Science Fiction/Fantasy Art Book Review

The Art of Discworld

(2006) Terry Pratchett & Paul Kidby, Gollancz, 14.99, pbk, 164pp, ISBN 0-575-07712-3


Two things immediately put me off The Art of Discworld: firstly, it had the slightly dubious odour of the cash-in about it; and secondly, despite Paul Kidby being a very talented artist, I'm firmly convinced that his work is not a patch on the iconic covers of Jack Kirby. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is very enjoyable. While the sheer abundance of Discworld literature makes a book collecting Kidby's artwork seem like a cash-cow no-brainer, the book is actually very well done and very enlightening for those with at least a passing interest in Pratchett's work.

The selection of artwork includes the covers that Kidby has worked on, as well as a few other pieces that have made their way into the public domain. Most of these are accompanied by pencil roughs or work-in-progress shots. There are additional 'development' sketches where Kidby is experimenting with capturing a character's feel through their history in the Discworld (young Granny Weatherwax, adult Mort, Death on a motorcycle, etc). Each major character (as well as most of the minor) is illustrated through pencil sketches. All of this is also accompanied by Pratchett's musings on his creations and their development, and comments on Kidby's art (as well as the occasional note from the artist himself). There are little titbits of trivia thrown around, interesting facts to mull over, and much juicy gossip to chew on. This is all presented in one nicely designed volume with plenty of glorious full-colour, full-page illustrations.

Where the art is concerned, Kidby's style impresses with its realism and accuracy to the novels. If you suffer from a lack of imagination and really want to see what a character was supposed to look like (or, in some cases, not quite like) then The Art of Discworld more than satisfies. Yet I stubbornly cling to the memory of the late Jack Kirby. There was something much more memorable in those anarchic, cartoonish and colourful covers. But still this book, all in all, is a very impressive selection of very skilfully drawn images, expertly put together from the source material and illustrated vividly and entertainingly. There is plenty here to keep the eyes occupied, while Pratchett's commentary contains a wealth of information that steers clear of dull summaries of the writing process, or self-congratulation. It may as well be called 'The Making of the Discworld' - there is much here to keep all fans immersed, not just art critics and the unimaginative.

Peter Thorley

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