King Coal by Upton Sinclair (Heathen Edition)

It’s Twosday! Let’s Spotlight Heathen Edition #2

It’s Twosday: Tuesday, 02.22.2022! Seems like a perfect day to spotlight Heathen Edition #2: King Coal by Upton Sinclair.

Being from Appalachia, when we Heathens decided that we’d make a go of this publishing venture, a book about coal mining seemed a given. And since we’re big fans of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! (and Paul Thomas Anderson’s loose adaptation of it, There Will Be Blood), Sinclair’s King Coal seemed a logical choice, both because of our West Virginia coal-mining roots and because King Coal seemed an overlooked diamond in the rough that we could present to the world in an interesting, unique way.

Starting with the cover, we wanted to convey the idea of a rough, whitewash stencil-like image, perhaps created by a miner and used to convey a message of unrest — perhaps something one might see haphazardly painted on a wall near or inside a coal mine or on the side of a coal car. We could imagine a miner or two mixing lime and water in a bucket, then moving surreptitiously through a small mining town just after dark, painting the image as quickly as possible and in as many places as possible, maybe no two images exactly the same, but the message always exactly the same: Alert! Rebellion fast approaching . . . That idea was, in part, why we christened it the first book in our Heathen genre Rebellion 101! Interestingly, in our surveys most people notice the dollar sign topping the crown last, but the almighty dollar was certainly not the last thing on the minds of the coal barons of Appalachia.

Moving to the inside of the book, this is where we drew inspiration from our own book collection. Penguin has a series of six hardcover horror books curated by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro that feature black page edges. When you first approach these books in the wild, you’re immediately struck with how sharp the books appear. The black-block look is striking and gorgeous, and it’s a unique presentation that jibes well with the horror vibe of the books overall. The faint gradient on the page edges themselves also lends a nice touch to the reading experience. The more that we looked at those books the more we realized how that presentation could fit King Coal perfectly: rather than black because horror, ours could be black because coal! However, since we’re currently utilizing print-on-demand services for our books (read: we’re ballin’ on a budget), this type of presentation seemed illogical and out of reach.

That is, until we remembered The Black Book by Jean Keller and a point of its creation: “…the price of a book is not calculated according to the amount of ink used in its production. For example, a Lulu book of blank pages costs an artist as much to produce as a book filled with text or large photographs.” Perhaps you can see why the book’s 740 (!) solid black pages seared themselves so boldly into our memory:

The Black Book by Jean Keller

Suddenly, it occurred to us: could we “hack” the POD process and make our page edges black? What a Heathen thing to try! So try we did, and the result far exceeded our expectations!

After receiving the first printed proof, however, we decided that the gradient leaned too far black and hindered rather than enhanced the reading experience, so we dialed it back to a dusty gray. We found this approach lent itself better to the idea that maybe the book had made its way straight out of a coal mine and into your hands.

Two's Day

What’s more, we also found that as we proofed our edition for the first time, the ink from the page edges slowly gathered on our fingertips, making it look as if we had been working in the coal mine alongside the book’s protagonist Hal Warner and his fellow miners, and that’s the moment we realized how absolutely perfect this approach was for this particular Heathen Edition because one of the things Sinclair is asking you to consider routinely as you read this book is: How much coal is one human life worth? Suddenly our edition wasn’t just a book, it had become an immersive experience — literally leaving “coal dust” on your fingertips — that stayed with you long after you put the book down . . .

That, dear reader, is why we do what we do, and why our design of King Coal by Upton Sinclair is one of our absolute favorites. We hope it’ll soon become one of your favorites, too!

Synopsis: The fuse is lit in Upton Sinclair’s King Coal when Hal Warner organizes a strike to help struggling coal miners unionize against a corrupt and exploitative coal baron, leading to an explosive climax.

King Coal (Heathen Edition) is currently available to order from your favorite book store: Click here to order now!