Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ranting and Raving About Discworld Covers

This is a mini-rant from a 49 year old man who likes the stuff he likes and doesn't like the stuff he doesn't like... but who understands when he might be full of shit. And he usually is.

Terry Pratchett. Discworld.

I'm one of those nerdy types who isn't a total geek. Like... if you asked me who was in the C3P0 suit I'd say "there was someone in the suit??" Also, I'd say I don't know where the hyphen goes in C3P0, or if there is one. I also have never watched more than 2 or 3 original Star Trek episodes and I haven't bought a Marvel or DC or Dark Horse comic book off the shelf since the 90s. And I consider myself a comic book lover!

In short, I don't obsess over most stuff. I'm big on ideas and wee on details.

So I don't really know anything about Terry Pratchett other than he was a British author who wrote Discworld and he was, by all measures I can tell, a good man.

My discovery of Pratchett's Discworld came via an illegal download of the first few books in audio format. Wonderful stuff. Not just the books themselves, but the performance of the reader. And see... I don't know who the actual fuck read them. Some British dude* who gave such wonderful life to the characters. And they had this cheeseball echo effect on Death's voice. I loved it. I wouldn't want to hear them any other way.

Josh Kirby killing it.

But this isn't a post about the content or the audio. This is a post about the covers. Remember those deliciously cartoonishly evocative Josh Kirby (RIP) covers? No? See, I posted one here, right above this paragraph, for your enjoyment. I fucking love these. They make me want to pick up the book and read.

Now, I do want to acknowledge something important that seems to bug a lot of people. Kirby's covers don't seem to accurately reflect what's inside the pages. For example, famously, Twoflower is a bespecktacled tourist. He has "four eyes" because he has glasses. But Kirby painted him literally with four eyes. But, because Kirby's art was so dense and kind of hard to parse at first glance, this doesn't really bug me. Of course it might be because my exposure to Discworld came through audiobooks and I wasn't even looking at the covers**.

These covers were published, as far as I can tell, for the original editions of the paperbacks up through maybe book 26, The Thief of Time. That was 2001. Looks like Josh Kirby died in 2001 at the age of 72. I really had never known his work since I had no exposure to these books as a kid or even as a young adult. It wasn't until I was around 35 that I found them. In a short time, he has shot to the top of my favorite artists list for sure. With a bullet.

Anyway. Let's move on from 2001. I'm not going to discuss the next cover artist, Paul Kidby, because I'm not familiar with the work. What I'm going to talk about, and what is the focus of this rant, is the direction the publisher took with the reprints.

They fucking suck. I mean seriously. Look at this shit. We go from these whimsical, wondrous, fantastical paintings, lush with detail, to these spartan, plain, dull, lifeless, center justified pieces of crap?

"For the new covers let's go full 1995 CD-ROM, who needs delicious art?"

Sigh. I know. It's the god damn digital age. You need to think about how people interface with book covers. The spines of books, which used to tell us the title and author so we could pull them out and then be wowed by the covers, are now just the fucking covers. Because you need to see that title and author clearly in a tiny thumbnail on your digital device. There's really no need for a lush cover anymore. Fewer people are picking this up off a shelf and running their fingers over the art. It's just the reality in which we live. And I accept it.

But I don't have to like it, motherfuckers. And I don't.


Here's a video I found randomly where a guy is bitching about the same problem, but with horror covers. I feel ya, pal. I feel ya.

*His name is Nigel Planer. If you didn't think he was British, now you god damn well know it.

**Interesting point, actually. Am I so easy on Kirby because I just love his art and I have no particular connection between experiencing the stories and looking at his paintings? Maybe for others this was more jarring.


  1. Do you remember the BBC show "The Young Ones". from 1982? Nigel Planer played Neil, the hippie.

    1. Somehow I missed The Young Ones. All my friends talked about it over the years and I just never sought it out. I need to watch.

  2. Nigel Planer played Neil the hippie on The Young Ones, which American MTV used to show very late on Sunday nights in the late 80s. He was really funny and I can well imagine he'd be good at reading a funny British book.

    I've heard so many people rave about Pratchett that I"m prejudiced against it and have never read a word. Hee hee

    1. What is your prejudice, out of curiosity? Is it because too many people rave about? If so, I totally understand and I have the same reactions to some things. But I can attest to the fact that these books are quite damn good. Along the lines of Douglas Adams, if you're into that. Different, for sure. But excellent.

      I started with book 1 because that's how you generally do it. A lot of fans will say don't do that, because the author grew into the work and the world over time and it gets better. And since there are multiple series, you can actually begin with the witches or watch or whatever and it's fine. But I do love The Colour of Magic for it's insanity. The first of the Witches books was a huge tonal shift, far less whimsical from what I recall.

    2. Yep, that's my prejudice --- I've been that way since I was a little kid. Are you glad you started with Book 1?

    3. Yes, I have no complaints. I actually loved the first couple of books. I was slightly taken aback by the tone shift when the witches books started. It was a good read, but very different. The Colour of Magic is 100% comedy and satire and cleverness. Witches leans into more theme and depth, I think. But I've only read maybe 5 of the total series and only once.

  3. Josh Kirby also did the art for the UK reprints of Tunnels & Trolls back in tha day. You see the same vandalism from publishers with the Fighting Fantasy books - the new reprints have all the old art by people like Russ Nicholson, Martin McKenna and Iain McCaig replaced with what looks like old PC clip art.

    1. Oh really? Neat! I didn't know about the T&T Kirby covers.

      Yep, the trend is to have cheaper, uglier covers because, I suppose, a) cheaper and b) thumnails on devices only have to convey the title and author. The elegant covers are becoming a thing of the past.

    2. He did the interior art as well - good luck trying to get them off eBay without remortgaging your house though!

  4. These days I only read ebooks. The main reason is that I do not have nearly enough space. I have cubic meters of books.
    One of the consequences is that often, I do not even remember the title of a book I recently read, and often I even do not remember the author's name.
    With traditional books, you've got a glimpse at the cover (and thus the author and the title) each time you pick up the book. Now, when I pick my good old sony reader or my IPad, I directly go to the page I left.

  5. It's a huge shame. I've loved the Josh Kirby covers since I started reading the Discworld novels as a kid circa 1990. They had so much life, and I remember picking through them trying to figure out what was going on, and who each character was. They were an integral part of Discworld.

    The covers by Paul Kidby never really grabbed me, but at least they were still communicating the content of the books. Those new replacement covers for the older books just remove all the joy.

  6. The Kidby covers used to actually put me off as a kid, but I couldn't tell you why. They're very pretty on their own as standalone art, but as paperback covers, maybe they're just too busy for me?

    Now, I'm used to them and like them because I think I'm about to read a Discworld novel...