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How The Folio Society designs its gorgeous collector’s editions of Game of Thrones

How The Folio Society designs its gorgeous collector’s editions of Game of Thrones


The second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, has arrived

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When it comes to incredible, elaborate collector’s editions of books, it’s tough to beat The Folio Society, which has in recent years began to expand out into the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. And hot on the heels of its edition of George R.R. Martin’s first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, the company has announced today its collector’s edition of the second book, A Clash of Kings.

Like the Folio edition of A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings isn’t cheap: it’ll run the same $195 as the first book, making this a purchase only for the biggest Game of Thrones fans and collectors — especially for those looking to put together a complete set of the full series.

But that nearly $200 price tag does get you a magnificently made copy of the book, with high-end paper and bookbinding techniques that aim to elevate it beyond a $30 hardcover. Folio’s version also expands on Martin’s story with six full-page illustrations and two double-page spreads in each of the two volumes that make up the set, done once again by artist Jonathan Burton. The Folio edition also expands on the genealogies and formal house listings included at the end, updating family trees and alliances that have changed since the first book.

The Verge spoke with The Folio Society’s art and publishing team to discuss the new editions of A Song of Ice and Fire and what goes into the design of each new book in the series.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why choose to make these collector’s editions of A Game of Thrones? Why now?

Tom Walker, publishing director: The culmination of the television series of Game of Thrones marked a new level of passion and commitment in its fans, but it also took many thousands back to Martin’s books. It was clear that we needed to bring our own commitment to classic sci-fi and fantasy right up to date. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire are dedicated by nature. The Folio Society can now reward their dedication by bringing them the most perfectly realized editions of the books they so admire — editions that they will be able to hand down through generations.

How closely do you work with George R.R. Martin on the design, aesthetics, and artwork (if at all)?

Sheri Gee, art director: Every single detail of the design and illustration has been approved by George R. R. Martin’s team, which has been invaluable for us to know that what we’re creating is authentic, true to the world that Martin created. I work very closely with Martin’s art director who knows the Song of Ice and Fire world, be that book or otherwise, inside out. Any question that I, the editor, or Jonathan has had, they’ve been able to answer.

At the very outset, working on A Game of Thrones, we agreed on the visual concept of our books with his team which, having a very strong series style, we’re now able to continue with as we work on subsequent novels. Jonathan has done a brilliant job at creating the cover design concept, which represents the key houses on the front of each volume, showing how they conflict with each other in the story within. In many ways I think that has made the approval process easier, knowing that there’s a strong concept backing up each design.

There are so many different iterations of the books in different media — the TV show, graphic novels, existing art books — what makes the Folio version unique when it comes to depicting the series?

SG: I like to think we’ve ploughed our own farrow. We have a long history of commissioning for adult fiction and are really passionate about choosing the right illustrator, the right style for the text. 

Jonathan has worked with us on a myriad of titles covering various different genres: from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s trilogy of five to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with a bit of crime and dystopian fiction slotted in between. I’ve always loved his inventive compositions and strong lighting that bring such drama to a scene in a filmic way — often shooting his scenes from unique angles. 

As we’ve worked through each book, we’ve also been fortunate to have the authorial team’s insight, to help give us an original steer. Because of their knowledge of every single edition and commission, they’ve been able to advise on particular compositions or scenes that we should avoid, to make these editions unique. 

One particular element that I love and think makes our editions unique is our narrator motifs, which we print at the start of every chapter. We’d had the idea early on that it would be great to develop a motif for each chapter’s narrator — Sansa, Arya, and so on — to be used every time their storyline is continued. Often working with their house sigil imagery in combination with character traits, Jonathan has developed a fantastic set of images that depict each character in black and gold ink. Many of the characters continue in each book, but with each commission, we asses which new characters will be needed to complement the set. 

How do you choose which events to turn into the artwork? 

SG: With every commission, we really want the illustrator’s inspiration to shine in the final artwork, and it’s also really important that their excitement sustains them on what could be six months’ to a year’s worth of work. We asked Jonathan to read and select scenes he’d like to illustrate. As I read the books concurrently, I can lend any necessary advice, but the final selection is also ratified by the GRRM team, especially in regard to similar depictions elsewhere. 

From my point of view, I’m always looking to see that we have a good balance of the main characters, that major events are illustrated, and that the illustrations aren’t bunched together — we like to balance them throughout the novel as best we can. Sometimes an illustrator will suggest the exact number of scenes — in this case, six single-page illustrations and two double-page spreads per volume — and sometimes they’ll give us a wish list that we can narrow down. Jonathan has largely been very decisive on which he’d like to work on, with minor changes here and there in the dialogue between myself and Martin’s team.

Any concerns about what happens if they run out of Martin’s books?

TW: No concerns! We will publish the series as far as it exists. If we have to wait for Martin to complete it, we will wait, along with the rest of his fans. 

Why two volumes? Practical concerns due to the size of the originals? More room for art? Any concerns about not being able to fit into two books when the longer entries come around?

TW: The Folio Society editions are always created with the reader’s greatest comfort in mind. Long books may be packed tightly into single-volume paperbacks, but they are best read when designed and typeset with plenty of space, good margins, good type size, and elegant layout. Our hardback editions of this length of book tend to work much better divided into two volumes — the individual volumes are easier to handle than one huge one would be. 

And again, no concerns about future length. We will continue to keep our readers’ pleasure foremost in our planning. 

What’s the process for developing the additional material, like the map or the updated genealogies and courts found at the end of the two books?  Were there other “bonus” materials considered?   

SG: I think this was Jonathan’s first map art! It was very much a team project, using the author’s map of the known worlds, working in-house to create accurate coastlines and guides that Jonathan could easily follow with his artwork, and concurrently typesetting the place names. We all felt it would be great to give this the look of an antiquated map, which Jonathan’s additions of the sea beasts lend to that idea beautifully!

Being able to bring some heraldry to the appendices I think has brought something really special to our edition. Again, these designs, which follow descriptions in the text, print beautifully in black and gold ink. There are main, prominent houses mentioned in Game of Thrones which will go through the entire series, but as we move through later books, new houses and sigils are being added. There is also a kings section in Clash of Kings where often the normal house sigil no longer applies — Joffrey’s, for example, uses a combination of the Baratheon stag and the Lannister lion. There have been a few challenges beyond A Game of Thrones, where we have found houses listed that have no sigil, such as the men of The Night’s Watch — for those, we’ve been able to agree on ideas with Martin’s team. It has been really important for us to do that — to continue the device for each “house” — firstly to maintain the design aesthetic throughout the appendices, but we also use all of the end matter sigils on the endpapers. Each edition’s endpapers, whilst they’ll look very similar, will all differ very slightly depending on which houses are depicted within. 

In our design team, we’re really fortunate to be able to use great materials and we get really excited by new ideas, techniques, and innovations in book design. Printing inside the slipcase is fairly novel for us. We used it brilliantly in our edition of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, and I really felt it could be fabulous to bring into play within A Game of Thrones. There were some production challenges with this choice: that the print must withstand the books rubbing against it as they’re taken out and put back into the slipcase; that the artwork needs to join up as the inside flaps meet each other, etc. What we achieved — the arresting scene within each slipcase — I’m really thrilled with!

Update April 24th, 2:10pm: Added details for the artist on the Folio Society edition, Jonathan Burton.

Photography by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge