The Raoul Vezina Chronicles

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.

Raoul created cover art and/or lettering for some records. here’s his comics bibliography.


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. 

Once the front of 279 Fair street in Kingston, NY, owned by the late Bruce Talbott, of New Paltz. Provided by Jim Abbott.

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.

Why a duck (as opposed to other fowl)

It’s all too much

Smilin Ed 1Back in June, my friend Mary, not to be confused with my other friend Mary, asked me about the derivation of the duck. This is both easy in the micro sense and unclear in the macro.

In my FantaCo days, we published this comic book called Smilin’ Ed. Ed was a rat. I mean literally, FantaCo’s rascally rodent mascot. The character was drawn by the late Raoul Vezina. The stories were by Tom Skulan and Raoul. Invariably, he put us FantaCo folk in the stories. I was a duck.

Why was I a duck? I’m not sure. It may that I used to do a decent imitation of Donald Duck, only less comprehensible. BTW, I can still do that. Why? Why wouldn’t I?

Then again, I’ve always had affection for fowl since I first heard Henhouse Five Plus Two cluck In The Mood. I knew then that almost any music could be done in chicken.

I’m a duck in the Smilin’ Ed story in the X-Men Chronicles, and in a huge birthday card that Raoul drew of me reading the New York Times. He did this particular drawing for a friend of mine. When I got my own URL, I decided to use the drawing.

Which reminds me

I’ve been, in my purported free time, working on a Wikipedia page for Raoul. It’s not that I have too little information but too much. His friends, including one who has recently died, have sent me at least 100 emails. They contain tidbits of info about Raoul, including a bunch of items I didn’t know. He did a few album covers. Music was as much a passion of his as art. He often combined the two.

For instance, he had started, but never completed, a comic book about the legendary Albany band Blotto of I Want To Be A Lifeguard fame. I’m hoping that when my family goes back to school, whenever that might be, I’ll get back to it.

The FantaCo/Smilin’ Ed Kickstarter; the Wells Fargo refund

FantaCo owner/publisher/co-creator of Smilin’ Ed, Tom Skulan,, is organizing a Kickstarter to create The Complete Smilin’ Ed Comics. He’s trying to raise $7500 by Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 1:12 AM EST.

Those of you who lived or worked in Albany from 1978 to 1998 might remember this sign, created by the late Raoul Vezina in the window of FantaCo Enterprises, the comic book store/mail order house/publisher/convention organizer at 21 Central Avenue; the sign has been digitally enhanced from the original by artist Bill Anderson. Raoul drew the logo rat for the store, the character eventually dubbed Smilin’ Ed Smiley.

A few years later, Smilin’ Ed became the star of some comic books published by FantaCo, as well as in strips in Albany’s Metroland magazine and the Comics Buyers Guide. Unfortunately, Raoul died in 1983 – of an asthma attack.

Now, FantaCo owner/publisher/co-creator of Smilin’ Ed, Tom Skulan,, is organizing a Kickstarter to create The Complete Smilin’ Ed Comics. He’s trying to raise $7500 by Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 1:12 AM EST.

As I have mentioned in the past, I worked at FantaCo, running the mail order, editing a handful of magazines, and various other tasks, from May 1980 through November 1988. I had a hand in scripting one of the stories. I played interlocutor for a couple of parties involved in this project and found a few pieces that are included in the book. I wrote one of the text pieces contained therein. Oh, and I took the picture of Raoul that appears on the Kickstarter page.

Thus, I do have an emotional investment in seeing this project succeed. Raoul’s sister Maria has also been heavily involved with the project, and it’s very important to her. One of the pieces in the book will be the script and some art pages to a never-published Ed story.
I got this envelope in the mail this month. It appeared to be junk mail, but in fact, it contained a check for $214.85, and not one of those phony “use this check as a down payment on a car from us,” but a real cashier’s check.


Our records show you previously purchased, then cancelled an identity theft protection plan. During your enrollment the credit monitoring benefit may not have been activated.

We recommend reviewing your credit history, and are providing a free Experian credit report. Please call… and provide this code…

We are reimbursing yoy for fees paid during a period of time when your your credit monitoring benefit may not have been activated.Cashing the check will not reactivate your plan. For other questions please call Wells Fargo…

Thank you. we appreciate your business.

Interesting. I no longer remember how much the service cost, maybe $5.95 a month, maybe more. But even at $9.95 a month, and it wasn’t that much, that’s over 21 months where the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doeth. I haven’t had a Wells Fargo credit card in years, and seldom used it when I did.

Of course, I DID make use of the Experian report. Surprisingly, they did not try to buy their OWN service; thank you, very much.

The return of Smilin’ Ed Smiley

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 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’ve not seen any of the Marvel movies, from The Avengers forward, and this article about Kirby and Marvel explains why.

Art by Raoul Vezina. Smilin’ Ed created by Raoul Vezina and Tom Skulan
Smilin’ Ed™ is a Trademark of and Copyright © 2014 Maria Vezina and Tom Skulan. All rights reserved.

FantaCon 2013 update

Haven’t seen Steve Bissette in person since 1988.


As some of you know, I worked at FantaCo, the comic book and film book store/publisher, et al in Albany, NY from May 1980 to November 1988, the second-longest job I ever had. (The current one is #1.)

There will be a FantaCon in September 2013, the first one since 1990. I’ll be there, Allah/Yahweh willing.

You’ll note that Tom Skulan, the creator of FantaCo and FantaCon, has dedicated the show to the memory of three individuals. I KNEW THEM ALL.

Phil Seuling was one of those people that the term “bigger than life” was designed for. He essentially invented the direct sales market for comic books, and his Seagate Distributors was not only FantaCo’s primary supplier in the early years, but the fact that he took a chance on FantaCo’s largely untested product line helped permit FantaCo to become a successful publisher. He threw some of the most lavish parties I’ve ever been to, in Brooklyn, NY.

Not only did Raoul Vezina work the front counter at FantaCo, he also designed the FantaCo logo, Smilin’ Ed. He drew the duck character that graces this blog. One of my favorite memories ever was co-plotting a Smilin’ Ed story with him for the X-Men Chronicles. He also was friends with more folk than anyone I knew, and would often get us into the J.B. Scott’s nightclub for free when some band he knew was playing.

Chas Balun was this gentle giant of a man. Had a great sense of humor, which showed up in his horror film writings. He lived on the West Coast of the US, so I didn’t meet him that often. Since I shipped most of the FantaCo publications, I got to speak with him on the phone regularly. My buddy Stephen R. Bissette was speaking fondly of him on his Facebook page earlier this month.

Speaking of Steve, I’m looking forward to seeing him in person, at the only show he’s doing outside his native Vermont in 2013. He’s the artist probably best known for his collaboration on Swamp Thing, though he’s done a lot of other great stuff. Haven’t seen him in person since 1988.

Also haven’t seen Michael T. Gilbert in a very long time, probably since before Raoul died, in 1983. On the other hand, Fred Hembeck, who Tom and Fred have confirmed is coming, though he’s not noted on the site yet, I got to see on November 11 of this year.

I have two tasks in re: this, and some of you may be able to help me. I’m interviewing Tom Skulan, sending him a bunch of questions by the end of the year, which he has agreed to answer. If YOU have questions you want me to ask, please let me know. I’m also working on a FantaCo bibliography for 1978-1988; if you happen to have any of those items that I could borrow – and that would include FantaCon programs, FantaCo catalogs, and Splatter Movies T-shirts, I would appreciate that. Contact me at the e-mail on this blog.

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