Raoul Vezina: 30 years gone

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.

One participant was Raoul’s younger sister Maria Vezina, a nurse and professor in New York City, who talked about his 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 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

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