Monday, August 30, 2010
Kenneth Smith: Phantasmagoria
In 1970 Kenneth Smith advertised a portfolio of fantasy art which would eventually be incorporated into his book/magazine PHANTASMAGORIA. Sales of that set of prints funded the first issue and inaugurated a modest venture in quality self-publishing unique in popular culture.
During its first phase of existence (until 1983), when it competed for his time as a professor of philosophy, Phantasmagoria yielded 7 books & over 20 portfolios. It was critically acclaimed for its rich concepts and renditions and excellence in production values, an idea too soon before its time: a creator/publisher developing a direct access to his public, to challenge ordinary notions of what was commercially publishable. Although comics would later see several creator-controlled publishing houses, few if any other thanPHANTASMAGORIA attempted to introduce ideas and material that transcended the conventional framework of mass-market commercial culture. The closest venture toPHANTASMAGORIA may have been Frank Zappa's Barking Pumpkin Records. PHANTASMAGORIA served also as a significant extension of an artist/author's creative vision into thetechnology of reproduction and printing.
PHANTASMAGORIA's every issue set higher standards of quality for reproduction--tinted inks, hand-finished negatives, glorious color printing. It was a limited-edition publication before its time, sold originally at prices to compete with newsstand-periodicals or other prozines of far less costly printing.
Over the years its art and stories were praised by dozens of comics and SF artists: ". . .To encounter the combination of excellences--in concept, writing, lettering, layout, draughtsmanship, rendering, and production--all in one person, is downright frightening! A really beautiful job" (Kelly Freas). "A pleasure from cover to cover" (Jaxon). "Again and again I find myself paging through your wonderful book about the fish. A truly fine work loaded with thought-provoking imagination-tripping detail, a marvelously inspired series of pictures" (Tom Sutton). "Thank you for caring enough about art and philosophy to produce a series of delightfully beautiful magazines" (Arnold Fenner). "I really don't think you're producing a 'comic book,' but something much beyond that--on the order of visual narrative, or narrative and pictorial poetry--you're upgrading the field, in another way, and I salute that" (Burne Hogarth). "My modest research into the world of zines is over. . .I've now seen the ultimate. Phantasmagoria is so very interesting in so very many ways. I thought Bode's stuff was the supreme visual-text catharsis in this medium. Your things have a similar quality. Heartbreaking, bewildering, mystical and honestly wonderful in so many ways" (Frank Thorne). "Excellent textural/design/tonal delights in B&W--and fine color pieces, too, by gosh! . . .Carry on the good fight in your own unique creations!" (Alex Toth).
PHANTASMAGORIA's second phase was initiated in 1998 when Smith issued Otherwise, a book of philosophical anecdotes, myths, and enigmas from Memnon Press--the first in a series of attempts to define and depose the vicious modern ideologies from the minds of thoughtful readers.