top of page

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Suntup Editions - Numbered Edition

This numbered production by Suntup Editions was one of my personal favorites of 2022 and a perfect example of their ability to capture the essence of a story in the design. This edition is in Suntup's mid-tier (artist/numbered/lettered) range, but it felt even higher in quality than their average numbered edition. For those who haven't read the story (or seen the show), it is set in an oppressive dystopian future that feels equal parts foreign and ominously familiar in different aspects. We spoke with Paul Suntup of Suntup Editions about the development of this particular edition and the thought process that went into this piece.

In regards to the overarching design, he mentioned that it was inspired loosely by an older limited editions concept that he wanted to try and recapture. He said, "On the binding design, it took us almost a year where we went through a number of different concepts, and we mocked up and rejected multiple designs until we were satisfied that it was at level the author and title deserved. The design, as well as the art, captured the bleak situation that the protagonist is in and the dark future depicted in the book.

In regards to the color scheme and materials, Paul said, "Of course we felt red should be the dominant color in the binding to symbolize the main character, Offred, and very fine materials were a must – a mix of Japanese cloth, goatskin and the hand-painted paste paper. The textures, both from a visual and tactile standpoint, are meant to evoke the clothing Offred and the other handmaids are forced to wear. The goatskin was hand selected for quality and how well it foil stamped. We settled on Harmatan fine leather, and the stamping was particularly complex because of the registration, and lining up the three colors just right." The three color hit of foil on the cover was one of the elements that really elevated this production for me personally and makes this version instantly recognizable for those who know the story.

The beautiful hand-painted papers on the clamshell were created by Marie Kelzer, loosely reminiscent of Suntup's 1984 numbered edition, which she also contributed her designs to, but completely original to match the red theme that was the connecting thread throughout the many design elements. Paul said, "The paste papers, which were custom made for this edition, were originally going to be on the book itself, but we moved it to the enclosure for a more eye catching and unique presentation. The endsheets were custom designed by the book designer to evoke the wall in the story, and were printed letterpress on Hahnemühle Bugra." I wasn't completely convinced that I would like the endpapers until I received the book in hand and felt the tactile nature of the paper and realized how well it tied in thematically.

The illustrator, Ken Cunningham, was chosen specifically by Margaret Atwood from a curated list of artists provided by Paul. He said, "The author wanted the characters in the illustrations to be nuanced to show particular personae and subtle characteristics such as hidden strength. We normally have the artist read the story and pick the scenes that resonate with them. Ken used color coding taken from the book, particularly the use of red and blue. He also used line as a way of speaking to Offred's memories and inner world. Ken was very open and easy to work with. We suggested a few tweaks and agreed on what would end up in the book. Then, once we finally settled on a binding design, we went back to Ken to create the handmaid art that we made into the 3 color stamping as we wanted his art reflected on the cover as well as in the interiors for cohesiveness."

To match the high quality of binding materials, Paul chose to print this edition letterpress on Mohawk Superfine, "with the text composed in William Text designed by Maria Doreuli, and based on the types of William Caslon. We chose Kak for the display type, which is heavy and oppressive, to tie into the themes of the story."

One secret that was not known to the public until the books started shipping was that there was a hidden tape embedded in the case for the numbered and lettered editions. Paul mentioned, "The concept of the tape cassette was considered as a binding design element at one point, and we originally wanted to put the book in an army footlocker, but we changed direction and incorporated a real cassette with licensed content into the enclosure instead." This tape connects in an important way to the story, but to say more would be to spoil it for those who haven't read the book. For those of you who have purchased the edition, (and still have a way to play a cassette tape), you will be treated to an afterword narrated by Margaret Atwood and an essay about the book by author Valerie Martin.

Overall, Suntup Editions did a phenomenal job pulling all the different elements together into a cohesive whole with this production. The quality of Hamartan leather always introduces a certain weight and seriousness to a small press book and it just feels good in hand. I'll hold my final judgment until I get Slaughterhouse Five in hand soon, but I think this one just might be my favorite numbered edition of 2022 from Suntup, exquisite in every way!

Publisher: Suntup Editions

Illustrator: Ken Cunningham

Paste Paper Artist: Marie Kelzer

Interior Design: Michael Russem

Letterpress Printer: Bradley Hutchinson

Art Direction: Rebecca Dornsife

473 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 commentaires

I am proud to own this book.

Additionally, I am jealous of Zach, his talent and access to these publishing greats!


Andrew Torres
Andrew Torres
23 févr. 2023

I'd love to see more articles like this @Zach Harney, this was really great!

bottom of page