Obituary Michel Leiner. 7 May 1942 - 16 March 2014
by Ursula Wenzel
Michel Leiner is dead. The man who characterised the Stroemfeld/Roter Stern publishing company, hid behind his work to an extent that was almost unknown in other designers. He was first influenced by the Ulm School of Design, and, like many of his fellow students, he was distinguished by the same things that apply to others at that institution: he was a designer, and yet not just a designer. And for Leiner, being a designer meant being a typographer and art director as much as being a copywriter and editor, but above all, he was also a film-maker. To be accepted at Ulm, having obtained his early impressions at Hans Meyer’s legendary Op Art Gallery in Esslingen, he first completed an apprenticeship as a typesetter so that he could take up his studies at the Ulm School of Design in the Visual Communication department and then apply himself to film.
He remained loyal to film but to finance film projects it was necessary to do other things. So he returned to typography. KD Wolff, founder of the Roter Stern publishing house, described it thus in 1985: “Michel Leiner was here at the beginning, as a kind of works representative. I think Frank (Wolff) said to me, the Ulm film-makers have come to Frankfurt, their film company Epplwoi Motion Picture EMP is not going well, and Magdalena Kopp and Michel are having a baby, and have you got a bit of work for them? So Michel Leiner practically did all the graphics for us on a subcontract. He also came from the SDS, the Socialist Association of German Students, but from the Ulm SDS, which compared to other SDS groups was very special. They denied themselves the intoxication of the student revolt. They were always there with their cameras and wanted to see what was actually happening. Without them, the only real documentary films about the student movement (“Ruhestörung”, etc.) would not have be made. I only grasped it a lot later: the first [book] jackets that Michel made for us were made as a sort of punishment. He had a clear idea that a particular type of propaganda deserves only a bold Helvetica font. Michel probably thought that if they absolutely wanted such brochures, then they would get the covers to go with them.”
It didn’t stop with the covers, however. As an author and art director, Leiner became second in command at Roter Stern. “I now know from sociology that if you want to have a good, effective company, you always need 2.8 people,” said Michel Leiner in an interview later. He became a legendary designer of the company’s almanacs. In their long narrow format, these were similar to town maps and travel guides, fitted in a coat pocket and were new companions at book fairs each year. Leiner also once appeared here as a named publisher in 1985 with the Auto almanac, an ironic commentary on the green/left community’s widespread hostility towards technology.
Leiner demonstrated an alliance with Hans-Rudolf Lutz, a graphic artist from Lucerne, in his imagery. He enjoyed going back to everyday graphics in newspapers and packaging, even the pictorial Duden provided raw material. And Leiner used technology that he had learned in typesetting and film, he recognised the possibilities of computerised typesetting early on, for the editions that later made Stroemfeld/Roter Stern famous and showered numerous accolades upon him.
In his second area of work, film, where Leiner focused on Detten Schleiermacher’s open approach, close collaboration and a good friendship formed with Reinhard Kahn in Ulm. “Together, we developed a type of pop culture in poetry, that hadn’t existed in public before.” This joint work - partially in conjunction with the Epplwoi Motion Pictures collective - was presented in a book by Peter Nau in 2010 and honoured in a retrospective at the Lichter film festival. Also in 2012, through the film department, a detailed presentation of Michel Leiner’s Ulm phase appeared in a biographical interview in a volume in the Club-Off Ulm’s series.
The funeral will take place on Friday 28 March 2014, 12 noon, at the Hauptfriedhof Frankfurt am Main, on Eckenheimer Landstraße.