FantaCo: my ever present past

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.


If Hitler never lived, then does Stalin take over Europe?


Film critic Roger Ebert had a blog post Did you choose your religion? But the original title, as one can see in the URL, was “Would you kill Baby Hitler?”

The original entry began: Of course, you would have needed to know on April 20, 1889, that the little boy would grow up to become Adolf Hitler, and would commit all of the crimes we now know he committed. The only way you could know that, apart from precognition, would be to have traveled backward in time from a point when Hitler had committed all his crimes and you knew about them.

This was in context with a discussion of, among other things, the new film Looper, for which a big-time spoiler alert should have been stamped.

But this is a popular theme. There’s some current CBS show called Person of Interest about a computer that foretells crime. There was a previous CBS show(what was that called?) about a guy who would get tomorrow’s newspaper today and had the day to stop some heinous event from happening; a cat was somehow involved. I have actually never seen either show nor read Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The piece generated very interesting and enlightening points, unlike most comment threads these days.

The problem, if one COULD go back in time, would be the unintended consequences. If Hitler never lived, then does Stalin take over Europe? These are obviously unanswerable questions, but they fascinate me.

Dustbury points to a variation on the theme:

>Steve Sailer…has imagined two different scenarios in which we’d already had a black President:

Walter Mondale picks Tom Bradley for the Veep slot in 1984, manages to beat a rattled-in-the-debates Ronald Reagan, and is killed when Air Force One crashes;
Colin Powell, urged on by Mrs. Powell, defeats Bob Dole, then Bill Clinton, in 1996.

Given either one of these scenarios, Sailer asks:

In either alternative history, does Barack Obama become the second black President? If there had already been a first black president, would anyone have ever even considered Obama to be Presidential Timber? Would you have ever even heard of Obama?

It’s been my contention that a President who is black (or Hispanic, or a woman) may be held to a different standard, higher by at least some so that the viability of a second black as President would be inextricably linked to the success or failure of the first. That said, if there HAD been a previous black President, would Obama have played such a huge role in the 2004 Democratic convention? Possibly not.

What thinkest thou?
Making the case for future voter fraud.

FantaCo birthday musing

FantaCo was a part of my personal history that required a greater deal of accuracy, lest the faux facts proliferate.

There was a time when I used to buy into the notion that the past is past, and you move on to the next thing, as though life were some connect-the-dots puzzle, where you go from point A to point B to point C without ever doubling back. It’s not that I ever really thought that on my own, but that others suggested it, and I, for some reason, bought into it for a while.

I suppose it can be a useful tool, letting go of the past, when the past was awful. But when it was good, why forget it? (And I could make the case for remembering the less good as well.)

And some people don’t forget. Not that often, given the fact that I worked there 8.5 years, I’ve mentioned FantaCo, the comic/film book retailer/publisher/convention operator in Albany, NY. Even less frequently, I have mentioned Raoul Vezina, the house artist who also worked on publications for FantaCo (Smilin’ Ed, X-Men Chronicles) and others (New Paltz Comix, Naturalist at Large). But those brief comments generated not one but TWO of Raoul’s friends, to write to me this summer, days apart, indicating that they appreciated the mention of their friend. Understand that Raoul DIED in 1983, and it’ll give you a sense of how much impact he had on their lives, and to be sure, on mine.

These are drawings, obviously, that he did for his friend Buck. I know I have one that he did for me as the duck caricature that you see on the header.

I also reached out to Tom the Mayor, a reader of this blog, (not to be confused with Tom, the owner), who worked at FantaCo after Raoul died, right as I was leaving. Since today is the anniversary of FantaCo’s birth in 1978, I asked him if he had any impressions of FantaCo to share. He wrote:
When I first started at the company, we ran the whole publishing and shipping operation out of the very cramped back room of the store; if you stepped wrong you could fall into the basement. Your desk was there, Tom’s desk was there, Hank Jansen worked in one corner, and I was in another corner. What with backstock everywhere, if a freelancer came in the room, somebody would have to step out. I can understand why you got burnt out shortly after you brought me into the company.
Actually, I was burnt out BEFORE we brought him into the company. Yet it is often interesting to get the perspective of other people regarding events at which you were present. But Tom is right; that backroom WAS an accident waiting to happen, especially for those unfamiliar with it.

Getting back to Raoul, his friend Ed also allowed me to post these drawings by Raoul; the top one is less clear because it’s still in the frame. I’ll have to get around and scan some more of my Vezina artwork.

As I’ve noted, FantaCo closed in 1998. My buddy Steve Bissette and I, a couple of years ago, found it necessary to make corrections in the FantaCo Wikipedia listing, not because, as someone wrote to Steve at the time, we wanted to “correct the Internet” – twice this month I’ve quoted that phrase – but because it was a part of each of our personal histories that required a greater deal of accuracy, lest the faux facts proliferate.

Oh, yeah, on this date, Jack Kirby was born in 1917; he died in 1994. Tom (the owner) said that opening the store on Jack’s birthday was purely coincidental.
A mass e-mail I received from John Hebert, with whom I worked on the comic book Sold Out for FantaCo:

Subject: Hell has frozen over!!!

For any of you who haven’t heard yet…….John Hebert is a father!!!!

Welcome to the world, Ari Michelle Hebert- born after all of an 8 minute delivery on August 10th, 2010; 6 lbs, 11.5 oz, 18 inches long… and she is GORGEOUS and has already been on the local news and the front page of the local Business Review!!!!!!!!!!

And all this time, people said I was a real mother!!!!

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