Arts & Culture

Reviewed: Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography

Anne Frank’s mark in expanding the Holocaust experience to outsiders has been taken a step further this fall in the release of a new publication. Read More

By / November 9, 2010

By Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Published by Hill and Wang

Recently the Guardian published a list of Top 10 Influential Women, with a teenage Jewish girl making the list. Anne Frank’s mark in expanding the Holocaust experience to outsiders has been taken a step further this fall in the release of a new publication. Written in collaboration with the museum in Amsterdam, Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography portrays the Franks’ family life in tandem with the contemporary events that displaced and disconnected their lives through the Holocaust. Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s book follows their earlier collaboration on an equally complex subject. Anne Frank transforms artifacts into graphic dialogue in a way that isn’t offensive, and, for the art-minded, it is a treat to have a combo of art and good education.

Based on artifacts from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, including images from their virtual Secret Annex, the book manages to dramatize the Franks’ biography by filling in a familiar narrative within a historical framework. Establishing shots of the political landscape side by side with dialogue make the characters’ circumstances relevant. Lines from Anne’s diary are often presented in her thought bubbles while other diaries, letters, maps, and photographs enrich the story flawlessly. A striking scene where Anne is bicycling with Miep Gies across Amsterdam to their hiding place is vividly depicted further with a map of Amsterdam outlining the route they took.

Its publication in the US this fall follows its marketing in Europe over the summer as a novel for the intended audience of “teenagers who would otherwise not pick up the diary.” While the informality of the authors’ style within the graphic novel genre make it accessible to a teenage audience, the conciseness and fluidity with which Jacobson and Colón uniquely yet accurately deconstruct a difficult subject make this book fair game for a wider readership.

The book’s format does raise eyebrows however, many readers at first glance seeing the Holocaust as trivialized in a medium normally reserved for the Batmans and Charlie Browns of fiction. University of Chicago’s English and Romance Language Bibliographer Sarah Wenzel, a pioneer in the legitimization of the graphic novel in academic collections, has purchased the book in both English and the original Dutch editions. She and the University’s Art and Film bibliographer Nancy Spiegel co-curated an exhibit at the Library titled “&#$!: Graphic Novels as Social Commentary,” on display now.

Beyond superfluous illustrations in books, the vast genres successfully treaded by graphic novelists far surpass the classic comic connotations of many readers. Wenzel has found that, “format should be less important than the message and the way in which the subject is treated.” Furthermore, the use of the graphic novel to discuss social issues is not a new one, often speaking for the disenfranchised or marginalized since the medium’s coming to being in the 1980s. The reticence to adopt this vehicle of communication in academic libraries was also a battle for documentary films, now widely purchased by film-studies bibliographers but still slow on the end of social science librarians.

The melding of graphic novel illustration and biography uses the strengths of two linear storytelling mediums to convey a very complex moment in history. Wenzel’s experience has revealed that sometimes the “combination of visual and textual provides a stronger impact on the reader than either alone,” as in Art Spiegelman’s renditions of xenophobia via zoomorphism in Maus, 1930s racial tension as beautifully depicted in Jeremy Love’s Bayou, and the account of a Muslim girl in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in Persepolis. It is not so far fetched for a nonfiction biography like Anne Frank that is equal in dramatic components without employing allegory to join the ranks.

“For me, this seemingly insignificant child’s diary embodies the real hideousness of fascism more so than all the evidence presented at Nuremberg.” These words of historian Jan Romein that helped Otto Frank publish the diary originally could also be reapplied to Jacobson and Colón’s biography. The concept revitalizes the event for a modern audience. Rather than chastising an evolving social landscape, Jacobson and Colón like Wenzel evolve with the times with the common goal of providing the resources necessary to advance knowledge in public and academic communities.