How good a fanartist is Tim Kirk? So good that in the 1970s he won five Hugos during the greatest era in the history of fan art, running against a field including George Barr, Alicia Austin, Steven Fabian, Bill Rotsler, Grant Canfield, Steve Stiles, ATom and others.
Tim drew the signature Geis-and-Alter-Ego logo that ran above the editorials in Science Fiction Review, the dominant fanzine of the late 60s/early 70s. He did lots of terrific fanzine covers. With paint and canvas he brought vividly to life all kinds of rumpled gnomes and alien creatures, including “Mugg from Thugg.”
Tim made a huge splash at the 1972 Westercon art show with a display of 26 Tolkien-themed paintings he’d done for his thesis project while earning a Master’s degree in Illustration from California State University, Long Beach. Thirteen of the paintings were selected for publication by Ballantine Books as the 1975 Tolkien Calendar.
Tim’s stunning entries in other art shows included vast pen-and-ink drawings that were busier than any scene by Hieronymous Bosch and infinitely more entertaining. Whenever they could, the Nivens would top all bidders at auction and take these drawings home to make them centerpieces on the living room walls. This was lucky for visitors to the Nivens’ after-LASFS poker games, like me. Once I gambled away my $5 limit I had plenty of time to study in detail all the lore Tim stuffed in every corner of Merlin’s workshop and other pictures til my ride was ready to leave.
Fandom still had a bit of an inferiority complex in those days about the mainstream’s disrespect of anyone with an interest in sf and fantasy, so when Hallmark Cards hired Tim some of us felt a little bit vindicated to see a talented artist rise from our midst and apply his abilities to products everyone in America used. Tim was with Hallmark from 1973 to 1980, doing progressively more professional art and, as seemed logical at the time, fading out of the fanzine scene altogether.
As it happened, Tim soon leaped from one pinnacle of success to another. From 1980 to 2001 he was employed as a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, and was instrumental in the conception and realization of several major theme park projects, including the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, and Tokyo DisneySea, which debuted in September 2001. In 2002 he, along with his brother and sister-in-law (also Disney veterans) founded Kirk Design Incorporated, specializing in museum, restaurant, retail and theme park work.
Their firm was responsible for the conceptual design of Seattle’s new Science Fiction Museum, exhibiting some of Paul Allen’s vast collection, which opened in 2004. Tim also serves on the Science Fiction Museum Advisory Board.
Tim’s work on SFM led to renewed visibility in fannish circles. He was at the 2003 Westercon during Greg Bear’s SFM presentation making illustrated notes on an easel. In 2004, he contributed a highly interesting autobiographical essay to Guy Lillian’s Challenger, accompanied by a beautiful portfolio of his classic pen-and-ink drawings.
Since then Tim has been guest of honor at ConDor XIV (2007), the local San Diego convention, where Jerry Shaw photographed him at the masquerade showing off the souvenir tile they gave him.
It’s a great thing when a fannish giant proves you can come home again!