A conversation with Nate Simpson of Nonplayer, one of the most gorgeous comics of 2011

In the first issue of Nate Simpson's comic book debut Nonplayer, a futuristic, massively multiplayer online game called Warriors of Jarvath may be developing a mind of its own. io9 recently spoke with Simpson about creating this stunning virtual realm.

In Nonplayer, you depict both a virtual fantasy world and a real world with science fiction touches. What inspiration went into creating Jarvath?

Probably a lot of it comes from my influences, I'm really into Hayao Miyazaki, William Stout, and Arthur Rackham, fantasy illustrators who were really influential to how I drew as a kid. And part of it is just my own creative impulses, I enjoy drawing trees and fluffy clouds and fantasy worlds. In fact, the whole justification for the comic is largely to draw robots and fantasy creatures in the same book. William Stout's The New Dinosaurs was a huge influence — when I was a kid, I found a copy of that book at my local library and checked it out until it physically fell apart.

What were the plot origins of Nonplayer?

It comes partly from some of the fiction I've been reading lately. In comics particularly, there are a lot of zombie and vampire and post-apocalyptic stories (and I don't think we're headed in that direction). I love Neal Stephenson and Ray Kurzweil— all that Singularity stuff and augmented reality. There are just so many exciting things we're seeing in technology right now that we're not seeing in comics.

You worked in video game design prior to illustrating comics. What did that experience teach you?

It taught me how to use the illustration tools to design the book and thematically it also influenced how I'm thinking about the story. Like, whether game people wonder if what we're doing wastes people's time by making this entertainment that diverts people from meaningful, real-world experiences. That's part of what my story's about, wondering if virtual experience is less legitimate than a real-world one.

Part of the way I'm approaching this book is to make the fantasy world feel more beautiful and legitimate than the real world. They are a couple of aesthetic touches in the fantasy world that are nods to massively multiplayer games. There's an ornateness to the armor that's a nod to how Korean players decorate their characters in Korean MMORPGs.

A conversation with Nate Simpson of Nonplayer, one of the most gorgeous comics of 2011

How far do you see Nonplayer going for?

It's more than a full-time job right now, It took me a year to make this first issue; the second issue's still a ways off, I'm doing my best to manage people's expectations. I'm working long hours, but it will still be a few months between issues — hopefully people will be willing to wait for the slow-cooked, maximum flavor approach. Nonplayer is in for a six-issue run with a complete story arc. I'm not excited about ongoing comics, but there is certainly the potential for a sequel series.

As someone who's recently broken into comics, what's your advice for budding illustrators?

I don't know if my experience is easily applicable. I think I got really lucky — I posted my pages online as I did them and wrote about the process on my blog. I passed on the images to Brandon Graham, who posted the images on his blog, and then Warren Ellis posted them, and through that three-step process I got a huge amount of exposure. Image Comics ended up coming to me fairly soon thereafter.

A conversation with Nate Simpson of Nonplayer, one of the most gorgeous comics of 2011

In broader terms, shoot for the fences. I get shown a lot of unfinished comic work and it's clearly not the best the submitter is capable of doing, but do your absolute best. I know that sounds obvious, but so many people don't actually do that. It's far better to do good work than fast work.

The second printing of the first issue of Nonplayer hits stands May 11.