EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Paul Suntup Takes Misery and Makes A Miracle

You may have heard of Suntup Editions. You may have even heard of its founder and publisher, Paul Suntup. In March of last year, Suntup Editions made its debut with The Eyes of the Dragon Art Portfolio, featuring all of the illustrations from the first Viking edition signed by artist David Palladini. Soon after, Suntup launched The Covers Collection — an ongoing series of museum-quality limited edition prints featuring iconic cover art from the novels by Stephen King, signed by the original artists. But nothing could prepare King’s #1 fans for what Suntup would do next. Yesterday, Suntup Editions announced it will publish the world’s first limited edition of Misery, which will be released with not only the blessing but bearing the signature of Stephen King himself.

Suntup Editions limited edition of Misery by Stephen King. Lettered (left), Numbered (center) and Artist (right) edition.

Yes, you may have heard of all that, but what you have likely not heard is Paul Suntup’s story, how he was able to emerge from a particularly dark period in his life, and transform himself into the success story that he is today. In less than a year’s time, Suntup has managed three major additions to the Stephen King collecting kingdom, but it wasn’t always magic and dragons. The road to Misery was a long and arduous one, fueled only by a passion for book collecting, a love of Stephen King, and the spirit of his 20 year old self who held but a single secret power. Belief in himself.

This is Paul’s story.


JS: When did you read Stephen King’s Misery for the first time, and what kind of effect did it have on you?

PS: That’s a good question. I first read Misery when it was released in 1987. I do remember that I was really surprised to see a new book from the same author I had just discovered earlier that year. I started reading it, and was immediately struck by how different it was to The Eyes of the Dragon, which was my first exposure to Stephen King. I couldn’t put it down. It grabbed me from the first page.

JS: When did you know that you wanted to make Misery into a limited edition for Suntup Editions?

PS: I have wanted to publish a Stephen King limited book for a long time, but it was something I did not give much thought to because it seemed impossible to me. But it was around the time when I was planning for a future custom bound edition of the book that I began to take it more seriously. I enjoy the rebinding thing, but I am limited in what I can do with them. Sure, I have creative control over the cover design, how it’s bound, what bonus material I can add, but some of the most important elements of a book — the paper, the typographic design, the printing process — I had absolutely no control over because I was rebinding a book that was published by a different company.

At first, it was a pipe dream. I ran a poll with a small group of collectors to see which book they would like most as a limited, and even then, it was sort of just an experiment. When Misery came out on top, it gave me a shove in the right direction.

The Lettered edition of Misery, limited to 26 copies, signed by Stephen King and Rick Berry, features a cover in which the title is made using six original Royal glass typewriter keys inset into the cover.

JS: Wanting to create a limited edition SIGNED by Stephen King and making it happen are two very different things. What made you believe you could do this?

Wow. What gave me the belief that I could? (pause) That’s a long story, man.

JS: Well, start at the beginning.  

PS: (long pause) I was inert for so long. Sort of inactive, I guess you could say. I was existing under this dark cloud that seemed to have found its way into my life.

When I was 20, back in South Africa, I started a mail order business, and then opened a comic book store. I did some big things back then. I had my whole life ahead of me. I was young, clear-headed, ambitious, I had no fears, I had a vision for what I wanted to do, and I did it without much thought. I didn’t yet have that voice in my head that comes with age. The one that tells you, “You can’t do it.”

JS: Oh, I think most of us know that voice quite well!

PS: Right. Well after I left and moved to California, a series of things happened over a number of years that brought me down mentally, and I seem to have remained in that state on and off for over two decades. I had a career and a job, but none of that was inspired.

The two years leading up to the decision to launch Suntup Editions were spent in complete solitude. When someone would call me up and ask what I’m doing, I’d say “I’m sitting alone in the dark.” And it was true, mostly because of some health issues I was having which gave me migraines almost every day, and I was going through bouts of depression. Rick Berry refers to this as my “dark night of the soul.”

JS: How did you get out of that dark place?

PS: When you’re in that sort of seclusion, you have no choice but to look down inside of yourself, at how you see yourself, and at what you might be capable of. In the silence of those many months, maybe I found a sliver of the 20 year old who did all those great things back in the day.

At some point, I turned a corner. I worked very hard on myself to push through it all, both physically and emotionally. My health improved. I constructed a series of affirmations that I would repeat every day, one of which was, “I let go of the past and I am free.” And then a turning point came on April 14th of last year. It’s funny, pivotal moments for me seem to happen while sitting in my car. I was parked outside the company where I buy the paper for The Covers Collection prints. I experienced a moment of clarity, and I made the decision right there that I would do this. It was like the wiring in my brain got repaired and I was activated again.

Anyway, to answer your question what made me believe I could do this? I think it was just a matter of finding myself again. Of emerging from that dark night and remembering what I had done before. Realizing that contrary to what I had been telling myself for some time, I was in fact the guy who could pull this off. Believing in myself. Finding the confidence again. The courage. And throughout this entire process, I have operated out of the essence of my 20 year old self.

The Lettered edition of Misery is housed in a handcrafted walnut wood box designed to resemble an original Royal Model 10 typewriter packing crate, with a black suede-lined book bed interior.

JS: Wow, what an amazing story. You took your own ‘misery’ really, and turned it into a miracle.

PS: (laughs) Yes. Yes, I like that. … Here’s to misery.

JS: “To misery!” … How did you manage to be put in contact with King?

PS: Throughout the whole process, I had been speaking with Marsha, his personal assistant. At some point, the universe conspired to put me in touch with Chuck, King’s literary agent. They were both immensely helpful and receptive to me, and they have my eternal gratitude. Through them, my proposal was passed onto Steve.

JS: What was King’s initial reaction to the proposal? Was it an immediate yes?

PS: His first response was a no, and he gave his reasons, which I could completely understand. When I read the email, the experience was an entirely physical one. I felt a ripple go through my body, and I felt hot. I had put so much into this. I had not only created a 32-page prospectus, but I also made a prototype of what the book would look like. I mean, I put all of myself, my money, and my time into this. I had traveled to New York, to Bangor, I was nothing short of ‘all in.’ And as soon as I re-centered myself, I somehow knew that it was not his final answer. In my heart, from the moment I made the decision to pursue this, I knew it would happen. I can’t say why or how, really. I just knew.

So anyway, suffice to say, we brought it back around and Steve’s second answer was yes.

Artist Rick Berry’s rendering of Annie Wilkes for Suntup Editions limited of Misery.

JS: A lot of King fans were excited to see Rick Berry is doing the artwork for this limited edition of Misery. Berry’s previous work includes King’s Black House limited from Donald M. Grant. What made you think he would be perfect for this project?

PS: Man, you have all the good questions don’t you. I’m going to keep this on a physical plane, otherwise I could come across sounding more ‘kooky’ than I probably already am, but I knew Rick was the man immediately. I adore his style of art. And I felt that the world needed to see the Rick Berry version of Annie Wilkes. And did he nail it! I was knocked out when I saw what he created. I get chills every time I look in Annie’s eyes. And Misery Chastain, well I love her.

JS: You’re a hardcore book collector yourself, I’ve heard. What companies do you strive to model Suntup Editions after, if any?

PS: I don’t know that I want to model Suntup after other presses necessarily, but for sure I am greatly inspired by other presses who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and who do incredible work. I’m just following in the footsteps of the great book people who blazed the trail before I ever thought of becoming a publisher. I was inspired by many people in the fine press world. Without getting into the early innovators and visionaries, I have been more recently inspired by people like David Pascoe, Michael Alpert, Herb Yellin, Jerad Walters, Joe Stefko, Paul Miller, people like that.

JS: What are some of your most prized possessions as a book collector?

PS: My original copy of The Eyes of the Dragon that I picked up back in 1987 when I discovered King. My matching Dark Tower set. Some early signed proofs. I also have some letterpress books that I love. There’s one in particular, a collection of poems from one of my favorite poets, James Tate. When I saw that book, I knew I wanted to make books like that. Beautiful paper, letterpress printed.

The Numbered edition of Misery (left), limited to 200 copies, is signed by Stephen King and Rick Berry, featuring a full Japanese cloth, smyth-sewn binding with a blind stamped front cover, and a leather spine label stamped in 22K gold leaf. The slipcased Artist edition (right), is signed by Rick Berry, and includes a dust jacket with wrap-around artwork.

JS: Well you’ve had a banner first year for your company, Paul, and now you’re wrapping that year up with a signed limited edition of Stephen King’s Misery. I can’t help but wonder, what can we expect from Suntup in its second year?

PS: I am working on some books right now, on pushing them through for approval. I have a proposal being worked up which I am really excited about. If the author agrees, I will be a very happy camper. So yeah, let’s see what the year brings. I can tell you that there is some exciting news coming for the Covers prints, too. I was able to unearth two artists who I never would have thought I could find, and between them we’ll have at least 10 incredible new prints.

There’s this Faulkner quote about dreams. Do you know the one I’m talking about? “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

I follow that philosophy now. I don’t care how big it seems, or how unattainable.

If it’s something that I want to publish, I will go after it.

Pre-orders for Suntup Editions limited edition of Misery will be available February 12th at 11 am ET at Suntup.press

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