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.
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.
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.