“Woyzeck” Cover Redesign Contest: Looks at a Classic

“Woyzeck” Cover Redesign Contest: Looks at a Classic

The Reclam publishing house announced a student competition for the cover design of Büchner’s “Woyzeck”. The response is overwhelming.

Three cover examples by students

The top three in the student competition for the redesign of the cover of Büchner’s Woyzeck Photo: Reclam Verlag

Generations of students know this. Once again, the boring German reading is not read, not understood or even found well, only the lessons are to get used to – the hours drag on like chewing gum, which is unfortunately forbidden.

Fortunately, at least one thing still stimulates the battered imagination: the inviting empty space on the screeching yellow book covers, which almost begs to be scribbled, embellished or defaced with all sorts of births of ideas.

The Stuttgart-based Reclam publishing house is now making a virtue out of necessity. He has a student contest to redesign the cover of Georg Büchner’s “Woyzeck” advertised. The famous drama fragment of the Vormärz revolutionary, who died young, is a high school subject in many federal states (e.g. Berlin) from this year and has perhaps also given the imaginary worlds of the youngsters a great deal of momentum.

And of course: With the right approach, obligatory classic readings can of course also inspire! The publisher received more than 1,000 submissions and has now determined three winners, of which the first place will be printed as a special edition. In addition to the fee for this, there is prize money of 150 euros.

Portrait of the delusional hero

It is no coincidence that the winning design by 18-year-old Johanna Kilian from Hamburg is reminiscent of the pictorial tradition of Expressionism. “Woyzeck” had its late premiere in this era in 1913, around eighty years after it was created. In an empty, dark room, the hero, dressed in yellow and reddish tones, sits, delusional, in front of a plate of peas, to which his diet has been reduced for medical experimental purposes.

With his terrified limbs connected by threads to a huge hand floating like a spider above him, the artist takes up a motif from Büchner’s debut work “Dantons Tod”, in which the author anticipates insights from psychoanalysis: “Who wants to curse the hand, on the the curse of must please? Who spoke the must, who? What is it that fornicates, lies, steals and murders in us? We are puppets, pulled by a wire by unknown forces; nothing, nothing ourselves! The swords that spirits fight with – you just don’t see the hands, like in fairy tales.”

But since we are not dealing with a fairy tale with “Woyzeck”, the artist shows us the invisible hand of “nature” and the social circumstances through which Büchner sees his/her murdering hero(es) as being forced and determined. Apart from this atmospheric concentration of motifs, the book title is also particularly beautifully designed in Kilian’s design.

Manga style Woyzeck

In second place, Oliver Laatz from Rüdersdorf/Berlin only shows us the murderer Woyzeck’s hand with a flashing blade in an experienced manga style and instead puts his girlfriend Marie in the center (even if only as an expected victim). This fits very well with feminist readings of the drama, for which the title should rather be “Marie, Woyzeck”.

Third-placed Maria Schaak from Nuremberg seems to have been inspired at least as much by the physician Büchner as by the philosopher and crime fiction author. Her more naturalistic representation of Woyzeck’s physical-spiritual fragmentation between a skull and a horror grimace could have been inspired by both the gothic romanticism and its more classical models (in any case, a not dissimilar ensemble of profile studies hangs in the Goethe National Museum in Weimar, which depicts the classically trained black romanticist attributed to Johann Heinrich Füssli).

Due to the overwhelming number of entries that are really worth seeing, the publisher has published a large selection of the other designs on its website in addition to the three winners and also awarded a special prize to a Nuremberg school class that – like many others – had taken part in the competition together.

Creative variety of works

The conceptual penetration and creative diversity of the works suggest that our ailing education system should not lack one thing: the motivation of the students (although for the sake of completeness it should be added that about 90 percent of the selected covers come from female participants).

Looking at the impressive selection, one can become wistful that only a single design is now on sale. For the second and third place winners there should still be a mini edition for private use and for exhibition purposes.

But one could also have imagined a kind of cover-on-demand campaign for the book trade. However, when asked, the publisher let it be known that, given the positive feedback, it should not have been the last cover competition.

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