how are you feeling these days?

Nate Simpson: My shoulder’s ship-shape now. I had enough mobility to resume drawing back in November, and I’ve been doing a lot of physical therapy since then. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to execute a perfect jumping-jack again, but life’s full of tragedies. So long, dream of being a professional jumping-jacker.

Arrant: Have you been able to do any drawing board work on Nonplayer or anything else since the accident?

Simpson: Yes, I resumed work on the book as soon as my arm came out of the sling last November.

Arrant: How far are you into completing Nonplayer #2?

Simpson: I am drawing page 17 right now. That sounds more encouraging than it really is, though, because Nonplayer #2 will be five pages longer than Nonplayer #1. I’m filling the entire 32-page length, including the insides of the front and back covers. Some of the more generous Nonplayer commentators have suggested that the slowness of this comic has been attributable to my accident, but the crash doesn’t come anywhere near accounting for the entire delay.

I have learned a few hard lessons this year. I tripped myself up by rushing into the second issue without making sure I was satisfied with the rough layouts, and it took me six finished pages before I realized I was going in the wrong direction. So that false start alone cost me many weeks. I also think I let myself get distracted by the totally unexpected hype that surrounded Nonplayer‘s release. For a good few months there, it seemed like something new popped up every week, whether it was the Russ Manning Award, or the movie stuff, or weird job offers. If I had it to do over again, I’d shove a soldering iron into my internet jack and continue working in a state of blissful ignorance.

My current goal is to release #2 at New York Comic Con [In October] this year. That may seem like a long way off, but considering how much work goes into each page, it’s actually very aggressive. I will not be sleeping much this summer.

Arrant: You recently posted on your blog how you were looking to return to video game work to help you get Nonplayer back on track. People may not realize this, but you took a sabbatical in 2009 from a thriving video game career to try this crazy thing called comics. Can you tell us about your decision to look for a return to the video game workforce?

Simpson: Well, I think what I learned over the last couple of years was that though I enjoy the medium of comics, I am not all that great at the business of comics. The more I felt the burden of turning Nonplayer into an income generator, the worse the quality seemed to get. The metaphor that pops into my mind right now is of trying to turn the apple tree in your garden into a load-bearing column for your house. It doesn’t really make for a well-built house, and it’s not all that good for the tree, either. So I’ll be separating the two functions once more: the day job will pay the bills, and the comic will get to grow at its own pace, in a worry-free environment.

That said, the schedule I have laid out for the coming months involves putting in five hours a day on the comic, outside of normal office hours. Two in the morning before work and three in the evening after I get home. It’ll definitely be the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything. I really do want this comic to continue moving forward at a reasonable pace.

Arrant: In the middle of all this, it was announced Nonplayer was picked up by a company for a potential big screen movie adaptation. Can you update us on how that’s going, and what it’s like to be in the position to sell your first major comic as a movie?

Simpson: From the beginning, I’ve fantasized about seeing Nonplayer on the big screen — the original reason I left my last game job was to storyboard a sci-fi film of my own. That ended up morphing into a comic, but I’d love to see Nonplayer at a theater someday. I think there’s some stuff there that hasn’t been put to film before, and if it’s done right, I think it could be a lot of fun.

So far, I think it is being done right. Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men First Class, The Woman in Black) just announced that she’ll be writing the screenplay, and so far every interaction I’ve had with her has given me confidence that she has the sensitivity, originality, and talent to put together something really special. I can’t wait to finally read what she comes up with. And Heyday and Vertigo, the production companies that are shepherding this process, both feel like uncommonly patient, perceptive groups of people who want to make good work. I think Nonplayer is in the best possible hands at the moment.

Arrant: Did the forced break from working on the next issue of Nonplayer change the way you looked at the comic, and about being a comic creator?

Simpson: I think what’s changed is that I’ve had to become a more patient, centered person. At first, I wanted so badly to be an internet hero — look at this guy who made a comic all by himself and marketed it by himself and hit the big time! And I think I let that fantasy sort of eclipse the work itself. My ego became so big that it didn’t leave much room for whatever part of my mind handles the actual work. The whole thing reminds me of No Face, that big black blob from Spirited Away that ate everything in sight.

Right now I’m trying to learn how to calm my mind, to filter out everything that’s going on out in the world, and to regain the spirit of fun and experimentation that I felt when I started the first issue. If Nonplayer ever feels like I chore, it’ll become a waste of everybody’s time, including mine. Right now, it’s still fun. I want to keep it that way.

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22 Comments

I was unaware of his injury. Im seriously fed up with this guy getting so much praise for doing one single issue comic book. Too many others working in obscurity do outstanding work while hitting deadlines. Nonplayer #1 was good, but what have you done for me lately?

Oh wait. Nonplayer 1 came out April 2011. He breaks his collarbone (hardly a devastating injury) in September 2011. We’re now halfway into February 2012 with nothing new even solicited from this guy yet. Let’s keep rewarding his outstanding work.

Ummmm, this guys work is genius. Life happens. Cant wait for more issues.

el_caifan

He’s good, but I wouldn’t call him a genius. His illustrations are good, but his story telling really needs to be worked on.

Where did this guy ever say he was going to publish a monthly comic? Did the second issue get solicited and not get delivered?

He is doing it on his own with a full time job while dealing with an injury this year.

Sure he’s gotten a lot of press but his art backs it up. Save your ire for a loudmouth or a hack, comics already has plenty.

While his art is good, I am not sure many will stay with the series between the LONG wait. I will, and I hope the story is finite and does well in trade paperback. The hype, however, made him the next Kirby. Are comics his secondary job? I will pick up the series but I hope the speed picks up.

First issue was great, and I’m eagerly awaiting the second. Carrying a tittle on my pull with long delays between issues is no skin off my nose. When it comes out it comes out. The 2nd issue wasn’t solicited, as pointed out above, this was never promised on a monthly basis.

He works in video games. If he puts out one issue a year while handling everything himself, so be it. Charles Burns put out one issue of Black Hole a year for ten years and the collection was a bestseller and is carried in most bookstores. Monthly isn’t for everybody, nor should it be.

I think im just annoyed because he clearly has time to accept awards and work out movie deals, but is comfortable stating the new issue will *probably* be out in October 2012. That’s 18 months after issue 1, and he’s already got 17 pages done. So, what, with expanded page-count and cover, that’s like 20 pages over 8 months? Really? Maybe its just that Image Comics just doesn’t seem like the right publisher for a serialized book like this, if you can even call it that. I mean, I liked the book like everyone else, but holy smokes, he’s not Tolstoy laboring over sentences. Its just comics. At least Joe Matt and others have the honesty to say they’re just lazy or masturbating all day. He makes it sound lime this soul -searching journey inbetween the panels…

Not that it’s a relevant or fair comparison, but I can’t help but say that I think I read that Dave Sim did the first ten or so issues of Cerebus while working a day-job. And he was also self-publishing. Before Diamond Distributors existed. And on schedule.

Quality is worth waiting for every time.

No way it should take 1 month to do 2 pages, holy cow, i bought and enjoyed issue 1. I know he has other work, but he is losing money and custemers if the collection is not out till 2014.

GTFO, its not the sistine chapel

You either enjoy it if and when it comes out or you don’t. Comparing the guy, or any one artist to another, or saying “its just comics” is dismissive to a creator whose work you are interested in. That just seems weird to me.

@My Name:
Much agreed. To add on to that, it’s strangely hypocritical. Why put so much anger into something that by their own admission is ‘just comics?’ This guy is writing and drawing the comic himself. He’s not working on any company project that depends on his punctuality nor is he under any sort of contract. Why get so upset over it?

It would probably be better if he just waits a few years releases the whole thing as a graphic novel when he is finally finished. That would be better than a series with a year and a half between issues. You have to be seriously hardcore to follow a series with such a long time between issues.

SWAGSWISHBALLHARD

February 14, 2012 at 3:08 am

Oh look, entitled readers complaining because creators have other things to worry about than not making money off of a comic that they put a lot of effort into to. Huh. Never seen that before.

“It’s just comics”

The comic book industry has always been in the dumps because of the people in it and the people who patronize it. I am not particularly enthusiastic about Non Player but the attitudes of the people who keep whining and moaning about it and then screaming how it’s not the Sistine Chapel… Pure idiocy.

Why SHOULDN’T comics be Sistine Chapel work? After all, all that was was a guy hired to paint a church ceiling. PUT THAT IN YOUR GLASS PIPE AND SMOKE IT.

How dare this man who owes me nothing get hurt AND put a lot of work into his passion!

I enjoyed Nonplayer #1 as much as the next guy, but I don’t see how you can dispute that this guy gets an inordinate amount of press for putting out just one comic.

I remember Nonplayer getting press when it came out and then being on alot of that year’s best of lists. Most of it was due to the fact that it came out of nowhere since Simpson wasn’t an established creator and because it felt so fully realized. I can’t knock a guy for promoting his book at the time, sites for jumping on something that is not part of the usual Big Two PR cycle, or for anyone doing an “update” article like this one.

Maybe he will never put out another issue, time will tell. If that happens, well he didn’t make any promises or miss a solicitation date, and nobody pre-paid for something that never came. It just would be something that didn’t happen.

This isn’t some 150 post thread over a controversial topic or creator that everybody has an opinion on, its a couple people who I assume bought the first issue and look forward to the next. That is why I find some of these comments so bewildering.

Like I said, the dismissive attitude towards him and his work (by negatively comparing his work methods to another creator, by belittling the book because it is does not fall into the category of literature, or by begrudging him how he spends his time managing his creative property in other media) is really really strange to me. All from people who bothered to have read his book and presumably liked it, since any criticism seems not to mention the actual content.

There is a disturbing trend towards dismissing the creators of these stories we all enjoy, whether it is someone’s claim to be the creator of a corporate character, honoring a creator’s contract or wishes, or how long an artist takes to produce a book they create every aspect of and release through an independent publisher.

When did every comic book reader become a copyright lawyer with a stopwatch?

Sounds like Nate has learned a few lessons. I bought the first issue. Looking forward to the second issue. No pressure!

Hmmm….a few people just getting a liiiiiiiiiiittle worked up here. I can understand where the frustration comes from…you buy something, you like it, you wanna know how the story ends…but at the same time I doubt many people quite grasp the mammoth task of what this dude is trying to achieve..especially if you are not a creative type. Now I’m not gunna sit here and kiss his arse like he’s some sort of God with a Pencil, but pulling this stuff out of thin air is not like selling vaccuum cleaners…some days you’re on and some days you’re off….no one would be happier than me if he could churn this out an issue every 3 months, six months etc…but hey…it’ll come when it comes. Appreciate it for what it is and just hope the wait is worth it :) (after all he’s got a LOOOOOT of hype to live up to – if I was him, i’d be keeping my head down a little more right now lol but then, gotta ride the wave while u can) Bottom line – amazing artwork – I hope the story is of similar quality once we finally get to the end. Keep pluggin’ away Nate. Oh, and don’t read these discussions….you will shit yourself at the frothing level of demanding expectation.)

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