Why A Duck?


When I did my Simpsons avatar a little while ago, the T-shirt had a duck on it. As a kid, and even now, I like to make sounds like various fowl. One sound is like an even more incoherent Donald Duck. I suspect that I was doing this back in my FantaCo days, because when Raoul Vezina drew me into a Smilin’ Ed Smiley story, I was portrayed as a duck.

But it wasn’t a story in one of the four issues of Smilin’ Ed comics that FantaCo published; it was the story in X-Men Chronicles entitled “If Smilin’ Ed Smiley bought a Case of X-Men #94 When It Was Brand New, What Then?” “What Then” was our way of saying “What If” without actually being in violation of Marvel’s copyright or trademark.

Now, I should acknowledge why FantaCo put out the X-Men Chronicles when it did. It was to beat to market the X-Men version of a series of Marvel Indexes compiled by someone named George Olshevsky. The X-Men Index would be No. 9A (for some reason) and was scheduled to come out later in 1981.

I had forgotten this: FantaCo, probably Tom, had asked Wendy Pini to do the X-Men Chronicles cover. Wendy and Richard Pini were known for doing the Elfquest comic book, and had done a number of in-store signings. She called back on May 21, 1981, to decline, but she gave us Paty Cockrum’s number at Marvel so that we could contact her husband Dave, who had drawn the X-Men. From my journal: “Dave agreed to do the cover for $200-250. I told Tom, but I was less than enthused because Fantagraphics’ book [the Marvel Indexes were distributed by them, I guess] is also going to have a Cockrum cover. My attitude was incomprehensible to Tom.” (The actual cover I did really like, and was a lot more interesting than the Index cover.)

So we got our Dave Cockrum cover, got some local, and not so local people, to draw and write some pieces. I commissioned Arro Verti to put together our own index, short on graphics, but long on text. Oh, who am I kidding? *I* was Arro Verti; Arro=R.O.; and Verti for Green.

While we had published previously (Smilin’ Ed, Hembeck 1980, John Caldwell’s Mug Shots), we had never done a commentary book before. While I now know that we almost certainly didn’t need Marvel’s permission to do what we were doing, we sought it then. And Marvel was…cagey.

On the day I went down to pick up the Dave Cockrum cover, July 15, I met with Paty, then briefly with Marvel editor Jim Shooter, who said that there was no need to license the X-Men Chronicles if we were doing a journalistic piece. Then he said: “If you violate our copyright, we’ll just sue.” He was so matter-of-fact about it. I wrote later that I really liked Paty; Jim, not so much.

Another heretofore lost detail: Dave’s cover wasn’t ready on the 15th; in fact, I think he had just started it. So I took train to Philadelphia, visited friends, took a train back to NYC on the 17th, got the cover from Dave, a bearded fellow with what I described as a “soft Southern accent”, THEN took the still-wet painting home on a bus to Albany. The first copies of the magazine came out July 31.

As the editor of the X-Men Chronicles, one of my great disappointments about the book was the type size, which was 6-point type (don’t remember the font), which I thought was too small, but who our typesetter thought was fine. He was the professional, so I yielded to his judgment, which was, as it turns out, WRONG.

This had created another problem: we were five pages short for our 32-page publication. Enter Raoul Vezina, who, in a remarkably short time, cooked up with Tom Skulan a story about greed and hubris. Raoul’s story ended up to be six pages, and we had to bump something, as I recall, but this tale was my favorite part of the book.

When Tom came back from vacation sometime afterwards, he brought back these polished stone animal figurines from Mexico. Mine, of course, was the duck.

Which brings us to the picture above, which Raoul drew for my friend Lynne late in 1981. It’d been hanging on her wall for a quarter century when I e-mailed her and her husband Dan for a copy. Dan scanned it, Lynne made it into a PDF, and I made it into a .jpeg. ADD had something to do with the process, too.

Seeing it again just makes me smile, and sad, too, for Raoul died in 1983. At least I have his art to remember him by.
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Hi, Eric and Joelle! By coincidence, I ran into a guy named Eric who used to work at FantaCo doing mail order yesterday. He kindly said I was “a little grayer”; it was good to see him. His sister Joelle, I believe, was the first female to be on the FantaCo payroll, and, according to him, is the more computer-savvy of the two.
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This story says there were only a “handful” of FantaCo Publications; not true, as this roster will attest. Many were published after my tenure there, but FantaCo, in its time, and, especially in its later horror comics niche, was quite prolific.

ROG