If you’re the type of person who reads comic reviews online, you’ve probably read a little bit about "Nonplayer" in the weeks leading up to its release. Be it Tim Callahan’s "When Words Collide" column, TJ Dietsch’s interview with Nate Simpson, or one of the many other articles across the comics internet, the book has had some serious buzz going for it. And with good reason: it’s a very good comic book featuring some stunning art. It’s hard to believe that this is Simpson’s first comic work, even considering his background in video game design. His writing and storytelling show the confidence of someone with more experience, not a debut work.
When I first looked at Simpson’s art for "Nonplayer" #1, I’ll admit that, while I loved his line work, his coloring style detracted from the overall effective. However, on a reread for this review, the coloring has grown on me and definitely complements his line work. The lighter, almost washed-out-looking colors accentuate his intricate lines and also give the world he’s created a fuller, more impacting effect. His use of light and shadows with his color work is surprisingly detailed and effective.
His line work is immediately what grabs you, though. He knows how to compose pages to raise drama and packs those pages with amazing detail. He makes the world he creates here look fully formed and realized, and things only get better when he gets to the action scene. There’s a sense of speed and frenetic energy to the fight scene without any confusion or lack of clarity. And, just when you think you’ve seen everything Simpson can do, he jumps to an entirely different level of reality and delivers another fully formed and realized world.
"Nonplayer" centers around an immersive video game, one that seems reminiscent of online roleplaying games like "World of Warcraft," except there’s a subtle hint that not everything is right with this game when one of the characters suddenly disappears. The way Simpson has the story unfold is one that relies on the reader to keep up as he jumps right into the world of the video game and doesn’t explain what’s happening. He avoids the mistake of overwriting the comic like many first-timers do, letting his dialogue inform the readers, and draw us in.
Where exactly "Nonplayer" is heading is a little bit of a mystery, but Nate Simpson’s art alone is well worth the price of admission. That his writing shows skill and confidence beyond what you’d expect from someone writing his first comic is a fabulous bonus. Definitely one the best surprises of 2011.