twen: Big, Bold and Very Black (and White)

twen: Big, Bold and Very Black (and White) POST_ICON_BENSON.jpgBy Robin Benson / Editor, Past Print
twen was a unique German magazine aimed at young adults. Started in 1959 as a bi-monthly, its success turned it into a monthly by September 1961. It was unique because of its Art Director/Editor Willy Fleckhaus, who created a magazine like no other.  I first came across it with issue nine while I was studying design and typography and collected nearly all the issues until the end in 1971. twen demanded attention with its large size and spreads almost 21- inches wide by 13-deep (about the same size as past American consumer titles Life or Look).
      In the early years twen was basically a mono title with some spot color, though the cover always had a color photo of a pretty female on a black surround. Color was slowly introduced, especially as a fold-out spread in each issue with a dramatic color photo on both sides. I used to put them up on my bedroom wall until I made a frame to drop in each month's pull-out.
      Fleckhaus used a six-column page grid ,although I never saw a complete page of text in this format. Long articles were usually four-column. The 12 columns across a spread meant he could tightly crop, enlarge and bleed a photo except for the last narrow column which would have some text and a headline, a letter or number. Black might have been Fleckhaus's favorite color, because spread after spread had large amounts of dark areas either of photos or black panels with a photo dropped into them. The middle editorial pages always had a sort of bleached-out feel with dark photos and empty white page space, but always working beautifully as they pulled you into the page's content.
      Another unique feature to twen was the headline typeface: Schmlfette Grotesk, designed in 1954 by Walter Hattenschweiler.  It was always in caps (because there was no lowercase) and frequently one word several inches deep across a spread. Because the face wasn't available for setting, the twen art folk had to cut up alphabet sheets and always have the absolute minimum letter spacing (Herb Lubalin would have been proud of them). Huge black headlines set in Schmalfette were another reason for twen's dark look.
      Nothing looks like twen today. No consumer magazine has long runs of middle editorial pages basically full of huge photos, headlines and some columns of text in a straightforward layout. Even issues from the early 60s still look fresh and exciting today. I often wondered what the advertisers thought about the title, with layouts so different compared to their ads and the alternative lifestyle editorial, but it did reach the target audience they wanted.
      The spreads below will give you an idea of how wonderful twen was.

See more covers and inside pages from twen at Past Print.

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