Raoul Vezina: 30 years gone

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.

Targeted audience

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.

One overstuffed weekend: Roosevelt, Vezina, Hembeck

At the FDR library, I saw a poster chastising “the Jews” for taking the jobs of “white Christian men”; some things never change.

ER and FDR

For whatever reason, I wasn’t sleeping well two weeks ago. When I booked our hotel for our trip to the Mid-Hudson for the first weekend in August, in my fatigued fog, I totally forgot that my wife had told me to secure a place for TWO nights and that she had even arranged for a cat sitter. I was just so happy that I finally remembered to book it at all. We had made this sojourn 1.5 hours south a few times, and it had always been one night. This time, though, we had added a couple of elements, so the extra time would have been helpful.

Instead, we headed out Saturday and went to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home. There will be much more on this.

Then to Hyde Park to visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. It was all but closed for repairs last year when we visited the mansion – though not TOTALLY closed, as the attendant at the locale properly noted – so the tickets we got last year for the site were still valid. I needed more time in the museum than The Daughter had to give; I got through the Depression era, but I really didn’t see the World War II stuff. Still, a great exhibit. I’ll go back some time, and it’s inspired me to want to see the other Presidential libraries, most of which are in the center of the country.

One thing that struck me at FDR’s library was a newspaper editorial cartoon of FDR and Congress rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on the nation’s problems together; THOSE were the days. Another was a poster chastising “the Jews” for taking the jobs of “white Christian men”; then again, some things never change.

We went to an annual party and The Daughter got to swim. Had a GREAT conversation with a minister and his social worker wife; we seemed to be on the same page in terms of social justice and the church’s role in same. But I was disappointed that my oldest friend from college was not present.

Finally, we went to our hotel. By this point, it was dark, and it was difficult to see, so we overshot it. FINALLY to bed, but one or more of the people in my room was snoring, and I got less than optimal rest.

Sunday morning, we went down to see what the hotel offered for breakfast. It was paltry: some fruit, hot chocolate, and instant coffee, and packets of oatmeal, which wasn’t so bad except there was no MILK and we would have had to use Coffeemate, a non-dairy creamer. We went out for breakfast, then checked out of the hotel and went to see Maria.

Maria Vezina is the sister of the late FantaCo cartoonist Raoul Vezina, who had died in November 1983, at the age of 35 of an asthma attack. I hadn’t seen her in nearly three decades. While she lives and works in New York City, she was up in the Mid-Hudson with TONS of boxes of Raoul’s stuff. I sorted out certain items for a possible project. She thought it would have taken me three hours, but I did it in 50 minutes; I knew what I was looking for. More details if this pans out.

Then we departed for the home of Fred Hembeck and his wife Lynn Moss. I met Fred back in February 1980 when FantaCo published his second collection of comic book-related strips. We made the sojourn to visit them for three or four years, then not for three years because of conflicts, then for the past two or three years. Fred and I have this shorthand way of talking that occasionally confounds my wife. Fortunately, she could go out with The Daughter to the pool. They made us a nice dinner, then we left for home.

I never realized how large one upstate county could be!

We stopped in New Paltz, my college town, to catch the Thruway, but, northbound, it was a parking lot, due to, as it turns out, an overturned tractor-trailer. So we took back roads to Saugerties, didn’t get to Albany until 9 p.m., and were exhausted.

After all that, I figured we’d follow that up with a nice quiet weekend. But the Daughter had a certificate for a FREE day at Great Escape, the Six Flags park about an hour north of here, and the coupon expired on August 11, so guess what WE did on Saturday, the 10th…


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