FantaCon 2015 will be held on Saturday August 29 and Sunday August 30, 2015 at the spectacular Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, NY.
Those of you who frequented FantaCo in in the late 1970s and early 1980s will remember Smilin’ Ed. The rat was initially designed as the logo for the comic book store/convention/mail-order house based in Albany, NY. Eventually, there were four comic book issues, plus a story in the X-Men Chronicles. Well, there’s going to be a collection of these, plus items published in The Comics Buyers Guide, the weekly Metroland, and unpublished material.
You can expect narrative pieces, by Raoul’s sister Maria, FantaCo owner/publisher Tom Skulan, and me. Or so goes the plan; this will be a Kickstarter thing. Look for details at SmilinEd.com soon.
I had this whole narrative about the origin of the Smilin’ Ed name in mind for this post, which marks the 36th anniversary of the incorporation of FantaCo, but the piece wouldn’t write itself, so I let it go. *** And FantaCon fans should get ready, get set, MARK YOUR CALENDARS!!
FantaCon 2015 will be held on Saturday, August 29 and Sunday, August 30, 2015, at the spectacular Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, NY. This is the billion-dollar facility where FantaCon was born 35 years ago.
Check for information on this Facebook page. *** Finally, FantaCo’s birth coincidentally coincides with the birthday of the late, great Jack Kirby, who co-created (some would say created) the early Marvel Comics characters such as the Fantastic Four, the original X-Men, and most of the individual Avengers. If you don’t know his significance in current American popular culture – those Marvel characters didn’t design themselves – check here.
I suggested that we try to put up a Wikipedia page for Raoul Vezina.
Here’s the weird thing about the death of Raoul Vezina, the comic book artist/musician/front man at the Albany comic book store FantaCo 30 years ago today; I STILL remember the day I found out, which was the day after he died, as well as I remember my daughter’s birth or my father’s death or the day JFK was killed. As it turns out Marc Arsenault has collected what I wrote five years ago. So let me tell you about a more recent event.
At FantaCon 2013, on September 14 and 15, there was a panel to talk about Raoul, held on each day, which I moderated.
Naturalist at Large
One participant was Raoul’s younger sister Maria Vezina, a nurse and professor in New York City, who talked about the natural talent he had as both an artist and a musician. Apparently Freddie Freihoffer’s direction got him drawing right on the TV screen. She doesn’t think she has ever known such a generous spirit.
Don Rittner, historian, environmentalist, and all-around bon vivant, was in several bands with Raoul growing up. They lost contact for a time, but when Don wandered into FantaCo and saw Raoul behind the counter, they began a collaboration on a series of cartoons called Naturalist At Large [VIEW], written by Don, drawn by Raoul, which appeared in the now-defunct (Albany) Knickerbocker News. Don was awed by the fact that he had ideas of what he wanted to convey, but he could not draw a lick. Raoul invariably captured the ideas Don was unable to fully verbalize. These strips apparently made their way to Washington, upsetting more than a few federal legislators.
Michael T. Gilbert met Raoul at college in New Paltz. He talked about trying to get a college comic book off the ground, which was promised then reneged upon. Finally, Michael put out New Paltz Comix out himself, featuring the art of Raoul. Michael wrote a beautiful tribute about Raoul that appeared in the Comics Buyers Guide in December 1983, and was reprinted in the FantaCon 2013 program.
Fred Hembeck, the Weird Al Yankovic of comic art, had backup stories in two of Raoul’s Smilin’ Ed books recalled working on a story with Raoul and appreciated his easy-going manner.
Joe Fludd, who was on the panel only the second day, was a FantaCo customer, but also a budding artist who Raoul encouraged. Joe told the story from his POV how the obit I had posted on the poster board – because I couldn’t say aloud that Raoul had died – was perceived as a sick joke on someone’s part.
The audience for me in this presentation were Maria’s two sons, both born after Raoul died. Maria wanted for them to understand their uncle better, and they said we succeeded.
There will be a Kickstarter next year to get some of Raoul’s Smilin’ Ed stuff in print, including material that appeared in the CBG and the Metroland weekly arts newspaper.
Subsequent to FantaCon, I suggested that we try to put up a Wikipedia page for Raoul. Having never done so, I’m looking for any citations to his artwork, including his T-shirt designs; his musical gigs; or his work at either FantaCo or the Crystal Cave comic book store in New Paltz. Also looking for someone who understands the formatting. Please feel free to contact me at RogerOGreen (at) gmail (dot) com.
Photo of Roger Green, Maria Vezina, Michael T. Gilbert, Fred Hembeck, J.A. (Joe) Fludd, Don Rittner, taken at FantaCon, September 15, 2013. (c) 2013 Jim Whiting, used by permission.
It was working at FantaCo that let me know about the importance of customer service, from keeping the sidewalk clear during the winter, to deciding to accept Diners Club cards when we had only a couple customers who used it.
As I may have mentioned, I went to the FantaCon comic book and horror film convention in September. If you were not in Albany from 1978-1998, or were not purchasing merchandise from FantaCo’s mail order catalog, including the books and magazine it published, you might not know the significance of that. Until going to FantaCon this year, I’m not sure *I* understood the significance of that place, and I worked at FantaCo for eight and a half years.
FantaCo, nominally a comic book store, especially in its early incarnation, was a hub of the local popular culture. When I recently went through the T-shirts that the late artist Raoul Vezina, who worked at FantaCo, had designed, they represented a certain segment of the life of the Capital District in the early 1980s: Q-104, the best radio station in the area, where FantaCo advertised; minor MTV sensation Blotto, whose records the store carried; World’s Records, the store next door; J.B. Scott’s, THE place to hear live music.
The store became relatively famous nationally from publishing the work of cartoonist Fred Hembeck and magazines about some Marvel superheroes, the Chronicles series.
At the same time, though, the store/mail order was developed its bona fides in the horror market. I remain convinced that those ads in every issue of FANGORIA magazine built the audience’s confidence that FantaCo was not some fly-by-night operation. It helped that Tom Skulan, the owner of the store, would travel to England and ship back items not easily found on this side of the pond.
I realized that people must have thought the mail order, which I ran, must have been some massive operation in some gigantic warehouse, which was hardly the case. I remember clearly, though, c 1986, some tween or young teen boy who was waiting outside the store at 10 a.m.; I got much of the shipping done before the store opened at 11. When we finally let him in, I discovered that he had come from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the midst of The Troubles, and insisted to his family that he had to make a pilgrimage to FantaCo to get his horror book and magazine fix. He spent a LOT of money, even after we discounted some items.
It was that FantaCo experience that let me know about the importance of customer service, from keeping the sidewalk clear during the winter, to deciding to accept Diners Club cards when we had only a couple customers who used it. It has given me an appreciation of the issues entrepreneurs face daily, which I try to bring to being a small business librarian.
One of my responsibilities was to make the deposit every weekday. I’d walk the half block to the Key Bank. The worst part was getting across Washington and Lark, an intersection that is STILL treacherous. One time Tom, the owner, went to the bank to take out a loan, and the bank employee asked if it were all right with Roger, since I was the face she recognized. Tom wasn’t happy.
Ultimately, though, I left in November of 1988 because I was all “horrored out”. It was never my thing, and I needed to do something else. For years, I thought that was that, end of the chapter. Then I heard about FantaCon 2013, the first convention in nearly a quarter century.
Some guy was supposed to do a bibliography of the FantaCo publications for the program. He knew about the horror pubs, but less about the comics-related items from the early days. I knew that stuff. As it turned out, I did the listing for 1979-1988, which appears in this program (available for Kindle) with the rest scheduled for the next FantaCon program in 2014 or 2015. Physically holding all of those items, some of which I contributed to as writer or editor, made me feel like Paul McCartney when he thinks about the Beatles. He’s not part of the Fab Four anymore, but it is part of what he called his “ever present past.” He’ll ALWAYS be a Beatle; likewise, FantaCo will always have some hold on me.
Seeing old friends at FantaCon, some of whom I had not seen since 1988, such as Steve Bissette and Rolf Stark was tremendous. We all looked EXACTLY like we used to.
I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.
The cover of the September 20/27, 2013 Entertainment Weekly, its Fall TV Preview, says “get the scoop on 119 shows, PLUS the best new series.” If I need a reminder that the medium has diffused, that’ll do it.
Yet on two successive episodes of the Bat Segundo Show podcast, host Ed Champion declares that there is an “American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.” He and guest Kiese Laymon discuss “why America is terrified of rich and variegated cultural engagement.” Then Champion and Alissa Quart dissect “how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked?”
I found myself arguing and agreeing with the dialogues in about equal measure. On one hand, there’s no doubt that a lot of the “outsiders” get co-opted. And there’s the “you’re an idiot if you’re not watching this” meme that Jaquandor discussed, in this case, about Breaking Bad. He’s seen two episodes more than I have and is disinclined not to see any more, which SHOULD be OK, but apparently is not, at least for some tastemakers. (Hey, I haven’t seen either Game of Thrones (and won’t) or Downton Abbey (Bought the Wife the DVDs, so I probably will – eventually).
On the other hand, when there are so many movies, so many TV shows, and I have a finite amount of time and money, why CAN’T I at least look at Rotten Tomatoes, and get a sense of the critical mass of movie reviewers? Maybe I WILL go see that movie with the 12% positive reviews, though probably not.
There was this whole argument on one of those podcasts about finding the obscure films, it seems, for the sake of seeking them out, proving one is “cutting edge” or “outre”; it all felt a bit affected to me. I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin, and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection. Speaking of Mr. Byzantium Shores, he called BS on the Louis CK rant about smartphones. He may be correct about the inauthentic specifics, yet I found it oddly affecting theater. I think a commenter describing smartphones enabling “a sort of rude, in-the-bubble behavior” feels right. Or maybe it’s just my reaction to the people on the bus I see every day, about 2/3s of which are totally detached from the person sitting three feet from them makes me more than a bit melancholy.
Going back to that EW issue, one of the “best new shows” this season is supposed to be the FOX comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Our local social media maven posted one of those flippant comments on Facebook, “Where have all the sitcoms gone?” to which a guy noted that he was watching one at that moment, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote back, “Isn’t that a drama, and an hour?” Well, no, a simple Google search would reveal that was a new “ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree, detective [Andy Samberg] and his diverse group of colleagues get a new captain [Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street] with a lot to prove.” I thought his information (which I augmented) required an acknowledgment at least to him, but I guess that’s just my projection.
Oh, and I can tell you that many of the sitcoms are now on the Disney Channel. I’ve seen several, none of which are particularly good. *** Lots of folks are upset that the Emmys had an individual tribute for, as one person put it, “that filthy drug addict Cory Monteith” by “that no talent Jane Lynch” (I actually read that, naturally on Facebook) while not doing so for Jack Klugman, who was one of my favorite actors, or for Larry Hagman. I thought Mark Evanier addressed this rather well, which is that these things are never “fair.”
The FantaCon 2013 program is now available on Kindle.
I knew of the early 20th Century American cartoonist Winsor McKay from his Little Nemo strip, which has been collected in books. However, I was less familiar with his other work. “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was a newspaper comic strip by… McCay which began September 10, 1904. As in McCay’s signature strip, Little Nemo, the strip was made up of bizarre dreams… Rarebit Fiend was printed in the Evening Telegram, a newspaper published by the Herald. For contractual reasons, McCay signed the strip with the pen name ‘Silas’.
“The strip had… a recurring theme: a character would have a nightmare or other bizarre dream, usually after eating a Welsh rarebit (a cheese-on-toast dish). The character would awaken from the dream in the last panel, regretting having eaten the rarebit. The dreams often revealed the darker sides of the dreamers’ psyches… This was in great contrast to the colorful, childlike fantasy dreams in Little Nemo.”
The short film is, oddly, timely for a pre-Depression piece. The man says at one point: “I want to pay my debts but I’ll be hanged if I will let those money sharks grab my dough.”
I participated in the Kickstarter and got a copy of the DVD. Plympton and his team first cleaned up the original film, so it’s not scratchy. Then not only did they colorize it, using the palette of McKay’s work, they removed the word balloon but added the music. One can compare the two versions. There are also some extras. Animation critics talk about McKay and the specific work; unfortunately, they are credited on the DVD but not on the packaging, so the only one I can mention without looking it up is Leonard Maltin.
I was happy to help something that would not have existed if not for supporters like myself. If you’re interested, you can order it here. Gene Kannenberg Jr notes that this 1989 video of Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down A Dream was a tribute to “Little Nemo in Slumberland” by Winsor McCay. Odd, too: I like this song (and LOVE the album from which it comes), but I have zero recollection of seeing it before.
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