Born October 17, 1896, Rutland, Vermont
Died July 17, 1974, Portland, Oregon
Ralph Rayburn Phillips lived the life of a Bohemian artist. "I learned early to hate hopeless conformity," he said, and he did anything but conform to the norms of society. Tall and slender with a thick shock of dark hair and a dark mustache, he lived in an eight-by-ten room in a Portland mansion, adhered to Buddhism (for a while at least), attended science fiction conventions, associated with Forteans, and drew pictures for science fiction and fantasy magazines or "fanzines." He enjoyed poetry--his sister, Iris Barrie, was a poet--and illustrated what some claim was the first poetry magazine devoted to a single genre: Challenge, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy verse.
Phillips was born on October 17, 1896, in Rutland, Vermont, the son of a dentist and physician. In about 1914, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where Mr. Phillips sold farm implements. Ralph Rayburn Phillips studied art in high school and attended the School of Applied Art in Battle Creek, Michigan. At the time he filled out his draft card during World War I, he was living in a hotel in Los Angeles. By 1920, he was back in Portland and working as a commercial artist.
Phillips contributed to a number of publications, including Northwest Background, Fantasy Advertiser, Destiny: Tales of Science-Fantasy, Challenge (which was founded and edited by Lilith Lorraine), Fantastic Worlds, Quandry, The Fanscient, Nekromanticon, Shanadu: A Collection of Fantasy, and Weirdbook One. Describing himself as "representative and a modernist," Phillips created weird and surrealistic drawings and paintings, influenced perhaps by Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, and Phillips' fellow fantasy artists. He may have influenced in turn artists who came after him. In any case, his vision was his own and his work highly original.
In the 1930 census and despite his aversion to conformity, Phillips gave his occupation as an organizer and salesman for a fraternal order. (Even slender Bohemian artists must eat.) It must have been a great day in his life when he discovered science fiction fandom, an outgrowth of the science fiction pulp magazines of the late twenties and early thirties. Phillips drew cover and interior illustrations for a number of fan magazines and attended science fiction conventions in Los Angeles in 1946 and Philadelphia in 1947. He was also involved in interests along the fringes of science fiction and fantasy, including Buddhism, the occult, and Fortean studies. His work for Weird Tales included several letters written between 1927 and 1940 and an installment in the series "It Happened to Me" in March 1941. His entry in the series, "The Egyptian Cross," was the second-to-last and betrayed his interest in Egypt and the Orient.
In later years, Phillips became a character in the Portland city scene. Always barefoot, he would sit in the park, puff on his pipe, and read from a book of poetry. His lifestyle seems to have agreed with him, for Phillips lived to age seventy-nine. He died on July 17, 1974, in Portland.
Ralph Rayburn Phillips' Story and Letters in Weird Tales
"The Egyptian Cross" (story, Mar. 1941)
"The Egyptian Cross" (story, Mar. 1941)
Letters to "The Eyrie"
"From an Old Time Reader," Jan. 1938
Letter to Strange Stories Magazine
You can read more about Ralph Rayburn Phillips at a blog called "From an Oblique Angle" here. Also, Manly Banister wrote a profile of Phillips for the science fiction fanzine Destiny #8 (Spring 1953), thankfully now scanned and available on the Internet as all early fanzines should be. You'll find the article on the website "Fanac Fan History Project" here.
|Artist and writer Ralph Rayburn Phillips (1896-1974) from the fanzine Destiny #8 (Spring 1953). Perhaps influenced by Salvador Dali, he even looks something like the Spanish surrealist in this photo.|
|Phillips' illustration for "The Gateway of Vroome" by Lilith Lorraine, from Destiny #8 (Spring 1953).|
|An untitled work by Ralph Rayburn Phillips. This may have been a work in color. Note that it appears in the portrait photograph above.|
|Finally, "Portland Graveyard," from Quandry #4 (November 1950).|
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley