The Raoul Vezina Chronicles

I am calling these the Raoul Vezina Chronicles because these are bits and pieces about the life of Raoul Vezina. He worked at Crystal Cave on Main Street in New Paltz, NY which I frequented, in the mid-1970s. He was working on New Paltz Comix and other artistic and musical pursuits.

Then he worked at FantaCo at 21 Central Avenue in Albany, NY from 1978 until his untimely death in November 1983. He co-created Smilin’ Ed Comics, made the store signs, and other creative work. Not incidentally, you can find Smilin’ Ed Comics: da complete collection on Amazon.

I had sometimes a great notion of creating a Wikipedia page for Raoul, but I now realize, after a decade of trying on and off, that wasn’t going to happen soon, if ever.

Still, I have gathered a lot of material from several of his friends. In honor of Raoul’s passing 40 years ago, here are some bits, in no particular order except being the oldest in my email. There will be more pieces soon. I will try not to replicate what I wrote here or elsewhere. (Most of my links here still work.)

Here’s Naturalist At Large, a book by Don Rittner and Raoul.

Raoul created cover art and/or lettering for some records. here’s his comics bibliography.


The bulk of this will come from Raoul’s younger sister, Maria, the Chief Nursing Officer at a major hospital and a keeper of the Raoul flame.

Raoul Francis Vezina was born on January 12, 1948.

His father was Raoul E. Vezina MD (1913-1975), a General Practitioner physician in Troy NY. He grew up in Springfield, MA. He went to The College of The Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, and Tufts School of Medicine in Medford, MA. 

His mother was Elizabeth Pitaro Vezina (1912-1999) was born in Calabria, Italy and came to the United States when she was 12 years old, settling in Troy, New York. She graduated as an RN from the Samaritan School of Nursing in Troy, NY, in 1935.  [I really liked Betty.]

Raoul went to St. Peter’s Grammar  School, graduating in 1961, and Catholic Central High School in Troy, NY, graduating in 1965. He drew and sketched his way through school, always leaving behind many notebooks filled with original artwork rather than schoolwork. 

He attended Le Moyne  College in Syracuse, NY, in  1965 and then transferred to the  State University of New York at New Paltz, majoring in art. Raoul was a naturally born artist and musician who never formally trained in art or music. 

Once the front of 279 Fair street in Kingston, NY, owned by the late Bruce Talbott, of New Paltz. Provided by Jim Abbott.

A natural born artist , as a young child, Raoul used to draw on the TV set at home during “Squiggle Time” for the rabbit Freddie Freihofer on the “Bedtime Stories” TV show hosted by Uncle Jim Fisk. Later, as an adult, Raoul drew advertisements for the Freihofer Bakery in Lansingburgh, the northern section of Troy, New York. In 1987, Friehofers was sold to General Foods. 

Raoul was fascinated by animal art and super heroes and science fiction early in life while composing many sketches of Mighty Mouse and Superman at a very young age. Never taking any art or music lessons, Raoul had a natural inborn talent for both art and music. 

Raoul’s art matured to cartoons and political satire, publishing “Naturalist at Large” environmental cartoon with Don Rittner. Raoul admired Lenny Bruce, a social critic and satirist. Watching That Was the Week That Was (TW3), Laugh-In, The Twilight Zone, and the Smothers Brothers in the 1960s became his weekly favorite TV shows.  Raoul’s early childhood exposure to animal art influenced his original creation of Smilin’ Ed Smiley, the rascal rodent who became the mascot for FantaCo.


Raoul played electric piano and harmonica for several local bands in upstate New York, including Love’s Ice Cube with Paul “Piper” Rafter, John Randall, Paul Sadowski, and Gary Grimaldi. Original Art showcasing this band’s logo, designed by Raoul, was last seen in the River Street Beat Shop in Troy, New York.

He also performed with Witz End in New Paltz, NY, writing original music and jamming with many local musicians, again playing electric piano and harmonica. He became an early music aficionado of blues and rock n roll admiring Bob Dylan, The Band, The Byrds, Theolonius  Monk, Randy Newman, Paul Butterfield, Mopy Grape, Canned Heat, Spirit, and local upstate band -NRBQ, to name a few. 

Raoul tragically died of status asthmaticus, a severe acute asthma attack, on November 13, 1983. He was 35 years old.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “The Raoul Vezina Chronicles”

  1. I stopped in to FantaCo (21 Central Avenue in Albany, NY) to pick up my comics 40 years ago today. I was 16 years old, and FantaCo had been my regular comic book shop for about three years. I had a pull list and stopped in every week or two to pick up my stack of comics, which was usually at least three or four inches deep, sometimes double that. Lots of Marvel and DC, lots of independents from companies like Pacific, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Eclipse, and of course, FantaCo itself.

    I had been a fan of FantaCo’s comics publishing endeavors starting when they were publishing Fred Hembeck and Raoul Vezina’s comics, and was delighted early on in my comics-shopping days there to realize Raoul not only made great comics but sometimes worked at the store, too. Other people working there I recognized from their appearances in caricature form in Raoul’s comics. Especially Roger Owen Green, whose brilliant portrait by Raoul, which perfectly captured Roger’s personality as well as his appearance, is now the header image for Roger’s blog.

    I was very shy and awkward as a teenager, and although I eventually knew the names of most of the people that I saw working there, never once did I do more than buy comics or ask a question about this or that item I was interested in. I know I spoke to Raoul, and Roger, and Mitch and the others frequently, but it never would have occurred to me to strike up a conversation or try to get to know them better. I wish I could go back and tell them how much I loved them for what they did for the local comics scene, and through publishing, what their company was doing for comics. Which was actually quite a lot. FantaCo was a protean force in early ’80s independent comics, and their work at the store and publishing comics meant the world to me. That they were doing it less than an hour from where I lived in Greenwich, NY seemed genuinely surreal to me.

    The first time I ever went to FantaCo, I recognized the store’s logo as being Raoul’s hand-painted work, and that sign and the incredibly creative window displays made it feel like walking into another, better world every time I stopped in.

    40 years ago today, the mood was different. Everyone in the store was in shock, and I believe more than one person was weeping. I asked someone what had happened and they told me Raoul had died unexpectedly. I couldn’t believe it. He was so young, and his comics had already made him immortal in my 16-year-old eyes. I literally felt like the world had turned upside down. I can’t imagine how those who truly knew and loved him felt.

    Thank you, Roger, for remembering Raoul today and for keeping the flame alive for all these decades. I am honored to have gotten to know you a little and proud to consider you a friend, even if it took nearly 20 years from the first time I was in your presence to actually have a real conversation with you. I’m grateful to you for introducing me to Rocco Nigro, another FantaCo stalwart, and I wish I Raoul could have also been a part of some of our conversations at some of the comics conventions we have met up at, so I could have thanked him for all the joy his work gave me. I wish he was still here, making comics or doing whatever else brought him joy.

    Thank you for making me pause and remember what I was doing 40 years ago today. I wish more than just about anything that that day had just been another uneventful comic shop run, and not the tragic, unforgettable moment that it turned out to be.

    I’ve never forgotten that day, as I have never forgotten FantaCo, or Raoul, or everything about that incredible era when it seemed anything was possible and happiness was less than an hour down the road for me. Thank you for remembering, and thank you for documenting the life and work of a great cartoonist whose life and work ended far, far too soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial