THE ART OF DISCWORLD
by Paul Kidby
29.95/128 pages/January 2005
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Josh Kirby was known for his cover illustrations for numerous books by Terry Pratchett which chronicled the Discworld. However, while Kirby's paintings all had a chaotic, cartoonish nature, in many of the subsidiary Discworld products, Paul Kidby was quietly portraying Pratchett's world in a variety of styles, ranging from the cartoon-quality of Kirby's work to a more detailed and realistic style. With Kirby's death, Kidby appears to have taken over the covers of Pratchett's British books, starting with Night Watch.
Even as he was shadowed by Kirby’s vision of Discworld, Kidby was building a vast portfolio, which is spotlighted in The Art of Discworld, a wonderful book of Kidby’s illustrations and artwork with descriptive text by Discworld’s chronicler, Terry Pratchett.
The book is divided into several color coded sections, perhaps best described as Ankh-Morpork, Death, Lancre, Uberwald. Kidby’s work in each section focuses mainly on the characters who live in those places, although he also shows a fair amount of the scenery, such as the half-Tudor houses which line the River Ankh. The characters he shows are not just the major actors, either. Old favorites Rincewind and Granny Weatherwax are joined by newer characters like Otto Chriek and Tiffany Aching. Minor characters, whose names may not even be remembered by many readers, also figure in these pages, with sketches of Zorgo the Retro Phrenologist or 72-Hour Achmed.
Although some of the paintings are in full color, many more are line sketches, either preparations for final paintings or illustrations to fill some of the subsidiary Discworld materials, such as the various calendars.
On the occasions where Kidby has elected to include both sketch and final version, it is interesting to compare the similarities and differences between them. Even when it appears he moved directly from the sketch to the painting, the details, color and lighting Kidby is able to represent in the painting makes a very different scene. This is particularly notable with the sketch and cover for The Science of Discworld.
Each of the paintings or drawings in complemented by a brief descriptive passage by Pratchett which describes the characters as he wrote them and as Kidby illustrated them. These are wonderful links between the illustrations and Pratchett’s original text about the characters. Occasionally, Kidby writes about his own work, also interesting, and shown by italics rather than Roman text.The Art of Discworld is a fascinating book for the Discworld fan. It may introduce many, especially in the United States, to a different look for the Discworld, one which will most likely be carried forward as Kidby continues to be the portraitist for Pratchett’s world. The illustrations are large and cleanly reproduced in the book and juxtaposed nicely with the text, making a book as easily read as it is viewed and enjoyed.