Paul Kidby is a self-taught British illustrator with an extensive yet hardly credited video game art catalog, encompassing both box art and gaming magazine covers. Beyond video games, he is best known for his long-running collaboration on Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
Beginning in 1987, Paul worked extensively as a freelance illustrator with Words & Pictures Limited, a South London design studio with Mastertronic as a client. Over a period of five years, Paul illustrated numerous game box packages, primarily for Mastertronic as well as its sub-label Arcadia Systems and Mastertronic acquisition Melbourne House. Words & Pictures would retain Mastertronic as a client through its merger with, and eventual buy-out by, Virgin Games, through which Paul would later illustrate high-profile titles such as Chuck Rock and Prince of Persia.
Though the art of Mastertronic is more commonly associated with John Smyth and Mark J. Brady, based on release dates, Paul appears to have taken over for Mark following a move that took Mark to Scotland and away from the London-centered UK gaming market. Fittingly, Paul’s more detailed renderings for Mastertronic would continue to balance John’s cartoonist talents, just as Mark had.
Though Paul’s Mastertronic work is largely uncredited, OVGA has worked directly with Paul and his wife Vanessa to build out more of Paul’s early box art catalog. So far, OVGA has identified more than a dozen Paul Kidby-illustrated Mastertronic game boxes, though the total list is likely greater still and is expected to expand with additional research. Unfortunately, Paul and Vanessa revealed in 2022 communications that most of Paul’s work from that period was thrown out about 20 years prior during a house move, with Paul only keeping his best pieces among those that had been returned. Beyond box art for Mastertronic, Paul illustrated one of the company’s logos, a silver "M" with a red triangle atop the letter; this logo would appear on some of Paul’s earliest boxes, including Pulsoids (1987).
Of note, Paul was responsible for the box art to Xenon, the first game developed by famed British developer The Bitmap Brothers. The art is clean in execution and is well regarded as being faithful to the game, uncommon for the era. Similarly high-visibility box art included Virgin Games releases of Prince of Persia, for which Paul did three separate illustrations. Paul illustrated not only the main box art image used for the global NES and Game Boy releases of the game, but he also created the back box art, which was additionally used as the art on the NES cartridge label. With a presumably large marketing budget, the game also received dedicated advertising art, also by Paul Kidby.
Paul frequently painted in intense and vibrant hues. Even absent a signature, his paint and color selections became their own consistent identifiers across his box art. Paul usually employed Winsor & Newton acrylic paints as well as some Liquitex heavy body acrylic, with the occasional piece in Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd fast drying oils. Though Paul did make use of the airbrush, his box art paintings relied strongly on hand-painted brush work, resulting in a heavily acrylic look. Box art illustrations that most embody this aesthetic include Paul’s later works for Psygnosis—Second Samurai and Benefactor—Heimdall for Virgin Games, and among his earlier works, StarFarce.
Between 1991 and 1995, Future Publishing employed Kidby where he helped design and paint an absolutely staggering number of magazine covers across the publisher’s brands: Your Sinclair, PC Gamer, GamesMaster, Total Nintendo, Commodore Format, Sega Power, and Amiga Power. These covers would give Kidby the opportunity to paint many of gaming’s most popular and enduring franchises, including Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Earthworm Jim.
Additionally, Paul Kidby may have done illustrations for Electronic Arts through Words & Pictures; however, OVGA has not yet definitively identified those works. Similarly, Paul and Vanessa mentioned 1995 illustrations for PlayStation that OVGA has also not yet figured out.
Though OVGA is most excited by Paul’s gaming footprint, he is better known for being the “artist of choice” for the award-winning writer Sir Terry Pratchett, who passed away in 2015. Paul started working with Terry in 1993 and has designed the “Discworld” book jackets since 2002 following the death of artist Josh Kirby. He has illustrated many Discworld publications including The Art of Discworld, best-selling The Last Hero, and the 2017 publication Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Imaginarium. In 2019 he illustrated ‘Good Omens’ written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
Fun fact: before becoming a commercial artist, Paul did a stint as a dental technician making false teeth after leaving school at 17, a tidbit Paul prouds leads off with for the bio on his website.
OVGA has included below Paul Kidby's full known video game box art catalog:
- Dynatron Mission (Mastertronic | ZX Spectrum | 1987)
- Legend of the Amazon Women (Mastertronic | ZX Spectrum | 1987) Mastertronic re-release
- Pulsoids (Mastertronic | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
- Water Polo (Mastertronic | Commodore 64 | 1987)
- Energy Warrior (Mastertronic | Commodore 64 | 1988)
- Majik (Mastertronic | Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
- Mastertronic Megaplay Volume 1 (Mastertronic | Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Commodore 64 | 1988) the same underlying art is used across the various home computer releases; however, the games available for each system appear to vary
- Motorbike Madness (Mastertronic | Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, DOS | 1988)
- Night Racer (Mastertronic | Commodore 64 | 1988)
- Pulse Warrior (Mastertronic | Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
- Raw Recruit (Mastertronic | Commodore 64-US | 1988)
- Rogue (Mastertronic | Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, DOS-EUR, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
- Sidewinder (Arcadia Systems | Amiga, Atari ST, PC Booster | 1988)
- Slam-Dunk (Mastertronic | Commodore 64 | 1988)
- StarFarce (Mastertronic | ZX Spectrum | 1988)
- Vectorball (Mastertronic | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS | 1988)
- Xenon (Melbourne House | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
- Butcher Hill (Gremlin Graphics | Commodore 64 | 1989)
- Demon's Tomb The Awakening (Mastertronic | DOS | 1989)
- Chuck Rock (Virgin Games | Genesis, Master System | 1991)
- Corporation (Virgin Games | Amiga-US, DOS-US | 1991) additionally used as mock-up for Genesis box art (ultimately released as Cyber Cop, without Kidby's art)
- Thunderhawk AH-73M (Virgin Games | Amiga-US, DOS-US | 1991) see note below
- Vengeance of Excalibur (Virgin Games | Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh | 1991)
- Heimdall (Virgin Games | Amiga-US, DOS-US | 1992)
- Prince of Persia (Virgin Games | NES, Game Boy | 1992)
- Dune: Battle for Arrakis (Virgin Games | Genesis-US | 1994) main explosion is recycled from Thunderhawk AH-73M
- Second Samurai (Psygnosis | Amiga | 1994)
- Second Samurai (Psygnosis | Genesis-EUR | 1994) Amiga back box art reused for Mega Drive front box art
- Benefactor (Psygnosis | Amiga, Amiga 32CD | 1994)
- Zeewolf (Binary Asylum | Amiga | 1994) center wolf logo, not title art or background red lines
- Battle Arena Toshinden (Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd. | PlayStation-EUR | 1995)
Paul and Vanessa provided OVGA with an image described as Starmada; this image appears to have been heavily cropped, edited, and flipped for ultimate publication for the game Thunderhawk AH-73M, the art for which is mostly an explosion on a black space background. The Thunderhawk AH-73M box art does additionally feature a golden bird over a silver medallion, which Paul also and separately painted.