Archive for January, 2008

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

Inking FAQs

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

For those interested in inking as a craft, I did write a personal Inking FAQs. Few things in comics are as confusing to the average and advanced fan/producer of comics as inking. What is it? What’s the difference between one inker and another? Where did inking come from? The FAQs attempts to answer all these questions, but it’s mostly about bringing some terminology into inking. Some critical differentiation, actually, but I don’t think it’s as boring as that sounds. At least, one may hope. ;) Get the FAQs here:

NAM’s INKING FAQs

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