A new look at Anne Frank
Ernie Colón was drawing Casper the Friendly Ghost. Sid Jacobson was his editor. This was 40 years ago. They were at Harvey Comics. They worked together again. This was at Marvel Comics. This was after Jacobson was named executive editor. That was in 1987. They came to enjoy a close friendship. They had creative rapport. But they adhered to a fairly simple work method.
"I write the script," Jacobson says. "Ernie does the drawing." But it's not that simple. "There's always the proviso that if you have a better way of doing it, please don't follow what I've done."
The authors' created: Anne Frank in 2010. It's a graphic biography. They made it for the Anne Frank House. That's in in Amsterdam. It was published by Hill and Wang. Doing justice to the project took all of their storytelling craft.
Colón points to the challenge of making the Anne credible. She is often mythologized. They wanted her to be a real-life child and teen. "I think the biggest problem for me was hoping that I would get her personality right. And that the expressions that I gave her would be natural to what was known of her or what I found out about her," he says.
Two-thirds of the book takes place before or after the period Frank chronicled in her diary. It begins with Anne's parents' lives before she was born. Their families had lived in Germany for years. Anne's father is Otto Frank. He earned an Iron Cross. That was as a German Army officer. That was during World War I. He was very alarmed by Hitler's anti-Jewish fervor. He sought safe haven for his family. That was in the Netherlands. That happened soon after the Nazis took power in 1933. But in 1940 the country was invaded. The book's middle chapters focus on the Franks' two-year captivity. That was in the secret annex of 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. It is the crux of Anne's Diary of a Young Girl.
The graphic biography includes the aftermath. The family's betrayal by a secret informer. It shows their arrest. It shows their deportation. It shows their ordeals in concentration camps. Anne's mother died in Auschwitz. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen. Her sister Margot died there, too. They both died from typhus. This was in March 1945.
They died just weeks before the camp's liberation by British soldiers. The sole survivor was Otto. He returned to Amsterdam. He was given Anne's journal by Miep Gies. She was one of the brave Dutch citizens. She had sheltered the Franks. Gies had placed the book in her desk for safekeeping. She hoped to return it to Anne.
The biography concludes with material about the publication of the Diary. It shows its popular adaptations. And it shows Otto's lifelong determination to honor his daughter. He did this by committing himself "to fight for reconciliation and human rights throughout the world," he wrote. He died in 1980. He was 91.
Jacobson and Colón also weave in relevant themes from the larger historical context. They detail the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. They create a powerful narrative tension. A two-page spread dwells on the Franks' joyous response to Anne's birth.
That was in 1929. Readers also see a strong vertical image of Hitler. He is accepting a tumultuous heil. He is at a mass rally in Nuremberg. There is a subtle visual touch. Hitler's boot points directly down. It points toward a smaller image of the infant Anne. She is grinning. She is in her high chair. The family prepares to eat supper. It is a tableau. It is stretched across a page-wide horizontal panel.
The abrupt intrusion of Hitler places the family story within the larger timeline. It also foreshadows the trampling of an innocent child's happiness. Fifteen years later, Anne would give voice to the dread the family came to feel. "I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too." She wrote this on July 5, 1944. It was just three weeks before the Gestapo finally arrived.
The authors had a solemn commitment. It was to accuracy and authenticity. They immersed themselves in research. They studied the history. They studied the details of military uniforms. They studied period furniture. And they studied political posters.
Anne Frank has inspired and fascinated people across generations. And across national boundaries. It shows little sign of waning. There is a steady flow of books. There are articles. There are films. And there are plays. This includes an anime version of the Diary. It was produced in Japan. Anne is a hugely popular figure in Japan.
Objects associated with her have taken on the aura of holy relics. The house at 263 Prinsengracht receives a million visitors a year. More than two-thirds of the visitors are under the age of 30.
It was Anne Frank the person that touched Jacobson and Colón in the end. She made this project unique. That's among the many they have undertaken. "It was amazingly meaningful for both of us," says Jacobson. He was struck by the knowledge that he and Anne were born in the same year. "That became overwhelming to me," he says. "To know that she died so young. And to think about the rest of the life that I've lived. That made me feel close to her."
Colón remembered reading the Diary when it first came out. "I thought it was very nice and so forth," he says. But this time around was different.
"The impact was just tremendous. Because you really get to like this kid," he says.
"Here she is, persecuted, forced to hide and share a tiny room with a cranky, middle-aged man. And what was her reaction to all this? She writes a diary. A very witty, really intelligent, easy-to-read diary. So after a while you get not just respect for her, but you really feel a sense of loss."