[This article is from The Book Blog contributor Timothy Booksker with photos from Yegor Malinovskii.]
Before we get into the physical book, I want to note that this is an interesting release for several reasons: first, Falling Angel was previously done by Centipede Press in 2006 (actually under the Millipede Press imprint). It was a nice book, with the same design as the other Circle Series books. And it had a Hjortsberg signature! So while it’s a bit unusual for the same publisher to give it another go, this is a good candidate for a redesign that was not so constrained by the aesthetics of the Circle Series books.
But what pushes it from a “good” candidate to a “great” candidate is the second interesting part of this release (for Centipede Press at least): Falling Angel is now paired with Angel’s Inferno – the first worldwide release of the sequel. The vast majority of the Centipede Press catalog consists of previously published works getting some new love, some new exposure, and a nice small press treatment. This is one of only a bare handful of times that Centipede Press has published the true first edition of a book (for those waiting to read it who missed out on this one, or who would like a reading copy, a paperback version is slated for release in October by No Exit Press in the UK).
Now – onto the books! As is my preference, we’ll start on the outside and work our way in.
First: the slipcase. This is a good one! It’s reminiscent of the relatively recent Fafhrd slipcase, as well as the deluxe Elric cases, and continues the trend of Centipede really stepping up the slipcase game. I appreciate the extra effort that goes into a nice slipcase; too often the book gets all the attention and the slipcase can seem like a bit of an afterthought – for protection only. But really, they are a part of the whole package and it’s really nice to see additional design elements incorporated into them. In this case the slipcase is of “standard” construction for Centipede, black cloth with highlights of a different color (red, here) on the top and bottom.
Where the new elements come in is the spine of the slipcase: gold stamping of the author, titles, and publisher, all in the really neat font that was chosen for the dustjackets and interiors, as well as some small inset color art, of the motif present in all the great issues of this book (first edition, first Centipede Press edition, second Centipede Press edition). This is the first introduction of the new art – it’s a variation on the original first edition jacket art.
Onto: the dust jacket. The jacket art for the original is reproduced in Falling Angel, a common extra in many Centipede Press books. But it takes special significance here! The original artist, Stanislaw Zagorski, gave us an iconic image of an angel and devil squaring off above the city. Here, the new artist, Ricardo Martinez, has taken that image and re-imagined it – this time with a little more detail in the devil, and an outsized match between him and the protagonist (less directly an angel). And the colours! A wonderful warm pastel palette with lots of shading.
I think Jerad realized that he had something special with this art, because he made an unusual but very welcome choice with the dust jackets: they are double sided, and the interiors are the same art but without any darkening or text on the spines. If dust jackets without text are your bag, and for this incredible art I think it will be for a number of people, you can reverse the dust jackets and have a text-free presentation.
Next: the boards. This can slip by some folks, but Centipede always, always decorates the boards, even for books with dust jackets (which is almost all of them these days). In this case the spines are stamped in red foil – the red/black theme that started with the slipcase really catches up here and in the interior of the book. Again – love this font! Usually the fonts are noted in a rear colophon, but that’s been replaced here by something else related to the signature sheets, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The board decorations here are blind stamps. Incredible blind stamps. These are worth taking out and looking at in the light. The stamps here are incredibly detailed representations of the cover art. Look at the cross-hatching on the devil’s knees and on his wings! These are among the most detailed blind stamps I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable how many small details were put on this plate and how well most of them transferred to the book. This is a highlight not just for Centipede Press but for all board stamping. And I don’t want to forget the cloth! A nice black cloth, but shot through very lightly with a bit of yellow/orange. Pretty subtle, but when you take off the dust jacket to look at the back of the dust jacket and the wonderful stamping, hold the book in the right light and you’ll see these threads as well.
One more stop before we open the book: the top edge. There’s a ribbon marker – standard fare for Centipede Press – this one’s red, of course. And a topstain. Black! I love the choice to do a black topstain with a red ribbon instead of the other way around. And lastly – solid black headbands. Again, these could have been red and black or some other combination, but I like the choice to go solid black. Combined with the topstain it’s a wonderfully dark look 🙂
Onward, to the endpapers! The endpapers are still another take on the angel/devil in the city motif – printed in black on red papers. I can usually take or leave printed endpapers. Give me a nice solid colour, or, even better, give me something handmade. But for printed endpapers, these are right on point with the rest of the design, and a great transition from the exterior to the interior.
To the interior! I don’t want to spoil the whole thing so I’ll hit some highlights and if you have these on your shelf I encourage you to open them up and check it out. Also, as usual, I’m not really going to get into the book itself or the extras, and keep this at a higher level, mostly considering just the design. Both of these books have nice colour two-page spreads for the title page by the same artist as the dust jacket, continuing the motif.
What I really like about this particular set is the inclusion of some semi-creepy black and white figures, first, on the copyright page.
Then, when we get to the beginning of the book, we have a neat treat: on the verso side, the signatures of the demons, reproduced later in slightly higher fidelity on the limitation page. In both books, the chapter heading for Chapter 1 is delightfully macabre – ugly figures that I very much love. For Falling Angel, an ugly devil sits to the left of the text block (in Angel’s Inferno it’s an equally ugly bug). He pushes into the text, which is nicely shaped around his body and his foot-claws.
And we still get a nice big red drop cap to start the first word (the interior is printed in two colours, red and black, so there are some nice flourishes in red throughout that bring back those colours from the exterior). And the first line is in the same, or a very similar font, to the slipcase, dust jacket, and titles. Again, a very neat font! But smart that it only takes up one line. We get a hint of it but we don’t have to sacrifice readability, which is always a major design point in Centipede Press books. The spacing: margins & kerning, and the font: size & type, are all chosen with an eye toward readability, and like the other books, are a success. This is eminently readable type, for those who enjoy (carefully) reading their treasured S/L books!
I didn’t write about the interior of the book but there are lots of very good extras (as to be expected with Centipede) and Yegor took some very nice pictures of them so here are some interior pictures:
Lastly, both in the book and in the essay, we get to the limitation page. All printed, of course, even the designation. On this set we have facsimile signatures from Hjortsberg in both volumes, as well as signatures from the artists and other contributors. In what I think is a splendid idea, and well executed, for these books we get some signatures from the main characters! In Falling Angel we have wonderful character- and pictographic signatures from the 7 lesser demons, while in Angel’s Inferno we get Louis Cyphre, Harry Angel, Johnny Favorite, and the New Satan himself, Dominus Satanus. I don’t think I’ve seen this before! But I love it. They’re neat inclusions in and of themselves and in no way detract from the other signatures or the rest of the limitation page. And they’re pretty! Nice calligraphy, and great pictographs with some of the demons. A nice treat and a fitting end to an exceptionally designed and well-executed book!
I’m going to add a small note to the end here, and it may not hold up for long because it has to do with the secondary market, which will surely change. The original price of these books was $225, which was an absolute steal for a double set of books at this level of production, one of which is a true first edition, and the very nice slipcase. Not surprisingly, it sold out very quickly, despite the extra limitation (500 copies as opposed to the more standard 200-300). There have been lots of copies available on the secondary market, and while they are certainly marked up from the list price, up to 2x or more, this is a magnificent set of books that I believe would have still sold out had the original list been closer to $450 or $500. I’m not saying run out and buy these, or make an investment or anything, but rather that if you missed the original sale, and you end up buying these on the secondary market, you are still going to experience a wonderful value for your $400-500 dollars.
And that’s all, folks!