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.