Richard Matheson’s I am Legend (Suntup Edition)

Richard Matheson has become one of the legends of horror fiction, a formative figure, and it takes only a glance at the novel I Am Legend to see why. A now classic tale of apocalypse in which the conflict is reduced to man vs. vampires, it asks questions about not only society, but the monstrousness of one’s own view of the world and that of a culture. Collectors editions of such works are rare. While I Am Legend has had several editions, a new one is welcome.

Suntup Books have become known for their outstanding quality and beauty. This is very well shown in their edition of I Am Legend. . Within the volume there are a number of wonderful illustrations by Allen Williams. He’s managed an excellent combination of intimacy and distance in these images, producing results that, combined with the text, are not just horrific but haunting.  Page 123, for example, features the dog who serves as something of a metaphor for the protagonist, Neville, himself. It is also one of very few images in the book with more than one figure, a detail which contributes both to the isolation the text emphasizes and the bit of hope the dog represents to the isolated man. 

Each of these illustrations is stark black and white, with a level of realism that quickly rises to haunting and which serves to help illustrate the desolate nature of the setting, and the hopelessness of the narrative. One of the illustrations, the hand from page 81, serves as art for the slipcase of the Artist’s Gift Edition, while the numbered and lettered editions will sport significantly different covers with much less illustration.

While the basic plot is simple enough, in that a man named Neville, due to a fluke has found he is immune to the disease that is sweeping the world. As a result of this, he finds himself alone, simply trying to cope with the strange way the world has changed, and the way that he suffers because of it. The images reinforce these ideas, as well as what started as a fairly simple view within the text, to produce masterful results.

For negatives of this edition, the first odd one to come is that the volume contains the entirety of I am Legend, but only that text. Many other editions of the book include a number of Matheson’s short pieces as well. While the overall effect of including them was rather positive, these stories are available in other editions, making their inclusion here unnecessary for a collector. 

While all of the illustrations are excellent, there are only five pieces in the book, which leads to them feeling unexpected when they appear. In addition, the images on page 141 and 191 might be too dark for some readers. While this is unfortunate, the steady and subtle change in dark and light again help the feel of the book, with the dog, a potential companion with no ill intent, rendered in a blazing white, and the vampires regularly as dark as much of the background.

Given how much Matheson wrote, one cannot help but wonder what future editions of his work Suntup might release of this quality. If one enjoys premium illustrated editions, this is one of the finer versions ever made, with everything from the design work to the individual illustrations feeling thematically or textually appropriate Anyone who already has a Suntup edition will want this volume, and if one is curious about trying them, the Artist’s Gift Edition is a relatively inexpensive way to start. I am Legend is a can’t miss for fans of any number of fiction genres, and definitely deserves such a quality presentation. 

(Suntup 2020)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.