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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why A Duck?

When I did my Simpsons avatar a little while ago, the T-shirt had a duck on it. As a kid, and even now, I like to make sounds like various fowl. One sound is like an even more incoherent Donald Duck. I suspect that I was doing this back in my FantaCo days, because when Raoul Vezina drew me into a Smilin' Ed Smiley story, I was portrayed as a duck.

But it wasn't a story in one of the four issues of Smilin' Ed comics that FantaCo published; it was the story in X-Men Chronicles entitled "If Smilin’ Ed Smiley bought a Case of X-Men #94 When It Was Brand New, What Then?" "What Then" was our way of saying "What If" without actually being in violation of Marvel's copyright or trademark.

Now, I should acknowledge why FantaCo put out the X-Men Chronicles when it did. It was to beat to market the X-Men version of a series of Marvel Indexes compiled by someone named George Olshevsky. The X-Men Index would be No. 9A (for some reason) and was scheduled to come out later in 1981.

I had forgotten this: FantaCo, probably Tom, had asked Wendy Pini to do the X-Men Chronicles cover. Wendy and Richard Pini were known for doing the Elfquest comic book, and had done a number of in-store signings. She called back on May 21, 1981, to decline, but she gave us Paty Cockrum's number at Marvel so that we could contact her husband Dave, who had drawn the X-Men. From my journal: "Dave agreed to do the cover for $200-250. I told Tom, but I was less than enthused because Fantagraphics' book [the Marvel Indexes were distributed by them, I guess] is also going to have a Cockrum cover. My attitude was incomprehensible to Tom." (The actual cover I did really like, and was a lot more interesting than the Index cover.)

So we got our Dave Cockrum cover, got some local, and not so local people, to draw and write some pieces. I commissioned Arro Verti to put together our own index, short on graphics, but long on text. Oh, who am I kidding? *I* was Arro Verti; Arro=R.O.; and Verti for Green.

While we had published previously (Smilin' Ed, Hembeck 1980, John Caldwell's Mug Shots), we had never done a commentary book before. While I now know that we almost certainly didn't need Marvel's permission to do what we were doing, we sought it then. And Marvel was...cagey.

On the day I went down to pick up the Dave Cockrum cover, July 15, I met with Paty, then briefly with Marvel editor Jim Shooter, who said that there was no need to license the X-Men Chronicles if we were doing a journalistic piece. Then he said: "If you violate our copyright, we'll just sue." He was so matter-of-fact about it. I wrote later that I really liked Paty; Jim, not so much.

Another heretofore lost detail: Dave's cover wasn't ready on the 15th; in fact, I think he had just started it. So I took train to Philadelphia, visited friends, took a train back to NYC on the 17th, got the cover from Dave, a bearded fellow with what I described as a "soft Southern accent", THEN took the still-wet painting home on a bus to Albany. The first copies of the magazine came out July 31.

As the editor of the X-Men Chronicles, one of my great disappointments about the book was the type size, which was 6-point type (don't remember the font), which I thought was too small, but who our typesetter thought was fine. He was the professional, so I yielded to his judgment, which was, as it turns out, WRONG.

This had created another problem: we were five pages short for our 32-page publication. Enter Raoul Vezina, who, in a remarkably short time, cooked up with Tom Skulan a story about greed and hubris. Raoul's story ended up to be six pages, and we had to bump something, as I recall, but this tale was my favorite part of the book.

When Tom came back from vacation sometime afterwards, he brought back these polished stone animal figurines from Mexico. Mine, of course, was the duck.

Which brings us to the picture above, which Raoul drew for my friend Lynne late in 1981. It'd been hanging on her wall for a quarter century when I e-mailed her and her husband Dan for a copy. Dan scanned it, Lynne made it into a PDF, and I made it into a .jpeg. ADD had something to do with the process, too.

Seeing it again just makes me smile, and sad, too, for Raoul died in 1983. At least I have his art to remember him by.
Hi, Eric and Joelle! By coincidence, I ran into a guy named Eric who used to work at FantaCo doing mail order yesterday. He kindly said I was "a little grayer"; it was good to see him. His sister Joelle, I believe, was the first female to be on the FantaCo payroll, and, according to him, is the more computer-savvy of the two.
This story says there were only a "handful" of FantaCo Publications; not true, as this roster will attest. Many were published after my tenure there, but FantaCo, in its time, and, especially in its later horror comics niche, was quite prolific.



Fred said...

Error! Error! Error!

It's my sad task to inform you, Rog, that you had a few pertinent facts in today's blog entry, well, just plain wrong.

The X-Men Chronicles was not published in an attempt to beat George O's X-Men Index to the shelves (said series was, to the best of my knowledge, NOT distributed by Fantagraphics), but to scoop the aforementioned Fanatgraphics to the punch, as they were planning an elaborate, magazine sized, square bound one-shot entitled The X-Men Companion (edited by Peter Sanderson, and featuring an interview--but not a cover--by Dave Cockrum. Mike Golden handled the cover chores.).

The reason I know all this? Because, y'see, Fantagraphics enlisted ME to provide the BACK cover! And when I learned Fantaco--my own beloved publisher--was trying to somehow undercut them (for whatever reasons, long lost to the mists of time), I poltitely but adamantly refused to have anything to do with The X-Men Chronicles. I just thought it was a cheesy move--back then, it didn't seem that there could ever be a need for TWO magazines devoted to the X-Men, much less a pair coming out at virtually the same time!

By the time Fantaco moved on to doing a series of Chronicles (and Fantagraphics only ever did one other "Companion"--for Elfquest, which might explain Wendy Pini's reluctance to take on the X-Men cover assignment from Tom), I'd come around to the Chronicle way of thinking, and happily contributed to the remainder of the series. But I recall the whole Companion/Chronicles thing as one of the great ethical dilemmas of my career. Yes, it's true--I've had a dull, dull, life.

So there you go--a rare correction for the Roger "duck man" Green!
Quack! (And yeah, the type size WAS way too small!...)

Roger Green said...

Well, Fred, I think it may have been BOTH items we were trying to beat to market. Clearly, the Index was one of them, because I have a specific recollection of the need (Tom's need) of putting together an index because George O had one. (It is likely, though, that I inaccurately attributed that book to Fantagraphics.) And the part about my complaining about the Cockrum cover was not from my hazy memory but from my journal that I was keeping at the time, so the George O. book was definitely on my mind at the time I was working on the X-Men Chronicles, because, unlike the X-Men Companion, I had a fairly good idea what it would look like based on the previous issues.

Fred said...

Oh yeah, I'm betting Dave DID agree to do a cover for Fantagraphics, but just never got around to it, so they went with Golden. I guess I let the index conflict slide since I had no part in that (my memory is that the George O book had a Brent Anderson wraparound cover, so i guess the only way to get a Cockrum cover was to literally go camp out on his doorstep--good job, Rog!)


Daniel W. Van Riper said...

I've told you about that duck, didn't I?

When I moved in with Lynne at the end of 1985, the duck was hanging on the wall. I took careful note of it, and Lynne told me about Raoul and his tragic death by asthma, a disease I eventually developed myself.

Well, about a month after my arrival, Lynne and I were walking on what is now Henry Johnson Boulevard (then called Northern Blvd.) up from Central toward Washington Park. A fellow came walking toward us, and Lynne brightened up. "Oh, there's Roger!" I took one look at this fellow and said, "That's the duck on the wall." I believe I told you after introductions that I recognized you from the sketch.

Raoul was that good of an artist. It's too bad I never met Raoul. I'll bet he would be known to everybody today.


Gary Dunaier said...

. . . Marvel Indexes compiled by someone named George Olshevsky. The X-Men Index would be No. 9A (for some reason) . . .

George Olshevsky's Marvel Comics Index series was awesome (as was the fanzine he published, Collector's Dream). The X-Men index was No. 9A because at the time the Index series was originally conceived and laid out, around 1975-1976, No. 9 was supposed to feature the X-Men and another feature (I don't remember which). By the time the X-Men volume came out, there was so much material for the X-Men part that it was decided to split the book into two volumes, 9A and 9B, instead of just re-numbering the entire run.

Martin Wisse said...


didn'y Fantagraphics also do two books on George Perez and John Byrne, very nice ones as well?

I got a couple of the Fantaco Chronicles (the Avengers and Fantastic Four ones, as well as a more general indexy one, and I liked them quite a lot. Nice to find one of the people responsible for them...

Scott said...


Fantagraphics did at least three "Focus on" books : John Byrne, George Perez, and . . . Jack Cole! I'm not sure how Jack Cole sneaked into the series, but it was written by Ron Goulart, and as with all of Goulart's comics histories, quite readable and informative.

Marc Caputo said...

WOW - Every once in a while I go looking for something "Smilin' Ed Smiley" on the web and today I found this. The 5 FantaCo Chronicles from the early 1980s are a HUGE touchstone for guys (not "people" - people implies girls and there were none of them collecting comics in my town in the 70s and 80s) my age (~40). And of all the great stuff in those mags (which I scored off eBay 5 years ago, due to floods and times), one of the most memorable things was the Smilin' Ed Smiley story, which finds its way into conversations with my friend Mike and I waaaay more than anyone could have ever expected 25 years ago.

Is there any sort of book or compilation of Vezina's material out there?

Take care.

Roger Green said...

Hi, Marc- I’m almost positive there’s no Smilin’ Ed, or for that matter, Raoul Vezina, compilation, unfortunately.

Even if there was a market for the Vezina stuff, I don’t know how one would get the disparate pieces. Some of his old FantaCo colleagues have some (including me), the Vezinas have some, Other pieces were given away by Raoul.