The Stephen King Book Covers That Might Have Been
One of my favorite jobs at Cemetery Dance Publications is working on book production: 30 or so signed Limited Edition hardcovers per year.
When I was in high school and college, I had no idea I would someday be working on books by my literary heroes such as Stephen King (7 times), Peter Straub (4 times), William Peter Blatty (3 times), Frank Darabont, Mick Garris, Joe R. Lansdale, Norman Partridge, Ed Gorman, Richard Laymon, Graham Masterton, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, Al Sarrantonio, John Skipp, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Simon Clark, Norman Prentiss, and many others.
We published two Stephen King books last year: the World’s First Edition of Blockade Billy and the Deluxe Limited Edition of Full Dark, No Stars. Most collectors never get to see “behind the scenes” of the creation of a Limited Edition book, so I thought it would be fun to discuss how the cover artwork and design for Full Dark, No Stars came to be.
If you’ve read Full Dark, No Stars, you know this is a book with a really dark heart, which made deciding on a cover image and designing that cover a serious challenge. Plus, we were publishing three editions of the book (Slipcased Gift Edition, Signed Limited Edition, Signed Lettered Edition), so this one book would actually have three different dust jackets.
First, we needed an artist. After much discussion, and once we rejected the idea of going with an AC/DC “Back in Black” style dust jacket, we hired Tomislav Tikulin to paint the cover. We had been impressed with his work on other projects and we felt he would bring a fresh perspective to this particular Limited Edition. We thought we wanted a wrap-around cover (artwork on the front and back) with the back cover somehow “showing the inner darkness” of the character on the front, but those were the only instructions we gave him so he wouldn’t be limited by our ideas.
Tomislav spent weeks on the painting, showing us each stage and discussing ideas and looking for feedback and suggestions to nail the tone, and he has very graciously allowed me to reprint those different drafts on this page so you can get a better feel for the process of how the artwork was painted.
Below is the very first, very rough pass Tomislav sent us to get the ball rolling. This image was never meant to be anywhere near “final,” as you can tell by the fuzzy, unfinished nature of the artwork. This was just a starting point to get the conversation and feedback process going:
We liked the direction Tomislav was headed in and we suggested the back image literally become a mirror of the front image, so he rotated the scene and changed it from day to night:
Tomislav liked this approach and started adding little details like the cat:
Next he started to clarify some of the details, like the trim work across the top of the store, the doorway, and the word “antiques” engraved at the bottom:
Next came some color correction and another round of creating more definition and adding additional details:
Next Tomislav darkened parts of the back image a little more (including that cat!) and he also added splotches of blood to the man’s shirt on the back cover:
The blood seemed too subtle, so Tomislav added more during the next pass and also continued his work on the man’s face and other small details to add depth to the artwork:
At this point, we could have called it a day because we were very happy with how the art had come together, but everyone felt like the reflection was missing something. Something that would show that the entire “world” on the back cover was the “dark mirror” of the bright, sunny “world” on the front. (Also, could there be even more blood? Or would that be going too far?)
It took a lot of work, but Tomislav hit a home run with this cover… and yet there was still a lot more work to do because we needed three different dust jacket designs, one for each edition.
That’s where our long-time book cover designer, Gail Cross, came into the mix. Gail is a great designer and it took several weeks and NINE different rounds of options to get the cover designs just right.
A big part of the problem was that comma in the title. Who knew something as simple as a comma could cause so many design headaches! Often we had a design we liked but the comma threw off the balance or just looked really weird.
Below are all nine rounds of options from the cover design process, reprinted with Gail’s permission, along with a few notes to give you an idea of what we were thinking during each stage.
The first thing you might notice: Gail “pulled” the man’s reflection from the back cover to use on the front, which we thought was a brilliant approach since most of the time you’ll only see the front cover and it quickly conveys the theme!
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round One
See what I mean by that comma in the image above? It’s just hanging there in the middle, demanding all of the attention!
And in the image above Gail tried something different to simply eliminate the comma all-together…
The above title design felt very “Twilight Zone” to us!
And so did this one, although in a totally different way because of the colors. Even though we liked that idea, it seemed too jovial for the tone of the book.
After this first round, we determined one thing for certain: we wanted to use the “good world” on the front cover for the Gift Edition.
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Two
The above option was very popular around the office…
Look how big that comma is, but King’s name is really cool…
We liked this option, but we felt the mirror shouldn’t be obstructed or the artwork would lose the intended effect…
Some of us loved the “Full Dark” on the above option, but we couldn’t decide on how to make the “No Stars” work.
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Three
Notice how this option is sticking around…
The rest of these options are obviously based closely on the other one we liked in the previous round:
Same author name, different placement and color for the title…
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Four
For this round, we told Gail we liked King’s name on the options in the previous round, so she focused on the title to try to discover the right balance. She came back with this option:
We liked where this cover was headed, but the title just didn’t “pop” enough for us, although we did like the placement. The words didn’t block anything vital in the artwork, which was very important. So Gail continued work in Round Five by focusing on the title some more:
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Five
Something still wasn’t clicking for us, at least not right away, so Gail — being the trooper that she is — kept on tweaking and trying different things in Round Six.
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Six
And Round Seven…
Gift Edition Cover Design: Round Seven
Gift Edition Cover Design: FINAL DECISION
And in the end, we went with:
We liked the colors, we liked the balance, and we liked the overall feel of the design with this artwork. It was exactly what the book needed!
Next we needed to approve covers for the Limited Edition and the Lettered Edition. These came together quickly because we had spent so much time on the Gift Edition that we had a good feel for what we wanted for the other editions.
Limited Edition Cover Design:
The first thing we did for the Limited Edition DJ was revisit an option from the Gift Edition and ask to see a few tweaks:
We went with the second option. This was an easy choice for us because we knew we wanted to use the “dark world” for the Limited Edition cover and we had loved that design the first time we saw it during the Gift Edition design process.
Lettered Edition Cover Design:
For the Lettered Edition, we had known from the beginning that we really wanted the focus to be on the artwork alone so there was going to be no title or author design on the front. That just left the spine to consider. Note that the front cover is “back” to the unaltered version of the painting with the “correct” reflection:
We went with the first option and were very pleased with the results.
Each Edition’s Final Dust Jacket Design:
Slipcased Gift Edition
Signed & Traycased Limited Edition
Signed & Traycased Deluxe Lettered Edition
If you’d like to see some photos of the actual books, please visit the Full Dark, No Stars gallery on the Cemetery Dance website:
I hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the scenes at how one of Cemetery Dance’s most popular covers of 2010 went from a vague idea to a finished image. If you have any questions about this page, please feel free to email me and I’ll update or expand the information provided.
Artwork copyright Tomislav Tikulin and cannot be reproduced without permission. Cover designs copyright Gail Cross/Desert Isle Design and cannot be reproduced without permission.