Monday, May 03, 2010

Work In Progress #1 - Tree Bark

Tree Bark by Lon S. Cohen. Pastel on paper. 19 3/4" x 25 1/2".

This is part 1 in a Work In Progress.

This is a work in progress. I'm tackling a pretty complex piece (at least for me). It's going to be a close up of tree bark that will fill the entire paper. There's lots of details and color changes. At this first step I'm sketching out the small sections of bark. There's a lot of detail. I know I'm going to use the sketch as a guide only. I want to get a feel for the transitions between sections of bark and how it flows on the tree. I'll probably cover most of this with the underpainting of pastel but I like to have this as a guide to where the color changes will be.

In the printouts of bark I did from my online research and from observations I made on trees in my backyard I am starting to envision that there will be a lot of color in this painting. There's gray, green, blue and pink in the bark. While most people will think of brown for tree bark I'm trying to do more with the color. In the end, there will definitely be a lot of brown, no doubt, but I want to bring out lots of other natural colors that emerge.

We will see. It's a pretty complicated design and I'm already kicking myself for attempting it. At some point, I will probably want to quit in frustration but I will have to push through to see it to the end. With a project like this there will be a lot of working at it, reworking when something is not coming out and then ultimately complete satisfaction when I suddenly resolve a problem that seems difficult and daunting. That's one of the joys in the process and it's well worth tackling a piece that pushes you out of your comfort level.

If it doesn't turn out exactly as I envisioned, that's OK too. I will have learned something and probably improved my technique. Every painting is an opportunity to learn, even if in the end you're not totally happy with the results, you can use that experience in the next project.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pastel Painting Of A Lion

Lion by Lon S. Cohen. Pastel on paper. 19 3/4" x 25 1/2" 2010.

I did this one from my usual source, a book that is basically an encyclopedia about animals. I love leafing through the big book for ideas on my next animal to paint. I usually support the image with others I find on the internet or pictures of my own that I've taken at the zoo.

Available for sale.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Drawing From Almost Nothing.

Imagine having to sketch a creature by description only or worse yet by fossil evidence and a best guess. A very hard thing to do. That's what scientists have asked a couple of artists to do, draw what might have been based on some old bones and genetic leftovers. It's one thing to let your mind play when creating fantastical creatures that are amalgams of real life animals that you can visit or see in a book or on the web but it's another to be commissioned to draw a thing that hasn't lived in millions of years and no one knows what it looks like.

A New York Times article, "Artists Mine Scientific Clues to Paint Intricate Portraits of the Past," describes just that. Scientists enlisted artists to give life to their discoveries, helping to communicate visually what they have discovered scientifically. A good read.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Anyone who knows me or has read one of my many rants on Twitter or on my blogs about this subject knows it's near and dear to my heart. The New York Times ran an article about legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby's family suing Disney and Marvel for rights (and profits) from his artistic output. You know, little known characters like Iron Man, Hulk, Fanatstic Four and X-Men who have made a little money for the Marvel entertainment recently. (Perhaps you've heard of them?) Anyway, Disney's huge purchase of Marvel Entertainment meant that Kirby's lawyer sprang into action. He's the same lawyer who sued DC for the Shuster and Speigel families for rights (and money) from their iconic creation, Superman.

It's my pet peeve: Artists who are not fairly compensated for their work especially by big corporations making $billions off said artwork.

Read the article here.

Thirty Something Curators Are Helping To Define Art For A New Generation

A good multimedia article on The New York Times website highlights four young curtators who speak about their careers and the influences in upcoming shows. Of course, my favorite is Rejendra Roy, curator for the Museum of Modern Art talking about his Tim Burton exhibit. Anyone who knows me knows I think Burton is a genius designer and movie maker. But the point of the story is that these curators, in their thirties are now influencing the way New Yorkers view art through their lens. There's a special magazine section story that goes along with the short audio and slide show. What I like most is to see people of my generation now affecting how millions view art from a not so standard background and defining art for the next generation of viewers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #6

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

A leaf coyly covers up the born date on Animal Man’s grave marker. An orange and blue suit flaps in the breeze, draped over the top of the stone marker clearly marked with the death date of 2014. The shadow of Buddy Baker seems to be turning away, walking away, leaving behind the role of Animal Man forever may he rest in peace. Everything on the cover is rendered in a sparse black, gray and morbid green except Animal Man’s empty discarded costume. Even the title of the book has been altered to show that this book means business. As if there were any doubt the letter “s” in the word “Days” in the title, “The Last Days of Animal Man” has been crossed out. It’s a promise of finality as if the 6 of 6 issue numbering wasn’t telling enough. This isn’t only the last issue of the series but the last time we’ll see Buddy Baker as his famous costumed hero.

Here’s the thing. This book has been a good ride. It’s a psychological profile of the downfall of a hero. It defines the man behind the mask and the people who were behind the man behind the mask. It explores the complexities of relationships between a superhero and his cohorts; a superhero and the very man that he was before he became a meta human; the man in the costume with his family as if being a superhero were a civil servant’s job like any other fireman, soldier or police officer. What happened when it’s time to retire? When you’re not fit for duty for whatever reason? How does a man who played at being a demigod with all the strange and wonderful things that come with it just give it all up and become a regular Joe again? Can he?

One thing that Buddy learns in this series is that his family suffered a big price for his powers. The times he was away instead of helping his kids with their homework or attending a little league game made his kids both pragmatic and disillusioned. His son seeks to emulate his father, though without his powers by putting himself fully into his work as a lawyer fighting for the conservation of the environment – like his father fought for animal rights as Animal Man. His daughter matter-of-factly tells him point-blank that he just wasn’t there for her and after a certain point, she just stopped caring that he wasn’t going to be a big part of her life. His wife remained ever faithful but the toll on her is obvious and she’s none too sad that Buddy’s Animal Man powers are fading. She tries to remind him time and again that he was a man before he was Animal Man and that counts more than all the meta human powers in the universe.

Ultimately, this is what Buddy learns. From his memories of his father’s point of view on life and manhood, to his lost powers to his duty to continue on as a superhero without his powers he learns that the man is much more important than the super man. From this he draws the strength to attempt a rescue of his fellow Justice Titan Leaguers (or whatever new hybrid futuristic group Conway dreamed up for this series) ending up at the mercy of two super powered psychos high above Times Square, beaten and defeated.

In a scene that may be just symbolic, a dream or an actual encounter, Buddy faces the aliens who gave him his power. They try to answer the question that Buddy has been asking all along, “Why?” In a short but poignant conversation the aliens tell him that in defeat and death all living things are equal yet it is how they face defeat that makes them special. “Face death and live,” one alien tells him.

So the theme has been defined. Eventually all of us, every single person who ever lived and ever will live will have to cope with defeat. We all face the ultimate truth that “existence struggles with nonexistence,” as the aliens put it. Buddy’s father also told him that you can’t chose how you die but you can chose how you live. He finally gets it in the end with the last breath of power to tap into the morphogenetic field of energy created by all living creatures. He will face this end of Animal Man as he has every single other defeat in his career as a superhero: Never give up living.

Animal Man may be defeated but Buddy Baker lives. He beats the bad guys and ends up in a good place with his family. As he says in the final panel, life is a choice and he chooses to life.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #5

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

Empire Strikes Back was the best movie of all of the Star Wars films. Know why? Because the good guys get their asses kicked and they’re mad, defeated and on the brink of total annihilation. Issue #5 of The Last Days of Animal Man has that kind of feel. From the cover image you kind of get the point. Animal Man has pretty much lost all of his powers and he’s in vigilante mode taking up a baseball bat and motorcycle helmet for defense. It’s not exactly Batman gear but it’ll have to do on short notice, especially since he’s got one last Ace up his sleeve.

One curiosity that runs through out the entire series so far is the inconstancy and utter uselessness of the Justice League/Teen Titan hybrid group that Gerry Conway has dreamed up. They seem only to serve as props to further the story along instead of characters. Even Starfire serves to show how far down Animal Man has gone and that his mind is not in the right place, rather than a fellow superhero. It’s big flaw in the writing of a series that show a high level of storytelling and creativity. But I forgive Conway because I know as a writer myself that sometimes you just have to rely on a crutch in order to keep the story moving forward.

Back to the cover. Another great job by Brian Bolland. It’s imposing and in your face style is perfect for the issue inside. There’s some great detail in the drawing once again. For some reason I found myself admiring the wrinkles in the jacket as Animal Man holds the bat up to his shoulder. Little details like getting those crinkles right really add to the power of the image. The slickness of the gloves holding onto the bat also caught my eye, but that may be a function of the inking job, which looks almost airbrushed to make the gloves from his uniform especially shiny. The best detail over all is on the tip of the bat where there are little blood splatters. It tells a little of the story with that one small detail. Obviously Animal Man had already taken a swing, struck true and is on his next head bashing.

In the opening, Superman and Power Girl fly into headquarters answering an emergency signal call. Power Girl looks hot as always in the capable hands of Chris Batista but her bust (let’s face it, Power Girl is all about the bust!) and the action doesn’t distract from Animal Man’s inner monologue telling us a little more about the character of his father.

It might be an understatement to say that things are complicated for Animal Man these days. He waxes nostalgic about how his father’s generation was one defined by quiet servitude, a sense of place in society and work ethics. People were very much more comfortable with the roles they played and the work they were destined to do and went about it without all the whining, crying and much of the medications we need today just to get through this thing called life. Asking his father on his deathbed if he had any regrets, Animal Man found this to be quite a foreign question for someone of his father’s generation. People didn’t regret, they just did. This bit of memory and his subsequent reunion with his family make Animal Man realize that it wasn’t necessarily the powers that made him the hero it was the man underneath the costume.

Back to superheroes getting their butts handed to them. Mirror Mistress and Bloodrage manage to subdue the heroes of the Justice Titan amalgam and things look dire. Starfire is still unconscious and Animal Man has all but lost his powers, not to mention he looks like hell. Someone has to do something and despite everything Animal Man’s family asks him what he’s going to do since it seems he’s the only hero in a one hundred mile radius who’s conscious and knows what the heck is going on.

Animal Man remembers a final bit of wisdom imparted by his father when he was dying. A man can’t choose how he dies. But he can choose how he lives. With this in mind, he kisses his family good bye and seemingly goes off – geared up in the old school vigilante style hinted at on the cover of the issue – to serve notice on the creeps who have been plaguing him ever since page one of the first issue. One thing I noticed is that on the cover, Animal Man sports a baseball bat and inside his weapon of choice is a crowbar. A minor distraction but one worth noting. There may be great debate in the vigilante world between the effectiveness of a baseball bat versus a crowbar but to me that’s splitting hair, really.

As I said, things don’t turn out so well and by the end of the issue Animal Man is hovering over Times Square with the villainous duo about to dispose of his body in a very public way so that the people of Earth make no mistake about their intentions, and their scheme to extort millions of dollars from the government for the release of the superheroes that Mirror Mistress happened to be holding in some crystal tubes back at HQ.

That’s the Empire Strikes Back moment. The bad guys have won. The good guys doing what good guys always do have rushed into a trap and gotten themselves all frozen in carbonite, er, crystal test tubes. All is lost… or is it? Well, of course it’s not. I mentioned that Animal Man has an Ace up his sleeve. It has something to do with a secret laboratory and a cryptic statement by Animal Man to the lab boys that he just wanted to see a dangerous biological sample to see if he could hear it sing.

To be concluded.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I Miss The Ewok Song... :(

And so do these guys:

If you'd like to sing along here's the lyrics.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is There A Difference Between Truth And Honesty In Art?

There is a certain elusive quality that makes an artist great. Sometimes it’s pure luck. Other times it’s a great benefactor or perhaps great training. All these things contribute to the success of an artist, to be sure. But none can make an average artist rise to greatness. One of the most important factors in producing really great art is honesty.

The difference between being truthful and honest is not always so easy to parse out. It’s a personal thing so let me use my personal example to show what I mean.


When I first started painting with pastels I tried to make compositions that reflected not what was truly inside me but what it was that I wanted people to perceive me as. My paintings had thick layers color and the subjects were otherworldly looking creatures. I very much felt that they represented both my feelings at the time and a stretching of my imagination. I was very satisfied with the work I was producing but in a sense there was little honesty in them. Yes they were a reflection of me but I knew that deep down I could be more than just a painter of gothic-type images.

Like wearing a certain style of clothing or a particular hairstyle my artwork was a façade. It was a style that I tried on. The techniques I learned about my chosen medium during that time are invaluable to this day but the actual work I was producing was nothing more than a passing fancy. I can look back now and see this through the lenses of many years and experiences.

I know that deep down I wasn’t working in a direction that I knew I wanted to go. I sacrificed honesty for truth. I thought that I needed to tell a truth about Lon S. Cohen through my artwork but I wasn’t being honest with myself. It came to a point when my art was nothing more than a fashion statement. I became stuck. This is what contributed most to giving up carving out time in my life for my art. I felt that I couldn’t go on with such a frivolous endeavor.

Inside of me was a voice nagging at me that there was something else that I could do with my artwork. I refused to listen or even acknowledge it. Why did I turn a deaf ear to my inner artistic voice? There were many reasons.

One was that I wasn’t mature enough to admit my destiny was elsewhere. I wanted to believe that the truth I dabbled in in my youth was going to be my truth forever. The fact is that we grow and change over the years. I somehow suppressed the growth and evolution of my art for what I thought was the truth.

The second reason I can think of was that since the exact art I was producing wasn’t being received professionally I thought that perhaps my art in general (or perhaps my talent) was never going to be good enough. This might still turn out to be true. You know the cliché: It wasn’t for a lack of trying? Yet I can’t say that. I stopped trying. I gave up.


So while I was being true, I was not being totally honest. The fact is that at a certain point I knew that I needed to produce a different kind of art based on a wholly different style and subject matter. Once in a while I would try to bring a little bit more honesty into my paintings but it was not enough to sustain me. The artwork I was making, while technically fine, was uninteresting to me beyond the page and thus uninteresting to anyone else.

It represented me but aside from a very few people, who cared? What I really wanted to do was use my artwork as a reflection of the world. I wanted to draw again like I did when I was a kid. I wanted to cast aside the façade and just make art that people could appreciate.

When I went to an art show and saw how a simple landscape or a city scene could invoke such strong reactions within me, I didn’t see that for what it was: My disappointment in my own art. My jealousy of those who could produce simply honest paintings. The falling short of the work I produced. I refused to recognize it.

The paintings I produced were not making a connection with a wider audience. Sure, one could say that you make artwork for yourself but in reality most artists want to have their art affect others in ways that supercedes his own self satisfaction and self interest. I knew the type of paintings I wanted to produce deep down. They were ones I really loved to go and see in museums and in books. The same ones that my inner audience was telling me it wanted.


There are many reasons why I personally didn’t pursue the honest path in my art. One of the biggest emotional obstacles we have to overcome as artists is fear.

It’s hard to put onto a canvas all your hopes, emotions, and skill out there to be judged by others who had no idea of your creative process or motivation. In art school we used to have to put our creations up in front of a classroom of our peers to be critiqued. As much as you think you can handle criticism, nothing compares to your friends and classmates all looking at your artwork, unveiled before them in all its stark nakedness to be then ripped apart. Professors wanted students to overcome the reluctance to criticize other people’s work (for fear of their own being harshly judged) so they encouraged them to say something they didn’t like about the piece before they said something positive. I remember the feeling to this day. You think you have thick skin? Try a critique class.

Of course some professors were better at making a comfortable atmosphere for critique than others but at the end of the day, I am a better artist for having had my artwork reviewed in this way. But even though I had gone through the process a few times a week or more over four years of school, we humans revert back to our most comfortable ground state and avoid that type of public critique whenever possible (at least those of us who aren’t masochists!)

In this way, I avoided my raw honesty for fear of being judged by others on my real work. If I continued with a façade then it didn’t hurt as much to be rejected because it’s like being criticized for the color you wear, it’s all a matter of taste. And while it’s true that art is very subjective it doesn’t always necessarily feel that way to the artists. Fear can stifle honesty in the worst way.


I was truthful but not necessarily honest. I was afraid to be honest because of how it might reflect on me. I’m older now so it doesn’t make as much of a difference. I am more confident in myself thus I care a little less of what others think of me and can better take criticism when it’s truly constructive. I can also let unconstructive criticism roll off my back better than before.

As an aside, I’d encourage anyone who seeks to criticize the art of a friend or relative to study up on just what true constructive criticism entails rather than pure opinion because it’s not the same thing. For example, exclaiming, “Who would hang that in their house?” is not constructive criticism. For the record it’s actually the exact opposite of constructive criticism.

The most important thing is that I can pursue artwork that I feel is honest to myself. Not just art that I want people to look at and see my personality or world view in but art that better reflects the world at large, the world that is around me and that comments on it in a way that people can appreciate. (Warning: This may be the exact opposite of your own version of artistic honesty.)

Also, I am not afraid to tackle a challenge. Where before I stuck safely in my comfort zone, I now try to expand my painting and drawing, my composition and arranging, and my vision to places I never thought I could ever take it before. It’s exciting to think my way out of a problem and find the solution. The process is much more fun now and my confidence in my skills helps me use my creativity to work my way through a difficult situation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #4

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Brian Bolland captures the anxiety and conflict that runs throughout this issue. The shattered image of Animal Man into shards of mirror-like pieces by the hand of Mirror Mistress while he desperately holds Starfire’s inert body in his arms perfectly encapsulates the chapter of this tale. Ultimately it’s about breaking Animal Man down and finding out what he’s made of. As a side note on the cover illustration, I like how detailed Starfire’s hair is as is flows upside down. It must have taken a long time to get all those curls in there.

If you read issue three then you already know the shocker at the end. We open with Animal Man in the enviable position of being lip locked with Starfire. Now I don’t care who you are or the color of your skin or even your gender, if you ain’t in lust with Starfire, check your pulse. Of course the act is entirely forgivable. I checked with my wife and she said that she would absolutely forgive me if I ever cheated on her with Princess Koriand’r. (Of course I also told her that the same went for her if she ever found herself in that situation with Starfire – but she said that she prefers Wolverine. Hey, we all have to make concessions in life.)

Immediately Animal Man is faced with guilt and regret and it’s a long road he takes until he hits absolute bottom by the end of this issue. He questions everything. His fatherhood. His manhood and his herohood (I made that word up.) Gerry Conway has a quirky storytelling style that I happen to love. How many comic writers insert a double page spread flashback into a scene where a super hero is getting his ass kicked. In his painful euphoria, Animal Man confronts the ghosts of his memory to come to a stunning conclusion: Despite the fact that he is losing his powers, he’s still a man, with the emotions, desires and ultimately, choices that every man has. It’s this revelation that saves him and Starfire, but just barely.

The issue sees the return of Bloodrage and Mirror Mistress, both of whom give Starfire and Animal Man a run for their money, both villains equally matched to the heroes’ weaknesses, Mirror Mistress with her ability to control the power for light (including Starfire’s star power) and Bloodrage with brute force against Animal Man’s fading abilities.

There’s not much traveling in physical space for this issue, in fact it almost entirely takes place on the League of Titan’s island HQ off of Manhattan and inside Animal Man’s own mind. All the action takes place in one spot but of course the tension and angst provide enough power to drive the plot along, including some kick-butt fight scenes rendered in stark and classic comic style by Chris Batista. I like the way Batista has developed the facial expressions for the characters. They are expressive and telling, which is a good thing because Conway is long on dialogue and inner thought in his writing. The layout of the text verses the illustration is balanced and flows very well throughout the story. I have never written or drawn a comic (although one day I hope to do both) but I imagine there is a lot of planning that has to go into such a complex mechanism relying on a writer to limit his pen so it fits into little boxes and panels and the penciller’s ability to translate a writer’s instructions into panels and renderings that blend perfectly while not drawing (pun!) too much attention away from the story.

I absolutely love the comic illustrations of Alex Ross but I find that I gaze longingly at the rich, realistic renderings of heroes more than I pay attention to the story line. In Batista’s case, his drawings are very detailed and expressive but not too modeled and not too flat. Like Goldilocks – just right, making this a very enjoyable read. Not that his penciling is too mundane at all. In fact like I mentioned, the characters are very well drawn and consistently illustrated. The layouts make the story move along at a god pace and I really enjoy some of the decisions they have made in how to integrate scenes including the way the flashback sequence works.

I have never been one to notice the details of coloring and inking. I’m no professional critic who picks apart every comic detail but I have to say the shading and colors in this book so far are very good. With Batista’s detailed comic illustration style it might be hard to not go overboard with the inking and color choices. The color and ink job is certainly not flat. It’s done with a sense of depth and attention paid to the penciller’s style. Again, I’m no expert on this type of thing but this one seems to be very well matched to the Batista’s style.

Overall this book, as with the entire series so far has far exceeded my expectations.

In the end, Animal Man transports home with Princess Starfire’s unconscious body in his arms narrowly escaping death. A surprise shock to be sure for his family but one I am sure they are used to.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #3

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

One of the things I’m still undecided about by the third book is the way Gerry Conway is mucking around in the way the near future of the DCU might look. In this issue it’s revealed that Red Tornado, Superman, Starfire, Power Girl, Nightwing and The Flash are all part of a hybrid super group called The League of Titans. Obviously a melding of the Teen Titans and the Justice League, from which the members were drawn (zing!) While the other heroes seem basically the same, The Flash is now African American, clearly not the Barry Allen or Wally West versions of the Flash.

What I’m getting from these subtle unexplained changes is that Conway wants you to know that this is just enough into the future that things will be different but not so far that we’re going to be meeting the Legion of Superheroes any time soon. (Though I’m only halfway through the series so there’s still time for that!) Things change over the years. It’s inevitable. Sometimes change happens without explanation and most times, it’s not fair. I guess Conway wants us to be clear about that. It’s a central theme to the book.

It’s something that Buddy Baker needs to learn to deal with.

Interestingly, I am just starting to read David McCullough’s “John Adams.” The beginning deals with Adams’ youth. He’s astute, quick, intelligent and verbose. In one part he writes a letter to his cousin about what he perceives of the future of America. In those times, still a young collection of colonies of England, no one but a few “Americans” – as they were starting to call themselves as opposed to “colonists” – could see the greatness of the properties across the ocean from Europe. History tells us that no matter how great a nation that exists it must start from somewhere and in another place a nascent town – or colonies – is growing into the next great nation. “All that part of Creation that lies within our observation,” Adams writes. “Is liable to change.”

So as great nations change, so do great men.

The book mostly follows Animal Man through his painful personal journey while he is seeking a solution to his super power problem. In the meantime, we get a glimpse into what it was like to be stuck on an alien planet together with Adam Strange during the events of the yearlong comic series 52. Oh boy! Don’t get me started on my teenaged fantasies about Starfire during the 1980s when I voraciously read Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Teen Titan run. By the stars could Perez illustrate hot, orange alien babes with big, um, assets and abilities. I know what I’d be thinking that whole time. “How can I get rid of this square Adam Strange and make time with Kory.” Seems that’s exactly what Baker was thinking. The sexual tension between Kory and Buddy was palatable and surprising to me. I found myself thinking, “Did I just see that?” In the end, Conway makes good on that promise in the panels and proves the point that if you hand a gun over the mantle in Act 1 you should have it go off by the end of the play, which it definitely does in this case.

Over the course of the book, things go from bad to worse for Animal Man. Not only is he losing his powers but Nightwing addresses the elephant in the room by asking, “Does anyone even know what a Morphogenetic field is?” Subsequently Animal Man’s idea to heal himself by taking samples of his children’s DNA proves to be an eye opening experience as both his kids tell him exactly how it is. Again, Conway delivers an emotional punch by addressing the issue that every police detective and noble politician has since the dawn of time. Mainly how do you balance a duty to public service with your commitment to family? In a way the interactions between Baker and his wife and children reminded me a little of Scrooge’s in A Christmas Carol, where he’s confronted by his past, present and future in his daughter, wife and son learning too late that while his business was being a hero he should have made his family his business all along. One scene reflects the classic Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” that always brings a tear to my eye. When speaking with his son – now an attorney fighting for the rights of environmental groups – he’s confronted with a mirror of himself. The man he was while his son was growing up is the model his son now uses in his own life, too busy saving the world to think about himself or his father’s feelings. Animal Man laments but is he learning from the experience or going right back to the place he was before, in denial of the truth.

This is a comic book after all and so by the end of the story the tension ramps up when his two former nemeses from the first two books now join forces to defeat the Animal Man. Sure kick a man while he’s down.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #2

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

So we open this issue with Animal Man falling out of the sky contemplating his own demise. Like many of us in this situation (facing death, not losing a super power) his thoughts turn to his family first, his wife and children and regret. If you’re going to write in a deus ex machina, then having it take the form of a Green Lantern who’s a giant whale will make most of us forget that little trick. This Green Lantern (it’s unclear if it’s Earth’s resident Green Lantern or some intergalactic patrolman passing by) saves Animal Man’s life and rids him of his a problem terrorizing him since issue one, a super villain with terrorist proclivities named Bloodrage. The little encounter is a great way for writer Gerry Conway to do his thing, namely making this super hero seem more like a normal guy. His reaction to being saved and the revelation by The Green Lantern that he is loosing his powers is anger, lashing out to the one who saved him. Lashing out at a hard truth. Of course he’s not a total dolt and the Green Lantern’s passivity shows Buddy Baker what a jerk he’s being to this animal-like alien.

Except for a side trip to explain the back story of the villain Mirror Master’s daughter as Prismatik - someone I assume who will be Animal Man’s main antagonist throughout the rest of the series - the entire book’s theme is Baker’s struggle with loosing his power and how he’s able to discover one clue to what’s been happening. I won’t spoil that minor point but when it does happen you get a sense of understanding about both Baker and the character inside the comic and out. What I mean is, the series seems to be addressing parts of Animal Man’s origin, regressing backwards in a way, which I hope will continue.

I do like the banter between the hero and his new villain. Also Animal Man’s thoughts behind his action are well written, feeling true to form for his current situation. He explains once that despite having no powers he teased Prismatik because he was angry and felt it was unfair what was happening to him. A little masochism can go a long way. In this case it helps him clear his head and figure out what’s wrong with his powers. By the last panel, Animal Man’s animal nature comes out while putting down his foe until some major forces show up to stay his hand, in the form of a selection of Justice League and Teen Titan members.

One thing I have to remember is that this series takes place ten years or so in the future so things may be different than they are now. The whale Green Lantern seems to be earth’s protector at the time and the heroes that show up in the last panel may all be part of the Justice League together now or some other group. Future issues will probably hash those details out. I really like the subtle hints of the future that this series throws at us. But more so I like how Conway is constructing his old character, building him up as real as possible for what I fear may be some sort of revelation and ultimately unfortunate ending. Again, it is called “The Last Days of Animal Man.” I like that Conway is getting to play with Animal Man’s character in this story arc – one he helped popularize and redefine twenty years ago. No one really has the knowledge and insight into a character like its creator or one who redefined that character to its modern incarnation. I also liked that the cover announces that Green Lantern is a guest star but the image is of a giant whale, like it’s normal that Green Lantern is a whale in the sky.

On Twitter I was speaking with a fellow comics reader after posting the previous article’s link. He pointed out that Conway had left comics writing to write for television and only recently cam back to comics, a fact I didn’t know. Digging deeper, I found out that Conway was the co-creator of one of my favorite comics characters in one of my favorite comic lines of the 1980s: Firestorm. After Teen Titans and All Star Squadron, Firestorm was probably my third favorite all time title. No wonder. Quirky, second tier characters and good characterization are all traits that Conway brings in full force to his books. I haven’t kept up with Firestorm since I was a kid except to in some of the titles he’s guest starred in but I know the character has changed quite a bit since teenaged Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein inhabited the nuclear man.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #1

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

I have to admit, before picking up the first issue of this mini series, I really didn’t know anything about Animal Man. He was a secondary character in the DC Universe in my mind and I had never come across him in any of the adventures I’d ever read in all my years, or at least any that stuck out in my mind.

A Little Behind The Scenes History.

According to Wikipedia, Animal Man’s first appearance was in Strange Adventures #180 in 1965, in a story written by Dave Wood and drawn by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. He was a very minor character until the late 1980s when Grant Morrison revived him eventually penning an Animal Man title from 1988 and 1990. Animal Man was aligned with animal rights causes in the book. Morrison also experimented with story telling in this book, sometimes breaking the “fourth wall” of reality for the character. Other authors continued to write the series until it ended some time later in 1995.

Animal Man plays a part in the universal story arcs involving many if not all of the DCU characters of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis , the weekly series 52, Countdown to Final Crisis and Blackest Night.

Origin of Animal Man.

Like all things in the DC Universe, there is a Pre-Crisis and Post Crisis version of the story. With Animal Man, his origins are almost identical in both. The crux of it is that Buddy Baker encounters a crashed spaceship that gives him with his ability to tap into the morphogenetic field of energy created by all living creatures. While doing so, he can gain the powers and abilities (but not the physical form) of any animal in the universe, including aliens.

Buddy Baker is just a regular guy in the DCU. He’s a father of two kids and husband. In his day job he works as a stunt coordinator for movies and he lives in San Diego. He has some normal problems like paying the bills, fighting with his wife and kids, a personal mission to advocate for animals (no surprise there) and a desire to make his name known in the superhero world.

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #1.

Like I said, I had not really heard of Animal Man much before this. I read most of the DCU changing titles listed above but his character didn’t stick with me. So why did I start to read a mini series based on what was a third-rate DCU character I only knew in passing? Because I’m a sucker for a well-told story about a minor character. Don’t get me wrong, I love a comics universe shaking story as much as the next guy, but give me a well written, well drawn, personal story and I’m yours.

I’ll also admit I can get burned this way, wasting money on a story that’s pretty blasé. I’m happy to say that the first issue of the series was terrific. It combined some of the best elements I find in a comic book. There’s plenty of great panels to look at, there’s lots of good dialogue and the story line looks to be a major shift in this character’s life. Granted, the title is “Last Days of Animal Man” do I’m expecting something big for Buddy Baker, but the way they launched this one was spot on.

It’s hard to balance great visuals with a good story and dialogue that doesn’t intrude too much into the panels and also keeps my interest. I hated reading plays in high school. They made us read Death of a Salesman, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and I was bored. A good comic book is like a play on paper but with the biggest difference being you get to see the visuals in the dialogue, along with some ass kicking. This titled has real depth and drama so far. Perhaps that’s thanks to Grant Morrison who had done a lot of work with the character in the late 1980s making it easy for the current team of writers to jump off. Still, it’s hard to balance the mundane life of a super hero’s alter ego and the big action of that same hero in conflict with a villain all the while telling a cohesive story and writer Gerry Conway gets it right. The art, by Chris Batista & Dave Meikis, is also a nice balance between words and visuals.

Animal Man is losing his powers. At crucial times his connection to the morphological energy field becomes cut off. His ability to reach out beyond earth’s animals into space is also limited. Obviously this is affecting his abilities as a super hero but it also intrudes on his professional and personal life as well. The story takes place in a near future so it doesn’t affect any of the ongoing DCU story lines.

I’ve collected all 6 issues in the series and have just completed the first issue. I generally do collect a few issues in a title or an entire short series before reading it because from month to month you can lose the thread of a story and I like to read them straight through.

Issue #2, which I already cracked open features a visit by a whale-like alien Green Lantern. Looks to be interesting. Judging from the first in the series, I expect it to be just as good. I’ll check in when I read it for an update.

Notes on the Cover by Brian Bolland.

The cover of the first issue is very cool because it’s a play on the first issue of the Grant Morrison series. Issue #1 of that late 1980s series shows an introductory pose of Animal Man running at the viewer surrounded by various animals. In the “Last Days” cover, Animal Man and all the animals are in a similar pose but they’re skeletons. A foreshadowing? Or just an inventive Easter Egg for astute fans by the cover artist, Brian Bolland? Either way it’s really creative. Bravo to Bolland who did the covers of both the original series and the “Last Days” cover. It just shows how a talented cover artist can make something very interesting out of the mundane.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sparks Of Inspiration

I've been recapturing some of my long lost artistic spirit, you might say spurred by a somewhat unusual source of inspiration.

When I was in college my fellow art students and I were obsessed with a pretty famous art supply store called Pearl Paint. It was not so much that it had superior products or better prices but it had an enormous selection (this was before the days of Michael's, A.C. Moore and other giant Wal-Mart-like craft stores.) There was one sort of close to my school (SUNY Farmingdale) and my friends and I would take frequent "road trips" there, which usually started with a side trip to lunch first and then possibly an afternoon of beer and music in the back parking lot of school where we'd call for a collective canceling of class.

I've always had fascination with art supply stores, possibly because of all those tubes of unused paint, perfect pastel sticks and reams of white, white paper in pads. It was the possibility of creation, the beginning of a project with dreams and expectations of the finished project.

A few years ago I guess Pearl paint decided to leverage some of their fame to compete with the bigger craft shopping centers and they opened a few more stores. Previously to my knowledge there were only two locations. There was one in Nassau County and one on Canal Street in New York City. One store opened by my house and being that I had long since abandoned my art, I sadly never stepped foot in the place.

I’ve always been an artist. Ever since I was a kid I drew all the way through college. I took all the requisite art courses, art history, etc. In college I took a trip to New Mexico with my family and we stayed at Ghost Ranch, known as the place where Georgia O’Keefe painted some of her famous flower paintings. I found the desert an inspirational place and I long to return someday. It was there that I took a weeklong class in pastel painting and it was then I found my medium. We made pastels from scratch with a mortar and pestle and I felt a deep connection to the natural world through my painting with chalk pastels. There was no brush, no other instruments used except for your own hands and fingers. I loved the visceral connection to my creation through my skin. I felt a really personal connection to everything I painted as if it were a true extension of myself through my own hands.

But instead of majoring in fine art in college, I chose advertising art and later graphic design. I tried to keep up my pastel painting for years but left it behind after marrying and starting my family.

It had been about more than ten years since I even held a piece of pastel. One day I decided it was time again to do some art. Maybe it was because of my kids’ own art projects or a need to recapture something that I had lost of myself in there tumultuous times both economically and politically. I don’t know. Somehow I wanted to have something again that felt real and soulful.

So a few weeks ago I walked into that Pearl Paint near my home for the first time to discover that it was closing its doors. They were selling everything at 50% off. I grabbed some simple supplies for my kids and myself. We went home and I had so much fun painting with them that I returned the next weekend to get some more, only this time they were selling everything for 75% off. I bought about $300 worth of supplies for about seventy-five bucks. Included in my purchase were a bunch of pastels and paper.

On a side note, I was going to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party the next day with my kids and I decided to load her up with art supplies for her present. In there I included a small set of pastels for her. I was overjoyed when my wife got a call the next day from our friend saying that her daughter was delighted to find the pastels in her gift bag.

“I know what these are,” she had exclaimed. “They’re pastels.”

It seems that she had just learned all about using pastels in art class in school and was really excited to get her own set. She went on to instruct her little brother all about pastels and how careful he had to be using them.

This serendipitous event gave me a little more confidence in my path, like a little sign from the universe that this was a really good thing and others recognized it as well.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get in at least three days a week of pastel painting and drawing. I’ve really learned for the first time what it was about pastel painting that made it such a transcendent experience for me. Something I could never really put into words. But the fact that my own kids are now inspired to do their own art projects has been one of the best byproducts. They see Dad sitting down to the kitchen table to do some painting and they immediately jump in too; kids need very little to inspire them to creativity.

The spark of my inspiration was in the deep discounts I found at Pearl Paint, allowing me to totally restock my art supplies on my very limited budget. But something I always learned about creating any kind of art (including my writing) is that the inspiration is nothing but a small flit of one moment. It cannot be sustained and it takes commitment and hard work to keep at your creative process over the long term. I try to find fuel to keep inspiring myself, like continually occurring small bursts of energy, in the world around me. In the kids. In nature. In the visceral connection to my work and of course the pride of a finished project.

Anything can provide that initial jumpstart to get you going. You can continue that by capturing the feeling and finding it in many other places along the way. In this way you can keep the fire burning long passed the initial point of inspiration.

Friday, January 01, 2010

UN opens Biodiversity Year with plea to save world's life-supporting ecosystems

Kicking off the new year with a little press release from the UN on the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

1 January 2010 – In a bid to curb the unprecedented loss of the world's species due to human activity – at a rate some experts put at 1,000 times the natural progression – the United Nations is marking 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, with a slew of events highlighting the vital role the phenomenon plays in maintaining the life support system on Planet Earth.

“Humans are part of nature's rich diversity and have the power to protect or destroy it,” the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said in summarizing the Year's main message, with its focus on raising awareness to generate public pressure for action by the world's decision makers.

“Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on. Human activity is causing the diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate.

These losses are irreversible, impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on every day. But we can prevent them.

Read the entire UN press release here.