Quick Hits: Nonplayer by Nate Simpson and Hand Drying in America by Ben Katchor

Summer is in full swing in North America, and we've got hot takes on some cool comics. Leading off is James Kaplan, with a look at the return of Nonplayer...

 Nonplayer #1-2
Written and Illustrated by Nate Simpson
Image Comics

The first issue of Nonplayer was published in 2011, and the second issue came out a few weeks ago. I hadn't read the first issue when it was initially published but when I saw just how much excitement and interest there was for issue 2, I knew I had to check it out. I'm so glad that I did. It's a story about the immersive nature of gaming, of losing yourself in another reality or another identity, and is one of the most beautiful looking comic books I've seen in a very long time.

That's kind of where you have to start with Nonplayer, because as interesting and thought-provoking as the story is, the art will absolutely blow you away. It is beautiful and detailed and vivid with clean lines that bring everything on the page to life. I wasn't familiar with Nate Simpson or his art before, but I'm highly impressed, it's a style that looks like the highest quality animation, with great detail, sort of like if you combine the work of Fiona Staples with that of Geoff Darrow.  The story takes place sometime in the future, where gaming and virtual reality have met and the result is people spending significant portions of their waking lives in immersive games that are more than just games, they're fully realized worlds with AI that mimic sentience to a remarkable degree. 

The first issue focuses on a character named Dana, a young woman who loves to lose herself in the game because the beautiful, fantastical world of Jarvath is far more compelling than her real life as a tamale delivery driver in a crowded future city. The second issue expands the scope of the story considerably as we get to see the CEO of the company that's created the Jarvath game which has over a billion users, we get to see the  role of law enforcement where monitoring of artificial intelligence is part of their job, and we get some explanations for some of the strange goings on in the Jarvath world and beyond. It's a gorgeous, interesting, engaging series and I'm looking forward to reading more whenever it comes out.  (Review by James Kaplan)

Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories
by Ben Katchor

Hand-Drying in America is one of those book one encounters skeptically-- the single page stories filling oversized pages seem complex and wordy, the pale colors, scrawly illustration lines, and unfamiliar, often fanciful metropolitan constructions make you squint and scratch your head. But, if you can find it in you to give it a chance, this collection of Ben Katchor’s strips from Metropolitan magazine -- which focus primarily on the absurdities of modern urban development and the
growing prevalence of architectural eyesores -- are by turns hilarious, sharp, and deeply troubling in the best way. From stories about the inconveniences of conveniences such as hand-dryers to the
soul-killing quality of unopenable hotel windows, from the encroaching dullness of big-box modern condominiums to the loss of small businesses and historic storefronts, the awkwardness of hearing
conversations through apartment walls, the doldrums of office design, Katchor takes the smallest elements of daily life and turns each into a full-fledged legend of American “progress”, often sarcastically skewered or nostalgically elegized.

Though taken as a whole book, it is a bit exhausting, each individual page presents a fully-formed and well-loved world, with precise visual details, both architectural and intimate, and Katchor’s dry narration sears each story into the reader’s brain. Even though the stories revel in ironies and
absurdities, it’s clear that Katchor has a great love of the ever-changing urban environment and imparts that with flourish in all that he creates. (Review by Emilia Packard)