'Reaper Man' painted 1991 for the 1991 Gollancz edition.
Kirby’s highly original, inventive paintings for Terry Pratchett’s novels are synonymous with the author’s work, capturing the frenetic pace of life in the Discworld. Pratchett has said: “I only invented the Discworld. Josh created it.” Reflecting on his enjoyment illustrating them, Kirby described the books as ‘Bruegel in literary form.’
Kirby was an established science fiction and fantasy artist when he received his first Discworld commission from Corgi for The Colour of Magic (1984). He did not foresee a partnership spanning some 15 years and 26 novels. Despite different hardback and paperback publishers, at Pratchett’s insistence Kirby’s artwork became a constant presence. Kirby favoured the consistent design of Corgi’s covers - easily recognisable, utilising the fuller painting. Gollancz covers caused angst, increasingly dominated by bold lettering.
Artistic licence was central to Kirby’s exaggerated characterisation, ensuring ‘types’ were easily recognised â€“ witches were crone-like; heroines, in true fantasy art tradition, were scantily clad. His interpretations are still hotly debated by Discworld aficionados. Nevertheless, no scaled-down, cropped reproduction, overlaid with text, is a substitute for Kirby’s dynamic, action-packed original paintings, glowing with their myriad colours and brimming with detail and outrageous humour.
Eric, a Discworld book (1990), was a collaborative undertaking between Kirby and Terry Pratchett in which the pictures enjoyed equal footing with the narrative itself. Between 1988 and 1990 Kirby produced 16 paintings for the series.
A teenage demonologist, Eric, inadvertently calls forth failed wizard Rincewind. Accompanied by the Luggage and a balding parrot they hurtle around in time and space on a series of bizarre adventures. Pratchett’s story ensures they visit some of the most exotic locations that Discworld and its history have to offer, enabling Kirby’s extraordinary imagination to conjure up a succession of marvellous characters and locations. Sadly, when the book was reprinted in 1991 all the illustrations were dropped.
Some of the images created for this project have since become iconic within Kirby’s output. Amongst these are the vibrant flash of red that is 'Rincewind Running', the creation of the universe in The Big Bang and Kirby’s visualisation of one of the most spectacular sights of all, the Discworld itself.