Behind the punchy covers of SZ Magazin

The weekly German newspaper supplement has a track record of publishing abstract and playful images. We talk to Thomas Kartsolis and Birthe Steinbeck from the art direction team about risk, deadlines and the joy of analogue tricks

“They always say that SZ Magazin is like a bag of surprises. You never know what you’re going to get,” says deputy art director Birthe Steinbeck, who works alongside art director Thomas Kartsolis at the magazine. The supplement is published on a weekly basis as part of Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest.

Kartsolis and Steinbeck have held their respective positions for ten years, and have a fairly good setup thanks to the relative freedom that comes with being a supplement. Plus, as far as the national newspaper publishing landscape goes, they feel their jobs are something of a rarity. “In Germany, you only have two really good supplements,” Kartsolis explains – Zeit magazine being one, the other SZ Magazin. Steinbeck insists that the magazine had a legacy of being adventurous prior to their joining the team, however it’s clear that they have a shared commitment to steering clear of the mundane.

This has led to a broad array of commissioned photography, artwork and illustration throughout its pages and consistently unexpected covers. They might be provocative or pared-back, painted or photographed, authentic or staged. Their work has regularly appeared in CR’s round up of the year’s best magazine covers, including one featuring a stark photograph of the belongings left behind by refugees who die crossing the Mediterranean, and a symbolic cover proving how unmistakeable the Trump ‘colours’ have become.

Top: from a food issue cover photographed by Rafael Krötz. Above: ‘We Have Your Child’ cover comprising logos from popular brands aimed at children