Cemetery Dance Talks With IDW’s Jeff Conner about Stephen King, Clive Barker, and the future of horror Limited Editions

For the past three years Jeff Conner has been the editor and lead designer for IDW Publishing’s “alt-lit” prose program. Prior to a stint working in the entertainment industry—setting up Top Dollar Comics and editing a series of original Crow novels for producer Edward R. Pressman, performing similar activities for Conan Properties—Mr. Conner ran Scream/Press, a micro-publisher specializing in short story collections and novel reprints.

He won a World Fantasy Award for his efforts there, but his biggest reward was from working with writers like Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Karl Edward Wagner, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, and John Shirley; and artists like JK Potter, Jeff Jones, and Harry O. Morris.

Notable Conner-produced releases from IDW Publishing include the “blended novel” V-Wars, Z-Boyz in the Robot Graveyard (a new Zombies vs. Robots novella by John Shirley), Classics Mutilated (a subversive mash-up collection), and In the Shadow of Dracula (an annotated collection of key Victorian-era vampire fiction). All of IDW’s short story collections feature new illustrations from a variety artists.

The trade paper version of THIS MEANS WAR!, the Zombie vs Robots collection, is notable for its full-color illustrations, pages tints, and other design details. How is the limited edition different?

You mean do we have more in the tank, book-wise? Well as you say, the mass market version is a trade paperback, so the slick hardcover binding and snazzy slipcase are noticeable right off. We went with printed boards so a dustjacket just seemed redundant, especially for a slipcased book. Dustjackets were originally just plain paper wrappers so that the books wouldn’t get scuffed during shipping. So what was once just disposable packing material has over time become a sales device, which is fine, but they can be awfully fragile. That said, the V-WARS signed limited will have a dustjacket, printed boards, and a slipcase as well, so you can see that I’m flexible on these points.

Sure, but back to the differences…

Well, aside from what I’ve already mentioned, there’s a red ribbon to hold your place, and unique printed endpapers featuring alternate cover art from the fabulous Fabio Listrani. This double-page spread has never been released to the public, so the limited edition will mark its debut. I should also mention that there’s an unsigned, unslipcased version as well. It doesn’t have the ribbon, and it has a lot of text on the back, the same as the with the trade paper version. The limited has limited text on the back so you can enjoy the cover image more fully.

I think the biggest thing is the tip-in sheet with thirteen hard-to-find signatures. We have all eleven writers, namely: Nick Kaufmann, Norman Prentiss, Nancy Collins, Sean Taylor, Jim Moore, Lincoln Crisler, Joe McKinney, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jesse Bullington, Brea Grant, and Rachel Swirsky. That’s the order they signed. Plus ZVR co-creator Chris Ryall, and myself as your humble editor and book designer. (It’s the first sheet I’ve signed, for those keeping track at home.)

I got into publishing as a fan, a way to work with my favorite writers at the time, people like Dennis Etchison and Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson, and later Clive Barker and Stephen King. For me, books are repositories of magic, and having a creator’s signature just adds so much to that. (I know that sounds like hippie nonsense but I hey, I used to live in Santa Cruz, so I’m entitled.)

As for THIS MEANS WAR, to have thirteen signatures on the same sheet, and all signed with same pen I might add, that’s pretty freakin’ cool. Tracking down those folks on your own would be a real chore, so if you figure a $5.00 service fee per signature that’s a $65.00 value right there, and the book’s only priced at $60.00. So it’s practically free, when you think about it properly! (Also, never buy a book purely as an investment, it lowers the value. True fact.)

You mentioned Clive Barker and Stephen King…

Back when I was active with Scream/Press we did limited editions with both of them. Ours was the first hardcover edition of Books of Blood I-III issued in the States. We sourced the text from the UK paperbacks, then did the copy editing in-house, consultation Clive directly about a few things. So technically our text is a variant of the mainstream text out of New York. JK Potter and Harry O. Morris illustrated that book. They’d also worked together on the Scream/Press edition of King’s Skeleton Crew. Potter did most of my early books, and I used Morris on some of the later ones, like John Shirley’s Heatseeker and Books of Blood IV-VI.

Regarding Skeleton Crew specifically, once Mr. King granted Scream the limited edition rights (for which I am eternally grateful), I knew it afforded me the opportunity to really do something special, like they used to do in the 1920s which over-sized illustrated editions of classics, with tipped-in color plates, fancy binding, and special paper stock. As Scream/Press was known primarily for publishing short stories, having a King story collection fit right in with our esthetic, and I quickly got JK Potter signed up to do the art.

Potter had recently turned me on to the art of Harry Clarke, a book illustrator and stained glass artist active in the Teens and Twenties. (Potter even had some Clarke originals.) At a World Fantasy Con in Montreal I had picked up a copy of the 1923 expanded edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which has been called the “most common rare book ever published” due to both its great success at the time (the first edition came out in 1919, the 1923 version featured added color plates), and its current availability as “value priced” facsimile edition from Barnes & Noble.

See more photos of this beautiful edition by clicking on the image.

Anyway, I used that book as inspiration for the design of Skeleton Crew, meaning that the typography was in that classic style of the day, which favored large running heads with rules, bracketed pagination, and a well-defined text block that never had any unused space. Naturally Potter’s illustrations were nothing like Clarke’s, but the point wasn’t to imitate him or his Poe book.

One thing we did do is have a small illustration for each story title, and then a spot illustration at the end of each story to fill out the text block space. The title treatments were often a collaboration between Potter and Morris, and I thought they turned out great.

As for the text, I was able to produce the type directly from King’s own word processor discs (as we called them back then). At the time Mr. King didn’t seem to be using a spell checker all that much; I think I could identify one of his manuscripts just from the distinctive misspellings. (Is there anyone who can spell “fluorescent” outside of a spelling bee? And as Andrew Jackson noted, “It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.”) The point is, our source text hadn’t been touched by King’s regular publisher, making it “unique” in that small respect, so comma counters, take note.

But the main thing I wanted to do with Skeleton Crew was have expanded content. This was achieved by having an additional story, “The Revelations of ’Becka Paulson,” which had recently appeared in Rolling Stone. Thus, I was able to point with pride to the fact that for once a King limited edition had materially different content, not just cosmetic alterations (and his hard-to-get signature, of course). A high point during production was sitting down with King at a small literary con in Florida (we were literally sitting on the floor in a hotel corridor) and showing him all of Potter’s original art. That was fun.

IDW has started a division to create this sort of high-end edition for the comics market, really small editions featuring cool stuff, like original sketches and custom tray cases. Whether we get into that sort of thing on the prose side remains to be seen, but my personal obsession with spot illustrations and text illumination continues to this day, as seen in THIS MEANS WAR. And unlike Skeleton Crew, THIS MEANS WAR is in full-color throughout, every damn page! Such a luxury!

That was clever, bringing it back to This Means War like that.

Hey, why live in the past? We’ll all be spending most of our time there eventually. What I hope I’ve accomplished, both then and now, is to make the special editions that are the best possible version of the book and a solid value as well. As for IDW’s wicked awesome Zombies vs. Robots books, we have over 250,000 words of material, with at least five books in the pipeline. John Shirley’s new novella, Z-BOYZ IN THE ROBOT GRAVEYARD, is at the printers right now; that’s debuting as a signed hardcover, full-color throughout with art by Dan Bradford. And WOMEN ON WAR, the ZVR collection featuring all of our openly-female writers, is coming out in November. That’s a really good one. So collect them all! You know you need them.

Thanks, Jeff! We can’t wait to see what else you have up your sleeve!

9 thoughts on “Cemetery Dance Talks With IDW’s Jeff Conner about Stephen King, Clive Barker, and the future of horror Limited Editions”

  1. Great piece, Brian! Wonderful to get Jeff’s thoughts on Skeleton Crew- certainly one of the top King limiteds ever produced. I’m glad he’s still following his (obvious) passion- I still miss Scream Press, but am already all in on his IDW produced stuff, and look forward to lots more.

  2. This is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2012. Let me say that I’ve never been disappointed with the product quality I’ve received from CD or it’s partners. I agree with Conner about buying for investment purposes. I wouldn’t sell any of these beautiful books, anyway!

    1. I was really pleased when the first copies of This Means War arrived — it’s a great looking book and a tremendous value, too! (You don’t see many slipcased Limited Editions signed by that many contributors priced at $60 these days.)

  3. I got to hold THIS MEANS WAR! at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto in November, and it was gorgeous in its detail, wild in its battle-wonder. May well be the top book of monsters, mechanics, & mayhem I’ve yet to discover in 2012. Look at it once, and you’ll want to own it.

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