We’ve all heard the saying, ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover.’ But let’s be real. It’s the first thing you’re going to see. Artwork for a book jacket is a hugely important and influential factor in a book’s initial success. While a great piece of literary work will likely garner attention over time based on merit alone, a solid eye-catching cover can certainly speed the process along. Similar to an album cover or movie poster, the goal for a book jacket is to convey a specific vibe while hinting at what is inside. The idea is to reel in your audience while simultaneously exuding an air of mystery. This combination of appeal and mystique can often make the difference between making it to the check out counter, or to the sale table.
Throughout the years, Stephen King has written 60 novels, 5 non-fiction books and has sold around 350 million copies. His books have been re-printed time and time again and have been released all over the world in every language. With this never-ending stream of King content, there is always a new book jacket to look forward to. Whether it’s a new interpretation, a new novel or simply a re-issue, King has certainly released some gorgeous covers over the years. And while beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, here are 10 of King’s best book jackets that are as effective, enticing and intriguing as they are beautiful. Read on!
10. THE STAND
Originally released in 1978, this First Edition cover is kind of amazing. On one hand, it gives off fantasy vibes. And yet, if one is familiar with the story of The Stand, the puzzle pieces line up in a simplified way. The darker rat-like character takes on a plague doctor dealer-of-death persona while the lighter, ‘hero’ character confronts this baddie, sword at the ready. This condensed image set on a desolate backdrop gives away just enough enticing information to a potential reader while not even scratching the surface of what is inside. Literally. There’s 823 pages in this bad boy.
The trick of a good book jacket is to entice without spoiling anything. Here on this 1983 First Edition cover, we see this approach firmly at work. Now keep in mind this is before the film. This is before everyone knows that Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury who is as dangerous as she is beautiful. However, there are glimpses at her personality here in the artwork. This cover has chrome, gloss, death in the shape of a hood ornament, and of course that classic Stephen King font. Picking up this book you won’t know exactly the lengths Christine will go to, but it ensures you it’ll be one hell of a ride.
8. THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER
The first true installment in King’s Dark Tower series, this book was released in 1982 and featured cover art by Michael Whelan. While this was the first artwork that Whelan would do for Stephen King, it would not be his last. Whelan also contributed artwork to the last book in the series, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. Here King set a precedent for the subsequent releases in the series by truly utilizing the talents of fantasy artists. Not only did Whelan design the cover art, he also contributed a number of illustrations peppered throughout the novel. His specialization in fantasy and science fiction design truly compliments the story and lets the reader know before they even crack the cover that this book will be a bit different than the King we may be used to. Plus, that font with the bullet line through the word ‘Gunslinger’!? Again, reminiscent of a traditional Western (think of the Dirty Harry covers), but still true to King’s brand and truly wonderful.
One of the smaller King releases, this novella had an initial run of 30,000 copies and clocks in at just 181 pages. Released in 1974, this was the artwork that came on that First Edition run. What’s so great about this book jacket is the way it plays with visuals. The model is gorgeous with her windswept hair, piercing eye, and embroidered satin top. And yet, we only see half of her. Literally, and figuratively. There’s a secretiveness at play here and the way Carrie is situated instantly conveys an air of mystery and intrigue. What else is Carrie hiding? What else is she keeping from us? Plus, take a look at that font and its ornamentation! Looking at it with 2019 eyes, there’s a definite vintage appeal that this cover offers up in spades.
6. THE DARK TOWER II: THE DRAWING OF THE THREE
This book, and this particular book jacket are truly special. When this The Dark Tower III was released in 1987, there was not just one edition available. There were a handful of presentation copies, author copies, trade hardcovers…and this Limited Edition version.
This particular version was limited to 850 copies with only 800 of them available to the public. It came with a letter of authenticity, was numbered and signed by not only Stephen King, but the cover artist Phil Hale. Throughout the book, Hale also contributed a handful of illustrations that accompany the text. His style is very surreal, dark and fantasy like. He was a perfect match for this King series a true asset to the story. Aside from Hale’s killer artwork, this cover is also fascinating as it breaks from King’s traditional style. The placement of the image and text is placed to the extreme right with the text in line with the picture. King’s name is smaller than the title and there is no byline touting King’s other successful works. This graphic novel-esque appearance fits with both the plot and the execution of the physical product. It’s a unique piece and a true collector’s item.
Take one look at this cover and there’s no question that Cujo is one bad doggo. The large, bold font dominating the entire upper half of this 1981 First Edition cover lets you know right away that Cujo is a pup not to be messed with. What’s so great about this cover too is that it places us in a similar situation as Dee Wallace’s character, Donna. It’s as if Cujo is right outside our window, fogging up the glass with his hot, humid breath. And yet, it still leaves so many unanswered questions. Why is this dog so bad? What happens when we confront him? And there lies the brilliance in this cover. Nobody wants to think that man’s best friend could ever do harm to them, but in the world of Stephen King, what torments Cujo could be anything.
4. THE SHINING
In order to appreciate this 1977 First Edition cover, you’re going to have to look at it through a slightly different lens. Pretend you’ve never seen Kubrick’s vision of The Shining. Don’t think of Jack Torrance as Jack Nicholson and pretend you know nothing about the story. Ok. Good. So, what we have here is cover artwork by artist Dave Christensen that lets the potential reader know that there is something sinister and serious happening with this family. The cover sets the stage beautifully and lets the reader know that there are strange things afoot. Literally hanging over the heads of this troubled trio is a dominating presence, but what this presence is we’re not quite sure. In similar fashion, the father figure looms over both son and wife alike. It’s a cover that intrigues just as much as it entices and it is there that it succeeds.
What’s with those topiary animals? What is a ‘shining’? There’s a reason this book became King’s first hardback bestseller and the cover definitely helped get it off to a good start.
Published in 1980, this First Edition version was released with an initial run of 100,000 copies. The beauty of this King cover lies in its simplicity. Clearly, from the title and imagery, this novel has fire at its core. Then, when you begin to look a bit closer at the imagery, it becomes clear that the human form skews rather young. There’s an innocence and smoothness to the features. Coupled with the plain background, this image leads the mind to think this being is a child. While it’s not clear whether it’s a boy or a girl, or even fully human, what is clear is that this child is not scared. This child has no fear, hesitation or uncertainty in their eyes. On the contrary, there is an unwavering determination conveyed through these piercing green eyes. The placement of the fire is also important. Not only does it balance the cover visually, it lets us know that at the core of this child there is a literal and figurative fire burning within.
2. PET SEMATARY
Upon first glance of this 1983 First Edition cover, the immediate reactions are ‘KITTY!’ And, ‘that’s not how you spell cemetery…right?’ And then you start to look a bit closer. Artist Linda Fennimore created this now iconic imagery with her detailed, beautifully aggressive cat front and center. Above the cat, we see the story of Pet Sematary hinted at by a gorgeously subtle hand. As crosses dot the landscape there is a just-clear-enough silhouette of an adult holding the body of a child. Heavy subject matter to be sure, but that cat, and that title…all these elements add to peak curiosity.
Similar to Cujo, nobody ever wants to think of their household pet turning against them and this imagery taps into that emotion. Furthering the cover’s impact, when Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widymer began planning their version of Church the cat for the 2019 version, they specifically referenced Fennimore’s interpretation. Rather than going with the more literal, book version of Church, they used Fennimore’s vision to set their new interpretation of Church apart while simultaneously tying it directly to the novel. By doing this, Fennimore’s hand inadvertently reached through time and became a meta-like version of itself.
IT reigns supreme when it comes to Stephen King book jackets for several reasons. First off is this 1986 First Edition. With a large first run of 800,000 this is probably the most widely recognized jacket for the IT books. This cover has so much going for it, while holding just enough back. Most notably there is the now iconic IT font. The sidewalks hold remnants of rain and the strangely out of place paper boat. And then, there’s the storm drain. The unidentifiable clutched hand that gives away just enough to let us know that what is lurking beneath that sidewalk is not quite human. It balances the terror with the mystery in perfect proportions that hits right at that fear core that motivates all us horror fiends.
While this cover alone is enough to snag IT the top slot, what solidifies it’s grasp is the bevy of killer covers. IT has been released time and time again in countries and languages all over the world. While some covers are predictable and safe, there are a vast number of them that are unique and equally terrifying. Go ahead. Jump into the sewer and do a bit of a Google search, or check out this round up by Bloody Disgusting. And with the new versions hitting theaters, there’s likely to be no end in sight for new editions and artwork. Beep Beep.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – THE EYES OF THE DRAGON and DANSE MACABRE
These two covers were simply too good to leave off the list. First, this 1987 cover for The Eyes of the Dragon is so ridiculous, it’s actually kind of surprising that it’s a Stephen King cover. From the font to the imagery, it’s so out of character and over the top that it somehow becomes amazing. Oh, and that green scaled background? It’s textured.
Technically not a book jacket, the next honorable mention belongs to the 1986, UK First Edition paperback version of Danse Macabre. The book is a non-fiction analysis by King about the horror genre in film, radio, books and comics. King also addresses the attraction to horror as well as the horror’s influence on society as a whole. What’s so great about this cover is the fact that it’s just a bunch of ‘spooky’ things. It’s so literal, and yet so great. he artwork is well done and it is without a doubt the best cover art out there for this particular book. What it loses in subtlety and technical points, it makes up for in creepy points.
Which King covers have a special place in your heart? Do you buy multiple copies just to have different artwork? Let us know! Show us pictures of your collection! Find us on Twitter, Subreddit, Instagram, or on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!