Remember when film posters were great? No, most of you were too young. But remember when they were creatively one step up from cigarette billboards? Probably not, cigarette ads were already banned. (On April 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon—yes, that Nixon—signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned cigarette ads from television and radio).
Graphic design for films was fantastic during the ’30s but then suffered a downward spiral throughout the ’60s and ’70s, into the ’80s. Luckily, today many are pretty strong, in part influenced by theater and culture posters.
A new monograph Akikomatic: The Work of Akiko Stehrenberger (Hat & Beard Press) presents the striking film poster work of the eponymous 15-time CLIO award-winning illustrator and designer, who has devoted her talents to directors, movie studios, advertising and film agencies. If you’ve never heard of Akiko Stehrenberger, this book will not tell you who she is so much as what she does (which may in fact be who she is). A few brief biographical notes: She was deemed “Poster Girl” by Interview magazine in 2011; Creative Review dedicated their January 2011 monograph to her illustrated movie posters; her poster for Bad Milo was featured on “Conan”; and Vanity Fair included her Funny Games and Kiss of the Damned posters in their “Best Movie Posters of All Time” list.
In the book’s foreword, graphic designer Corey Holmes notes, “I have worked with Akiko long enough to observe how people act around her work—’nervous’ is a pretty accurate word to use. [S]he comes at things from an approach that I’d never think of. But I’ve moved on from being nervous and am in awe and inspired. It makes me want to make my work better, not because of some juvenile competition, but because looking at her work I realize that what I’m doing can be better. … She elevates whatever she touches, be it art, advertising people or agencies.”
The content of the book speaks much clearer than the words. And although I am amazed that I had not heard her name before, I’m familiar with some of the other posters she has done in a variety of styles—representative realism, magic realism, photography, collage, parody. You’ll possibly recall the monumental poster for Where The Wild Thing Are, the mysteriously captivating The Illusionist, the elegant 13 Assassins and others. Her mostly minimalist imagery bridges movie tropes while defining a personal aesthetic. In the age of the star poster, her interpretative work is exemplary of the best in contemporary film poster design.
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