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Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Josh Kirby has died.

It's been almost twenty years, I think, since I last saw Josh: a beaky, blinking, owl-faced artist, who lived in a crumbling East Anglian rectory. A dreadfully nice man. These days he's famous for the UK covers of Terry Pratchett books - covers he painted in a busy, colourful, explosive bigfoot style. For a few years in the mid 80s, every funny fantasy novel (and many that only aspired to be funny) published in the UK had a Josh Kirby cover. Terry Pratchett got the really good ones. The lesser lights of comic fantasy got paintings that looked like they were knocked out in an afternoon, or several afternoons (if memory serves he only painted by natural light, in the one room of the rectory where the sunlight was at its best).

At the time I met him, before this, he was still an SF cover artist, doing the covers for Bob Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle series -- huge, intricate paintings which, he grumbled, the publishers ran in a ribbon-high strip around the cover.

I remember being astonished to discover how many styles he had and how many covers of books that I'd read as kid he had painted. He did the Pan Book of Horror Stories covers, for example, before they went over to photos of eyeballs in buckets, and most of the Alfred Hitchcock presents short story collections -- wonderful paintings in which he'd create Hitchcock's face out of vultures and beasts, or instruments of murder...

The only cover I ever had by Josh was the German version of Good Omens. (It's not one of his great covers, alas, but I'm very happy that it exists.)

People stick in your memory as you last saw them. He was 72 when he died. In my head he's still in his early 50s, and will be forever.
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