Archive for the ‘Other Media’ Category

Dan Simmon’s Terror

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

For many years now, I’ve proclaimed author Dan Simmons one of the best writers alive, mainly on the strength of his Hyperion science-fiction series. Hyperion is both small and impossibly grand in scope; poetic, blunt, and always challenging. It also has what may be one of the greatest villain/monsters ever (the Shrike). So it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have enjoyed his new historical fiction, “The Terror”. Basically, it takes the doomed arctic voyages of the HMS Terror and Erebus, already filled with real terror and horror enough for any book, and adds layers of imaginative nightmarish speculation to that. In other words, a monster. Whereas the Shrike is purest black, the “Thing on the Ice” is all white, but there the practical differences end. Simmon’s monsters are not so much plot vehicles as they are cattle prods for the reader, cruelly tricky ways to make a reader guess and squirm. Don’t expect a traditional monster book here or a traditional disaster book, just to be taunted with their near presences. Like the end of another of my favorite modern fiction novels, Thomas Harris’ “Hannibal,” even your carefully crafted conceptualization of “heroism” may well get somewhat battered by the end of the story. Also like Hannibal, the story virtually revels in its ghoulishness; gore doesn’t begin to describe it. That intensity is greater because this is what the lost arctic explorers would have literally gone through…Simmons stays within the historical facts on this trip, giving a literal weight (positively and negatively) to his story. My take is that the story is about how much it can take for us to truly change our perceptions and attitudes. If you don’t mind the horror-ride, there’s something at the end worth the multiple amputations and the long, cold journey though the ice.

And if you haven’t read it, drop everything and read the Hyperion Series, which is simply as good as science fiction has yet become.

Kid Nation Controversy

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Alex Pulls the Freight in Kid Nation


Alex (red shirt) Pulls His Weight

Kid Nation (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kid_Nation) started out in a flurry of controversy which really has not abated. For those not familiar, Kid Nation was a CBS reality show where the children are left “without adults” in a ghost town. The goal was to create their own “nation” made up entirely of kids. There were injuries. One of the kids was splattered with grease while cooking. I remember reading an article about kids drinking bleach mislabeled as water. But none of the injuries were serious, and though complaints were filed, none were acted on. Certainly, comparable to an ordinary 40 days at camp, the injuries seem relatively typical and minor. The exit interviews of the kids seem to indicate that the most difficult experience they faced was being filmed constantly. In the end, the only danger to the show was a season of rather low ratings.

But was it a good show? Well, the answer is that it was a mixture of extremely good and extremely odd.

The extremely good: The kids were uniformly fantastic. You simply can’t get better improvised comedic dialogue anywhere. Unlike the amoral and deceptive (though equally fascinating) competitive model of Survivor, the kids have a credulity and sincerity that is very compelling to watch. In particular, some of the very youngest kids, Mallory and Alex, were real heroes and obviously great kids. Taylor was always fun and I often found myself cheering her on as she stood up to the natural authoritarians in town. As a leader, her “Deal With It” motto was one of the worst political slogans in history, but also totally hilarious. She wasn’t perfect, but she was very real and I know many “adults” who behave exactly like her (in their supposed full maturity). On a deeper level, the show functioned extremely well as an examination of leadership and motivation. It was definitely the most thought-provoking reality show I’ve ever seen.

The Extremely Odd: Simple: The adult manipulation! The best moments in the show were unscripted, unmanipulated (relatively), and brought forth from the imagination of the kids. First problem: Somehow, the producers thought it would be a good idea to force a representative democracy on these stranded kids. Was this to supposedly prepare them for our supremely dysfunctional adult version of this same system? From the beginning, four kids were on council. Occasionally, they were given an opportunity to be voted out and replaced, but that was it. No opportunity to vote out or reorganize the structure of the council was ever given. Kids were also divided into four camps (did the producers have a fetish for the number four?). It seemed this was intended mimic the Survivor camps and avoid individual competition among the kids. Unlike Survivor, there were no directly democratic votes at all, except for the “representative democracy” of the town council. No one was voted out, obviously (that would be traumatic for the kids and the viewers, too!), but instead of leaving out the mercenary game show aspect of Survivor altogether, the producers shoehorned in the forced drama of “gold star” awards in every show. These $20000 gold star awards shifted the whole tenor of the show away from the societal, functioning community (ala “Lord of the Flies”) aspect to the How Can I Behave in Such a Way as To Earn The Gold Star aspect. This manipulative structure served the kids poorly and the viewers worse. Instead of setting up a type of badge system, where all the kids would have chances to shine and achieve victories, 50% of each show was devoted to an ersatz tearjerker popularity contest. When my favorite town member, 9 year old Alex, won his award, I think he put it the best…”I don’t really need $20000.” Later, he said, “But I’ll definitely keep it, gold prices are on the rise.” The kids were just as motivated to win the challenges for various practical rewards around town. Competing for the $20000 stars made the kids think not about making a community, but just the opposite: How to make themselves look good at the expense of others. This was a terrible decision by the producers that reduced 50% of each episode to a tedious forced drama. This half of the show made viewers long for first half. Even worse was the super-manipulative “Religion” episode, which was truly painful to behold. I won’t say much about it expect that it was a sickening directive to make the kids try to form a religion-based town meeting. This placed the kids in the disturbing position of having to defend what is, essentially, the faith (or lack thereof) they are being brought up in by their parents. Kids are below the age of accountability for a reason. The wince factor on this particular episode was very high. Even worse, it was an early episode. If any episode explains why the ratings tanked, this was it. Alex, of course, was the voice of sanity in this episode, too. If only Alex could run him in our presidential election!

Basically, the idea is a great one. By reducing the game show aspects of this program and increasing a looser format with more chances for the kids to achieve on their individual strengths (and have their well-deserved moment in the sun), Kid Nation could be a strong reality program. Overproduction works on a show like Survivor, but the finest moments for the children involve their sense of invention and intuitive common sense. Smothering that smothers the show. Of course, changing the overproduced aspects of the show would, in typical network thinking, destroy the show, so that won’t be happening. But there were still many superb episodes of Kid Nation and congratulations to all the brave kids who stepped up and participated.

Interview with Me on the Subject of “Good Girl Art” for CPA-APA by Dewey Cassell

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

My friend Dewey Cassell has kindly granted me permission to reprint here his interview with me for the prestigious and very long-running CPA-APA ‘zine. Dewey made some wonderful art choices to accompany the story, as well, which are absent here. Thanks for the kind interview, Dewey! Without further ado, the article:

Interview with a Vampire (Artist)

Even accepting a fairly broad definition of the terms “modern” and “good girl”, Nathan Andrew Massengill may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think about modern good girl artists. Nonetheless, as you will find in this interview, conducted with Nathan via email in July 2007, the talented inker has broad experience in the genre, past and present (and pun intended.) I had the pleasure of making Nathan’s acquaintance in the mid-1990s, when he was working on Harris Comics’ Vampirella and living in rural North Carolina. I have enjoyed seeing him over the years, mostly at conventions, and following the progress of his career in comics. Today, he lives in Atlanta and is inking a new Wonder Girl mini-series for DC Comics. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning…

Dewey Cassell: When and where were you born?

Nathan A. Massengill: Hickory, North Carolina; a Pisces born right after the 60’s, which is why I have never been cool.

Cassell: When did you start drawing?

NAM: I was always drawing. I have comic book pages, with panels and superhero characters that I was working on in Kindergarten.

Cassell: Did you receive formal art training?

NAM: I went for two years to the Joe Kubert School of Art, which was, and remains, a fantastic school. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the field of comic art.

Cassell: Who is your favorite modern good girl artist?

NAM: Well, I think Dave Stevens would come to mind as one of the greatest good girl artists, but certainly no artist has had more influence on my own career with “good” girls than Adam Hughes. This would involve classifying Howard Chaykin and Mark Beachum as “bad girl” artists, but they are also favorites of mine.

NAM: (Cont’d) Of course, there are “definitive” artists for each character, an artist who sums up the mental image of a character in a person’s mind. For instance, I think José Gonzalez when I think of Vampirella.

Cassell: What “good girls” have you drawn over the years and which was your favorite?

NAM: I was lucky, because the first major work I did for DC was on Wonder Woman, who is the ultimate Good Girl, rather, Good Woman, and my favorite superhero character. I had inked the character Jaguar for Impact Comics before that. I’ve worked on Storm, Phoenix, Batgirl, Supergirl, the Legionnaire girls, Fire (in Checkmate), Spoiler (as a brief female Robin in Detective), Siryn in Deadpool, Catwoman, Black Cat, Kitty Pride, Vampirella, and more I am sure. Now, I am doing the new Wonder Girl mini-series, so I am back, in a way, on the Wonder Woman franchise.

Cassell: How did you get involved with Harris Comics’ Vampirella?

NAM: I got involved when Ed McGuinness requested me to ink him on the launch of the Vampirella Strikes! series. It was a fantastic time (just the end of the big-selling mid-nineties days for comics) and the opportunity to work with Meloney Crawford-Chadwick, a truly great editor.

Cassell: How did you feel about inking such an iconic character?

NAM: Both Ed and I were very happy to be working on Vampirella, who is such a well-known character. I think we were looking forward to doing some very moody, gothic stories, but it turned out the stories were more sci-fi and traditionally superhero-ish than gothic. But still fun! (Nods to writer Tom Sneigowski.)

Cassell: Did you enjoy working with Ed McGuinness?

NAM: I worked with Ed for a number of years after that, on Wolverine, Deadpool, Cable, the Hulk, and even the Fighting American. It was one of the very best experiences of my career and I still love inking Ed when I have the opportunity. He’s simply brilliant.

Cassell: What was your favorite part of Vampirella? (So to speak)

NAM: Yes, that is a loaded question. There are two great things about Vampirella. First, her artistic heritage, from the nearly unparalleled stable of artists employed in the Warren days. Second, her unapologetic sexiness and outrageous costume. Making a great story for such an outré heroine is really the great challenge; I’d really enjoy writing a story for her one day.

Cassell: Why do you think Vampirella continues to be popular with fans?

NAM: Vampirella’s secret is her sensuality, with the under-the-surface niceness and odd vulnerability that keep her human (so to speak, as you say). I think she needs a certain racy edge, but at the character’s heart, she’s always a little lost and lonely. This combination of tough and tender are what makes the very best heroes.

Cassell: Did you read Warren Publishing’s Vampirella?

NAM: I have read them, and they are amazingly good. I was lucky enough to have access to a large collection of the original magazines, and that’s definitely the way to read them. It’s where I fell in love with – and eternal awe of – José Gonzalez’ work.

Cassell: How did you get involved with DC Comics’ Wonder Girl?

NAM: Penciler Sanford Greene and I started working together at DC on Batman Strikes!, then an issue of JLU, and then several issues of the animated Legionnaires book. Based on the success of those books, DC pulled Sanford in to redesign Wonder Girl and work on a six-issue mini. I, of course, am thrilled to be working with Sanford and on another series in the Wonder Woman franchise.

Cassell: What is the storyline of the Wonder Girl miniseries?

NAM: I know it related to the “Amazon Attacks” storyline running through the DCU right now, and that we are giving a new shape to the Cassie Sandsmark character, but I don’t have many other details. I know Robin plays a major part and there’s a Hercules character in it.

Cassell: What are the differences in inking Vampirella and Wonder Girl?

NAM: I always thought of Vampirella as more illustrative, but all the pencilers I’ve worked with on these characters have been very graphic, and I think we’ve been bringing that more modern edge to the characters. I really ink the penciler more than the character in these cases.

Cassell: Are there any unique challenges in inking good girl art?

NAM: Well, hair is usually a big one, as you want all the characters to have elaborate, lush hair. I think you want them to be physically imposing without being too buff; I know the editors usually want you to walk an impossible line there. I think only Adam Hughes has ever gotten Wonder Woman perfectly balanced between awe-inspiring stature and lush femininity. Mark Beachum can usually hit this goal as well, although his girls are always quite mischievous, to say the least, and might not make the “good” definition. I know any good girl artist has a certain struggle with the balance between heroic and sexy.

Cassell: Who has been your favorite artist to ink (so far)?

NAM: Mike Wieringo was one of my very favorites, as I was fortunate enough to work with him on the launch of his creator-owned Tellos series, but, honestly, I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some of the best artists in comics. My new pencilers, Steve Scott and Sanford Greene, are stellar talents and will make a huge mark in comics.

Cassell: Is there a good girl character that you have always wanted to work on (but haven’t yet)?

NAM: I’d really like to work on Sue Storm, as she is one of the best female superheroines. I’d love to work more on Wonder Woman and I had a great time working on an issue of editor Michael Wright’s fantastic run of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl, a very underestimated series. I’m also a big fan of editor Joan Hilty’s female Manhunter. And, of course, it would be great to do Vampirella again.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Nathan’s art – good girl and otherwise - in the years to come. In the meantime, check out the new Wonder Girl mini-series, which will hit comic shops in September.

Article © Dewey Cassell 2007.

NAM succumbs to Deviantart!

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Of course I did…Behold!:

massengill.deviantart.com

Claudia Black, Need I Say More? (Dragon*Con 2007 p2)

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Fade Into Black, Claudia Black

Claudia Black Signing at Dragon*Con 2007

Looking at Claudia, even from a distance in the signing lines at the Dragon*Con, you could tell why she was such a great actress. Waiting for people to come up to her in the line, she would frown slightly, and you’d find your mood plummeting. Then someone would text her something, and she’d grab her phone with that irrepressible energy she has, and her face would light up…and your world would suddenly seem like a choir of angels popped up on your shoulder. Her expressive ability is so natural and infectious…I’ve only seen it in a handful of actresses like Audrey Hepburn…and I never actually got to meet her. The funny thing you’d never know about Claudia in this picture…she’s like 8 months *very* pregnant! I was really worried about her attending the Dragon*Con in that state…She’s certainly a brave one! Anyway, the picture is crappy, but she still looks great in it, as she did in person. As a huge fan of Farscape (the show I consider the best sci-fi series yet done), and a massive admirer of everything Claudia does, it was a highlight of the show to meet her. End geek moment #2 here…

My Lexa-cellent Adventure (Dragon*Con 2007 p1)

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Me and the magnificent Lexa Doig

Me and the Luminous Lexa Doig

I was never the world’s biggest fan of Andromeda, I’ll be entirely honest. It had some good seasons, and some good episodes, however. The best thing about the show was the utter likability of the cast. The best actual story concept in the show was the character of ‘Romi, short for Andromeda. Lexa Doig played Spock to Sorbo’s Kirk on the show, except, instead of a super-rational Vulcan, she’s a super-rational android. She’s kind of like a ship’s masthead come to life, a living personification of the warship Andromeda, brought to life Galatea-like by the ship’s engineer. Lexa was wonderful because she did not *look* like an android warship, but was instead a rather waifish and delicate-looking young woman. You get the sense, watching Lexa onscreen, that she is really beautiful. You meet her in person, and your opinion may change. She’s super-beautiful. The camera, surprisingly, doesn’t capture anything like her perfect skin and intense warmth. She is extremely accessible and charming, the picture of an ideal convention guest. I didn’t really get to talk to her…The design of the Stargate signing booths was horrible for any kind of interaction, designed for maximizing profit and not for interaction at all. I did see her briefly at the Pro Hospitality Suite, but she didn’t stay long and I didn’t have a chance to say “hi” there. Anyway, I insert the rather poor picture of her here (my apologies Lexa!) and encourage anyone who gets a chance to meet her not to pass it up! Now this geek moment is ended…

Got Zat?

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

“Got Zat” by Nathan Massengill, Dec. 2007

Zatanna, Pen and Ink with Digital Color, all by NAM 2007

(click for Full Size Image)

Well, by way of apology for not updating this blog as often as I would like, here’s my inappropriately-sexy holiday card. For those who don’t know, the character is Zatanna, a spellcaster who casts her spells by speaking them backwards. To all who read this, wishes for the truest and purest happiness!

Dragonsong

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

I’ve just listened to the unabridged recording of “Dragonsong” again, for the first time in many years. It is a wonderful touchstone story, and easily as good as when I first read it. I have changed so much as a person in the intervening time, and it is fascinating how a truly great story can mean amazingly different things at different times in life. If you’ve never read this, it’s Anne McCaffrey’s masterpiece, and never to be underrated. It helps to read the “Dragonflight” stories first, but as good as they are, they only foreshadow this startling, taut, and very moving little novel of survival. Truly a classic.

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