Josh Kirby Footnote

A Letter from Steve Holland

Dear Dave,

Following is a list of all of Kirby's Panther covers that I know of – there will be others that were either unsigned or I've never seen a copy of (and many of the ones listed below aren't in my meagre collection, sadly).

I'm sorry Josh feels embarrassed or in some way disinterested in his earlier cover work. I can appreciate that editorial hands were involved in censoring images, but what was left is still beautiful.

During my golden age of reading (roughly 14-18, back when I had no responsibilities and could read 2 or 3 books in a day!) most of the paperbacks being produced had photo covers, except science fiction where we had Chris Foss and other great artists producing covers. New English Library had some great photo covers on their Skinhead and biker books; Sphere seemed to attach a naked woman or two to any title; but for my money, I still preferred the painted covers. One of the reasons I started collecting older paperbacks was simply to have the opportunity to relish the superb artistry of people like Sam Peffer, Edward Mortelmans, and Kirby himself. Panther had some superb artists: Derek Stowe, John Vernon, and the incomparable Cy Webb – who, under the name Heade, was the best "good girl" cover artist of the fifties.

The good thing about Kirby's work in this era was that he was not typecast. There's Westerns (Dan Cushman, Steve Frazee), Crime (Cousins), True War, Non-fiction, Science Fiction and a lot of movie tie-ins (MTI). The latter is the real test. I think: you know you have a good artist when he's asked to do the MTI covers. If we were to poll collectors of paperbacks, I would expect to find that the cover of The Camp on Blood Island is one of the most enduring – so good that Hammer even put it on the movie poster as a tiny vignette.

So, my opinion is that Josh has nothing to be embarrassed about. Obviously we're not carrying the memory of arguing with editors and being asked to alter things – we don't know what vision he originally had for each cover. But we do know the printed end result and, believe me, they're great!

By the way, Cee Tee Man was in a different file, which is why it doesn't show up here. There were also six covers for Authentic SF mag. from 1957 on. I can't see any SF that you don't have.

Yes, I'd love to see a list of Kirby's work. It will probably fill in quite a few gaps. Also, would love to hear if he has any stories from those days. I believe the art editor at Panther was Ed Blandford; I don't know anything about Blandford, only that he ended up in the 1970s drawing 8-page back-up comic strips for things like War Picture Library and they weren't very good (very stiff figurework and unimaginative angles).

I've boldfaced the titles Josh Kirby actually admits to. In Cloud Chamber I said there were nine: Steve's list omits Cee-Tee Man by Dan Morgan, as he says, and stops before Josh's further 1960 paintings for The Twenty-Second Century by John Christopher and Ossian's Ride by Fred Hoyle. Further unacknowledged covers will be added below as I find them. – Dave Langford