Another FantaCo Recollection

Gates of Eden (May 1982) was arguably the best thing FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, where I worked from 1980-1988, ever put out. Had a great Michael Kaluta cover, and work by John Byrne, Steve Leialoha, Michael T. Gilbert, Trina Robbins, Fred Hembeck, Foolbert Sturgeon, Lee Marrs, Jeff Jones, P. Craig Russell, Rick Geary, Kim Deitch, Spain, Sharon Rudahl, Gary Hallgren, and John Caldwell. It was also a disaster commercially. Comic blog impresario Alan David Doane has put together some memories of Gates of Eden,; the title was inspired by Bob Dylan. See what Christopher Allen, my Internet buddy Johnny Bacardi, and yes, I had to say about it here.

I was looking at the FantaCo Wikipedia page recently and it occurred to me that someone should do a Wikipedia page for the late Raoul Vezina. Not only did he do the Smilin’ Ed series for FantaCo, he also worked on New Paltz Comix with the aforementioned Michael T. Gilbert. With Don Rittner as writer, Raoul drew a series of Naturalist At Large cartoons, many of which I had bnever seen before.

It came out a while ago, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be plugging Fred Hembeck’s 900-page anthology again. It includes Fred’s seven magazines published by FantaCo, plus about 700 MORE pages of goodness.
My, I’ve been feeling crummy the last four days. And I’m supposed to sing this afternoon. I’ve had a range of about a half an octave; wish me luck.


Why I Blog

Sometimes, when I get the blogging melancholy – you know, nobody comments, et al. – I get some positive feedback. All of these e-mails came between April 17 and 22.

One was a message from a new salon that noted my mention in a blog post.

Another was a message from a former high school history teacher of mine who became a county executive and now heads a statewide nonprofit. I’m not clear which assessment he’s referring to, but it’s accurate: “Many thanks for your assessment of me as one of your teachers. Being included with Helen Foley is good company, indeed. Glad to see that you haven’t lost your interest in world affairs. At what library in Albany do you work, or have I misread the information on your blog?” Helen Foley, BTW, was my public speaking teacher, and, not incidentally Rod Serling’s beloved teacher in junior and senior high school.

A third was someone who “met Raoul Vezina in 1983 in a comic store in Albany NY. I have #1-4 signed Smilin Ed comics and a 1983 Fantacon poster signed by Raoul as well. He was a gentle person and very talented. I remember you too. You worked at the comic store…am I correct? My boyfriend at the time…purchased comics at your store. You may remember him. I’m sure you don’t remember me. LOL! [He] and I are not together now. I found your e-mail address on the web when I was looking up Raoul Vezina on my computer. I found Raoul’s Smilin Ed comics when I was cleaning out a drawer. I’d completely forgotten about them. When I saw them, it brought back so many wonderful memories. I have Raoul’s obituary clipping from the Times Union. I don’t know why I saved all this stuff, but I did. As I looked at the comics and the clipping, I wondered if anyone would appreciate them after I’m gone. I decided that no one would, except another person who knew Raoul. My daughter will probably will consider it garbage, not aware that Raoul was a special person and a talented artist. So, saying that, I’d like to ask you if you’d like them. I will send them to you at no cost to you, if you’d like. Let me know.”
Yes, I do remember her boyfriend, but alas not her, but she was most kind.

Also Raoul-related is the first comment to this post.

Always nice to get the psychic, and occasionally, actual goodies.

The Year In Review: Mixed Media

As pop culture goes, my participation in same was pretty dismal. But I’m going to plod on and describe the highlights.

Last month, the Comic Reporter asked its readers to “Name Five Memorable Comics-Related Things About 2008 (A Book You Read, An Experience You Had, An Event That Made You Take Notice — Anything That Would Help You In The Future Recall This Year.” I failed to participate there, but I will here.

1a. Fred Hembeck’s book came out, and I’m mentioned in the thank yous; I like seeing my name in print, what can I say? This also meant that I actually went to more comic-related shows (three) than I have in a while. At two of them, I saw Fred.
1b. At one of those shows, someone actually asked ME to sign some FantaCo Chronicles I worked on 25 years ago. What an ego boost!
1c. I also saw my friend Rocco Nigro, and re-met the inestimable Alan David Doane, who was probably an annoying teenager last I had seen him, rather than the charmer he is now.

2. Someone put out a Wikipedia page for FantaCo, a place I worked for 8.5 years, this summer. Frankly, the page was awful, riddled with errors and omissions. Fortunately, the guy contacted me, and it became the mission of mine and of my old buddy Steve Bissette to rectify the record; the thing is not perfect, but it’s a WHOLE lot better. The incident also gave me a chance to get in contact with former FantaCo owner Tom Skulan for the first time in nearly a decade.

3. Reading Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier. It explained a lot about Jack’s motivation the times I dealt with him on the phone in the early 1980s.

4. The deaths of Steve Gerber in 2008, who unbeknowst to him helped inspire this blog, and of Raoul Vezina, 25 years ago.

5. Freddie and Me by Mike Dawson, which, among other things, made me want to listen to more of the music of the group Queen.

I got maybe a dozen 2008 albums all year, by Lindsay Buckingham, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, REM, She and Him, Brian Wilson, Lizz Wright, a couple others plus the MOJO take on the Beatles’ white album. I liked them all at some level, but the even snarlkier than usual Newman album “stuck” the most. More old fogey music I received for Christmas and haven’t heard enough to judge: Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Johhny Cash. The latter is a 40th anniversary double CD/DVD box set of his Folsom Prison concerts; just on a quick listen, I’m happy to hear the Carl Perkins and Statler Brothers tunes for the first time.

A paltry number of 2008 pics so far: Iron Man (my favorite), Young@Heart, Man on Wire, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Synecdoche, New York. Three of them, IM, MoW and VCB made the Top 10 list at the WSJ along with WALL-E, Slumdog Millionaire and a bunch of other films I will try to see.
Yes, I did see some 2007 films in 2008 and I will undoubtedly see some 2008 films in 2009. Still, five is worse than the seven I saw last year, and catching up on video just doesn’t seem to happen, not that it’s entirely comparable anyway.


Oh, heck, TV deserves its own posting. Thanks to technology, it’s about the only thing I have even a modicum of a chance to (barely) keep up with.


Raoul by Tom Skulan

Tom Skulan was owner of FantaCo Enterprises

When I arrived at New Paltz as a fledgling art student in 1972, Raoul Vezina was already a local legend.
His art graced several bars and dozens of flyers posted in places like the Ariel bookstore.
He was in a band and had already published his own comic book (with Gilbert).

The first time I encountered Raoul I never really met him. He was in the back of one of my art classes before the class had started. He was passing around copies of New Paltz Comix and had a large group of students around him talking to him and asking him questions. He seemed like a super hero.

The first time I actually met Raoul was in Peter Maresca’s Crystal Cave comic shop on Main Street in New Paltz. Peter’s shop, one of only 100 such comic shops in the United States at the time was a big draw for me and for other comic fans. I had landed a part time job there and Raoul was a customer. He later would become an employee when the shop moved for the third and last time. He painted the Crystal Cave window sign as well as various small signs inside the shop- just as he would at FantaCo years later.

My first impressions of Raoul pretty much remained the same as long as I knew him. He was very independent, had a great and unusual sense of humor, loved to doodle often brilliant cartoons, usually late to work, had more friends than anyone I had ever met, kept very late hours and was prone to spending the stray night in jail.

After graduating from New Paltz and being hired directly into a teaching position I still wanted to be involved in a comic store.
So in August of 1978 I rented 21 Central Avenue in Albany and started to repaint and renovate the interior for a September opening.
I usually worked late into the night and left the front door open for some fresh air from the paint fumes. Occasionally someone would wander in and ask what the store was going to be. After telling them most people told me it would never work, including several advertising reps.
One of the earliest people who stopped in was Hank Jansen. Hank would become one of the most loyal, responsible and important of all of the FantaCo employees.

It seemed natural to use friends from New Paltz to help. Kevin Cahill and Veronica Cahill were from New Paltz and had just moved to Albany so that Kevin could attend law school. They were a huge help as was Louisa Lombardo and her sister Julie.
I enlisted Raoul to paint the window and store signs and hired him on immediately since he knew the operations of Peter’s store inside and out. Later I would also enlist 2 other New Paltz acquaintances- Roger Green and Mitch Cohn.

The first day, a Saturday, was a blow out. The store was packed and we did great. Raoul’s signs were a huge hit and responsible for much of the success. All of us had stayed up all night preparing the store and there are some great pictures of all of us collapsing after the doors were closed that day.

We planned a “grand opening” for 2 weeks later. I asked Raoul to do a flyer with a “rat in a space suit”, which he did. We posted the flyers everywhere and also used the character in a full page ad in the Overstreet Price Guide. Later that character, sans space suit, would become Smilin’ Ed- as named by Raoul.

During Raoul’s years at FantaCo he did hundreds of small store signs, several full page ads for the Overstreet Price Guide, dozens of flyers as well as writing and performing well over 100 radio commercials with me. The earliest commercials also featured Kevin, Veronica and Julie. We did the commercials at the WQBK studios and recorded them to tape. As far as I know we one of the first comic shops to advertise on radio. They were a blast to do and Raoul and I would spend hours at his apartment writing scripts and practicing them.

Penciled by Raoul Vezina. Inked/scanned/cleaned up/colored by Bill Anderson in 2008.

Of course there was also Smilin’ Ed the comic version. Raoul and I would spend many hours thinking up stories and writing dialog. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th issue of that comic took far longer to create than anyone might think. The first issue was rushed, late, and had to be driven up directly to the printing plant to be printed on schedule.

That Monday morning in November I received a call at 8:30 AM from Raoul’s girlfriend Dee.
I answered the phone and all I heard was “Tom, Raoul is dead”. I thought it was a pretty sick joke. After all Raoul had just started his vacation on Saturday and I thought he would be miles away spending his time with one of his friends in another state.
“This is a bad joke, Dee”, I answered. She then gave me details and assured me it was real.
Raoul had died at his apartment.

It was surreal as it was the first time I had encountered a friend dying. I informed my girlfriend Mary and headed into the store. I put up a sign indicating the store would be closed Thursday and stayed in my office answering the phone.
The days that week are still a blur to me. I partially remember attending the funeral, being a pallbearer and breaking down.
What I do remember is hundreds of people, from all over, attending the funeral.
It was the most people I had ever seen at a funeral.

So that was it. A life was over far too soon.
Raoul, through his good humor, art and music had touched the lives of thousands of people.
His great cartooning, writing and performing skills were a very important part of the early FantaCo.
I still often think about Raoul. I miss having someone to create with.
As time goes by I do not think I will ever have that again.


Joe Fludd’s Raoul Vezina Recollection

Raoul Vezina was part of a very special experience in my youth. You have to understand what it was like back then, when I was in high school. Star Wars Episode IV had just been released, and the phenomenon of that film was so new that no one yet realized that it was in fact the fourth episode in a saga. The whole culture around science fiction, comics, and imaginative gaming that we have today was just a seed barely sprouted. I envy the outlets for these kinds of things that kids have today. When I was that age, I was a devotee–someone who took comic books and science fiction completely to heart and made it what my life was about–surrounded by dabblers who had more time for things like girls, soccer, cars, and computers (and in time, alcohol and drugs) than for the things that were important to me. (I wasn’t even out to myself as gay yet.) I had visited only one comic-book specialty store in my life, the one in the Pike’s Place Public Market in Seattle, and I’d only had a chance to linger there briefly while visiting relatives. When FantaCo Enterprises opened in Albany when I was a Junior in high school, it felt as if it had opened up just for me. It was a place where I was in my own element. And there was Raoul.

While I felt isolated as a young person, at least people respected the things I could do as an artist and a writer. Everyone thought I was good–my classmates, my teachers–and I was accustomed to being able to attract a crowd in school just by opening my sketchbook. But with Raoul at FantaCo, it was different. He, too, was an artist, though he had about ten years or so on me. He was out of school, working at a comic book shop, and wanted to establish himself in his profession. Our professional interests were a bit different; he was more of a humor cartoonist and I was a strict super-hero guy. But Raoul was someone who “got” me in a way that most other people didn’t. His friendship and approval were special to me. The acceptance and encouragement I got from Raoul were acceptance and encouragement from “within the tribe”. I remember one Sunday evening when Raoul and store owner Tom Skulan were guests on a radio talk show on what was then our “album rock” station, WQBK-FM, and I made a point of calling in and helping them keep the conversation about comics, and imaginative things in general, interesting. (As if they needed it.) It was a little taste of being part of something that mattered to me.

Raoul was one of those people who made you believe there was room for one more under his wing. He always had time to look at what I was doing, or chat up the latest developments in The Fantastic Four or The X-Men or whatever I was reading. When I talked about something that interested me, Raoul actually knew what I was talking about and could discuss it intelligently. He knew the artists I liked and understood the kinds of things I wanted to accomplish. FantaCo was a place where I didn’t feel isolated, and Raoul was an important part of the reason why. He introduced me to visiting artists. I remember Raoul was there the first time anyone asked me to sign anything. I was talking to comic artist Joe Staton, who was visiting the store. He did a sketch for me and looked at some of my stuff. A little boy shopping at the store watched us, and when Joe was done with me, the little boy asked for MY autograph. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I gave him an autograph, but I couldn’t believe anyone would ask me such a thing. Raoul, bless him, wasn’t the least bit surprised. He was just that kind of guy.

When FantaCo would have its conventions at The Egg in Albany’s Empire State Plaza, Raoul would let me come behind the artist’s table in the last hours of Sunday’s activities and sit with the pros and draw and sign things for fans. These are among my most precious memories of my student days. They made me feel as if the things I imagined for myself were actually possible. It was Raoul who gave me that experience, which I’ll always treasure. After the FantaCon, he’d invite me to have dinner out with him and the other guest artists as if I were one of them. Sometimes, in the summer, when I went in to the store to get my weekly stash, Raoul would come out to lunch with me at a little cafe next to the store. There we’d be, two artists, two friends, two members of the comic-book community, having a bite and enjoying each other’s company. That meant the world to me.

Raoul and I would have our respective Moms come to the FantaCon as well. Raoul’s mother was a gentle, soft-spoken, old-world-type lady. I thought she was adorable. Raoul liked my Mom too. One day after the Con, Raoul remarked to me, “We’re just a couple of mother lovers.” It was such a “Raoul” thing to say.

When I went into the store one afternoon to get my comics and found Raoul’s obituary posted on the bulletin board, I thought it was a joke. He was 35 years old; how could he have died? It was just unreal. It still seemed unreal–surreal, even–when I went to the funeral in Troy. At the burial, I met and spoke to his sister, and it finally hit me that he was actually gone; that I would never see or speak to him again, that we would never again do any of the things we did together. I collapsed in tears, openly weeping in my friend Walter’s arms. We all went out to brunch afterwards, and I began to let go of everything but the memories. Those, I’ll always keep.

I don’t know if it’s possible for me or anyone else, really, to do justice to the memory of someone like Raoul Vezina. He was just too special. But Raoul’s friendship was one that occupied an extra special place in my young life. I think he set a good example of how to be in the world, and how to treat people. There were so many things he could have done and so many things he could have accomplished, had his life not been cut so short. But the friendships he made, including mine, are, I think, an achievement in themselves.

J.A. (Joe) Fludd, a native of Albany, was a contributing writer to The FantaCo Chronicles series. He was also a contributing artist to Gay Comics, for which he drew the super-hero feature Sentinel (later Pride). He was a regularly featured writer at the Fantastic Four Website, FF Plaza (, whose articles have been archived there for perusal. Joe spent six weeks at Paramount Pictures serving a Screenwriting Internship with the TV series Star Trek Voyager after submitting an unproduced script for The Outer Limits as a writing sample. J.A. Fludd’s art is showcased at The Quantum Male Art Blog ( and on Comicspace (, which house many of the works he has done for auction on eBay and for private commission. J.A. Fludd also donates original art to the annual Wonder Woman Day charity auction event ( ROG