Updated: Feb 26
Jerad Walters of Centipede Press
Centipede Press is a long-standing pillar of the small press world and the fierce loyalty it has gained over the last two decades falls squarely on the shoulders of the man working tirelessly behind the scenes. Jerad has earned a devoutness from collectors through consistency of his craft and service to the Centipede community. There are very few presses operating today that offer the same volume, depth, commitment to quality and affordability that Centipede does. His humility shines through in conversation with him and his genuine interest in others. We were fortunate enough to spend some time in conversation with him and learn more about the evolution of the press, as well as what personally drives him to continue this incredible work after all this time.
Q: Since the founding of what we now know as Centipede Press, there have been a few different iterations. In 2001, you started as Cocytus Press and then took on the name Millipede Press, but the bulk of your work has been produced under the current imprint. Can you give us a little history lesson on these different iterations and why you rebranded as the press evolved?
Cocytus Press was easy to change. I loved the Greeks, but we already had another press named after a Greek underworld river, Tartarus Press, so I thought it best to change. Millipede Press was conceived as the trade paperback arm and Centipede Press as the limited-edition arm: trade paperbacks have print runs in the thousands; limited editions in the hundreds. Then I stopped doing the paperbacks for the most part, and it just seemed easier to have one imprint only.
Q: You have mentioned previously that your inspirations for getting into the world of small press were Arkham House and the typography of Alfred A. Knopf books of the 50s and 60s. How do you feel like your work with Centipede Press is an extension of what you loved about that time period and how do you see yourself continuing to try and elevate what was being done by Arkham House and others?
With Alfred A. Knopf, and a lot of other hardcover publishers at the time, there was just such attention to typographic detail. Those books are so readable with good ink coverage and decent margins. There was nothing fancy about them, just good solid typesetting. So, I try to do that with Centipede Press books for sure. And then with Arkham House, even though, to me, the books were not outstanding typographically, they had such good dust jacket illustrations. Later, during the Jim Turner years, the books became great examples of affordable books with a good format, wonderful title pages for the stories, excellent dustjacket and interior illustrations, and top-notch editorial work. They were such good value for the money.
Q: I would say if those were your goals you have definitely achieved all of them! Some of the press owners of more recently created small presses have fairly high visibility and engagement online and, at least on a surface level, are relatively well known to their fanbase through that medium. You seem to stay off of social media and focus on running the press (with incredible output might I add). Tell us a little bit more about your background and what drives you to continue with the hard work of running a modern small press.
I try to give a lot of personal responses to emails and keep people informed of work through the newsletter. So, I think, with all the emails I answer, that I am pretty engaged with the customer base. I’m front and center; at least, that is how I feel about it. But I don’t do a lot of social media stuff. I get really anxious when I am on the computer too long and would rather just go out and take a walk, or have a cup of tea and sit outside. When I have down time, I want to spend time with my wife and son. My son and I used to do a lot of bike rides but that has really dropped off over the last few years. He has his own friends and college life and he is doing his thing now. As for my background, I’ve always been a homebody. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood since about 1976. I’ve always loved monster movies, horror film directors, horror paperbacks, and The Rolling Stones. I’m driven to do this because that is all I ever wanted to do when I was growing up, and now the drive is especially strong as there are bills to pay, kids to help put through college, etc.
Q: That is such a beautiful perspective and I can say personally I have found that to be true with you in terms of engagement and your desire to connect with individual followers of Centipede. I would venture a guess that plays an important role in why you have such a fiercely loyal base. Compared to the lifespan of most of the presses we have featured in this series, you are a seasoned veteran. You have been doing this over two decades and have seen other imprints come and go. How have you seen the small press industry change since you began this journey? How do you think it has changed for the good and is there anything you worry is being lost over time?
The field has changed somewhat, but not a huge amount. It’s still a limited-edition field with a mixture of old and new books. The bar for quality product has definitely gone up, and customers directly benefit. There’s such a good mixture of career retrospectives, illustrated books, new authors, and special editions that I can’t really see any bad trends. Perhaps people could know more about the history of the movement: Fantasy Press, Arkham House, Gnome Press, Shasta Press, and so many others. Some collectors might find it interesting, but it won’t appeal to everyone. For those that dig a little deeper and want to get into the past, it’s all waiting there to be discovered. But some people just might go after illustrated editions of their favorites, or signed copies, or just the best general hardcover that they can find of a classic. Some people just like deluxe editions where it’s not so much about the novel and more about the bookmaker’s craft that went into the making of the book. Everyone has their own interest in the field and I think it is wonderful that there’s a little something for everyone out there.
Q: That's a wonderful perspective. The number of books you produce on the average year is remarkable, especially considering the modest size of your staff and operation! When you are averaging over twenty projects a year, what is your process for staying organized and balancing current projects with future acquisitions?
This is a good question. The thousand and one details involved with even a modestly sized book are enough to drive me up a wall sometimes. I have checklists for each title, developed over the years and continually refined for each title, such refinements being rather painful and embarrassing lessons to learn. Organization comes with a to-do list organizer (I use BusyCal) and, for more complex projects, various instances of the program “Notational Velocity” which I have found is indispensable. Acquisitions are a major problem for me as I have a lot in the hopper with no realistic way to get them all published before their contracts expire! But mostly I work on about 20-25 different titles a day. It might be going over the proofreader’s marks, hiring an artist, working on the copyright page, any number of different tasks. In my experience it makes more sense to do a little work on many different books in one day. But sometimes there’s something pressing and everything else has to be swept out of the way to make time for one book to be worked on all day.
Q: It still baffles me, and I think most fans of Centipede Press, how you manage it all! Many of your earliest works were in the genre of weird fiction and you have produced multiple books highlighting some of the biggest names as well as some lesser published authors in this space. Since the inception of Centipede Press, there have been other presses that have expanded on offerings in this genre like Pegana, Zagava and most recently announced, Conversation Tree Press. Does it excite you that weird fiction continues to attract new readers and what would you say to people who are hesitant to take the plunge into the genre?
For sure this is all good news. There’s no shortage of good material to read from the classic writers. It’s like diving into the 60s and 70s catalogs of major bands or singers. There’s so much there, and of such high quality, you quickly learn why this music is played all of the time. It’s the same thing with weird fiction. There’s a reason it sticks around. Some novels and stories have become horribly dated, of course, but most readers recognize that so much of what is done is a product of its time. Who knows how dated or out of touch a lot of our modern fiction will seem in 80 years!
Q: Your catalog weaves back and forth, oscillating between weird fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, science fiction and horror, among others. Do you have any process for which genres you will focus on in a given year or is it simply a matter of what rights you are able to acquire?
It’s mostly rights issues. There are a number of people who want more crime titles, which is kind of under-represented in my catalog. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it. Ideally, I’d like one each of my series books—Library of Weird Fiction, Masters of the Weird Tale, Masters of Science Fiction—to come out per year. I’d like to do more Studies in the Horror Film but those are kind of the slowest sellers of the list, even though they have dedicated fan bases. Same with the oversize Gothic books, which I have not done for some time.
Q: In addition to the genres mentioned above, you have also published art books and critical studies of various horror films. What drew you to add these to your overall catalog?
With the horror films, I am a big fan of the BFI series of certain horror films. But they just seemed so slight, and a bit too focused on the academic. I like a mix of academic stuff, and then serious reviews, interviews, behind the scenes articles, straight-up fanboy articles, things like that. Art books are a different animal. I love art books but Titan Books has a good lock on these, but they don’t do certain artists. Lately my books in this series have become smaller, but I have four in the works: Rodney Matthews, Frank Kelly Freas, Gervasio Gallardo and Bruce Pennington. They’ll be pretty large, whenever they get done. Art books are probably the most difficult and time consuming to do because of all the color correction and cleaning of files I do. The layouts are also particularly challenging.
Q: What are some of your favorite horror films of all time?
Some of my favorite horror films are the ones that I have done Studies in the Horror Film titles for, or are working on them: The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Nosferatu, Mulholland Drive, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Howling, and definitely Don’t Look Now.
Q: Quite an epic list! You have released some incredible productions since you started Centipede. Projects like Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, The Elric Saga, The Haunting of Hill House and most recently, Dune, are really incredible productions of highly influential works. What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on while running Centipede Press?
My favorite projects are the ones that strike the most personal chords with me. Nosferatu, The Shining, and Salem’s Lot in the Studies in the Horror Film series are probably my favorites. Maybe the Hannes Bok book, too. The Giant Size Elric books look pretty good. The Anubis Gates, the two Falling Angel books, lately, The Search for Joseph Tully as that is one of my favorite horror novels. Oh! And probably Weird Fiction Review. I have more fun working on that than anything else.
Q: Centipede Press is one of the few small presses that I rarely hear critiqued for their pricing. You seem to be able to bring unique and beautiful pieces of art to your fans at an affordable price point. What allows you to continue to produce such sought-after works at reasonable prices and is there anything specific you do that helps keep costs within the budget of the average collector?
Personally, sometimes I think I am charging too much money. Sometimes the issue is that by the time a book finally comes out, I’ve been staring at it and dealing with it for a long period, sometimes years. Certain titles can make me nauseous just thinking of them. Dune is one of them. I still have not even seen the movie. I was just so turned off by the time I was done with Dune. So maybe it is just the overall tiredness that I have when a book is done that makes me devalue it. That being said, on occasion I do get blowback on pricing if a price is too high.
Q: You recently released your first book printed entirely letterpress. You chose Children of the Kingdom by T.E.D. Klein for your first project and Zimakov’s art was stunning. What made you want to take the plunge into letterpress at this moment in time and will we see more projects in the future in a similar vein? If so, will these be available in larger print runs?
Children of the Kingdom was a test run for the larger project of At the Mountains of Madness which is still in the works and will be letterpress. The print run will probably still be pretty small. You don’t get much of a cost break, at least not that I have seen, on a larger print run. Letterpress printing is a difficult and expensive process. I don’t know how places like Arion and Suntup do it all the time. But my introduction into the fine press was letterpress books: Yolla Bolly, Rampant Lion, the guys that do Matrix, Foolscap Press and a couple of others. I always wanted to do those as I love the paper and the texture of the type.
Q: If there was one word or phrase that came to people’s minds when they think of Centipede Press, what would you hope that it would be?
Maybe just this: “good quality books at a range of prices, from reasonable to absurd, covering a wide range of topics in the genre, including novels, collections, anthologies, horror films, and art books.”
Q: Well, I think that about sums it up! Are there any grail projects that have evaded you over the years? What are these titles and why have they proved to be difficult to nail down?
Oh yeah. There are a ton. I just saw Suntup is doing The Magus by John Fowles. I wanted to do that one for years: the original 1960s edition and the revised in one boxed set. Maybe one day! Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Lord of the Rings for sure! The Shining by Stephen King, but that one has by now seen some pretty fine editions (Subterranean Press and Folio Society both did handsome versions). I’d love to do some Kurt Vonnegut but keep getting turned down by his Estate.
Q: What should we be looking forward to next from Centipede? Is there anything you can share about what you may be most excited about in 2023?
At the Mountains of Madness should be done late this year. I’m not going to hold my breath though. Just thinking about it gives me the shakes and late 2024 is probably more reasonable. All the books are fun and exciting. That is why I acquired the rights to them. It’s just that, by the time I’m done with them, I’m kind of tired of them!
This interview was done in a series of communications back and forth and we want to thank Jerad for his commitment to the process and generosity of time. If you want to see more from Centipede Press you can check them out at https://www.centipedepress.com/ and sign up for their mailing list to get periodic updates. You can also follow the Centipede Fan Page on Facebook for more info.
Photography by: Yegor Malinovskii at Art of Collectible Books (excluding photos of Children of the Kingdom)
Interview by: Zach Harney a contributor to the Collectible Book Vault