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.