Great Lives Series: Sid Jacobson on Anne Frank

  • April 18, 2012

A Q&A with the author of Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography.

Drawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise, and the authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón created the first authorized and exhaustive graphic biography of Anne Frank (Hill and Wang, 2010). “More than simply poignant, this biography elucidates the complex emotional aspects of living a sequestered adolescence as a brilliant, budding writer. Naturally, this book has significant appeal for teens as well as adults.”— Booklist. Jacobson was formerly the managing editor and editor in chief for Harvey Comics, and an executive editor at Marvel Comics; artist Colón has worked at Harvey, Marvel, and DC Comics.

Thursday, April 19 is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Q: First, I need to play devil’s advocate. Was there resistance to your creating a graphic biography of Anne Frank, the criticism being that it would trivialize her life and death?

No, there was no resistance at all to a graphic biography and the fear that it would trivialize the story of Anne Frank. Actually, the idea to do such a book originated with the Anne Frank House itself. They then got in touch with Ernie Colon and myself via our publisher, Thomas LeBien, at Hill and Wang. We were told that because of the manner and the success of The 9/11 Report, that the two of us had written, they would like us to do this volume. They wanted to do the book for the most part to reach students and young people with this tragic story, and the museum had previously enjoyed success with the graphic format.

Q: How do you storyboard a biography? You can’t just turn facts into scenes. What must be key elements of an illustrated story?

Frankly, I do not have the art ability to do a storyboard. But I have edited (and written) comic books for almost 40 years and can visualize the continuity process and verbally describe it. Yes, you surely seek the stories and the scenes that lend themselves to picture. In graphic books, you also try to find graphic ways that tell the story even more deeply and in ways that go beyond the ability of mere words.

A quick example would be the use of four tiers in The 9/11 Report representing each of the four flights that ignited that terrible story. There we could see where each of the planes were at the same moment of time. To do this with only words cannot adequately tell the story. We used maps and diagrams in the Anne Frank book to enhance that story. And we have planned what we call “The Weighted Timeline,” in our next book.

Q: What was it like researching her life, and what kind of cooperation did you get from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam?

The Anne Frank House opened their photographic vaults as well as their expert knowledge and important letters to us. I was brought to Amsterdam at the very start of the process and spent much time at the museum (which was where Otto Frank had worked and the family was hidden), and was taken to the apartment the family had lived in, the schools the children had attended, the neighborhoods they roamed and the trek they had taken to go into hiding.

They were incredible in what they showed and taught me. And before Ernie had finished drawing, Menno Metselaar, the museum’s senior editor, came from Amsterdam to Long Island in New York and spent more than a month with Ernie to make sure he used every authentic photograph they had to offer. We could not have asked for more. Besides the material they gave us, I read several biographies of Anne, all of the museum’s countless books about her and her family and every piece of mail pertaining to our story.

Q: What are we to make of Anne Frank’s life? She was an optimist and she believed that people are good. And yet, descriptions of her during the last days of her life in a death camp show a heart-broken girl, ill, and no longer wanting to live.

What are we to make of Anne Frank’s life? To begin with, when we accepted this assignment, we told the Anne Frank House that we only wanted to do this book if they would allow us to include the story of the rise and the racist beliefs of Hitler and the Nazi Party that so changed history and, certainly, the lives of the Franks. They quickly agreed, saying it was time that her story included these horrendous happenings.

Of course, Anne’s optimism would be gone as she understood that death was near at the age of fifteen. But almost till then, she remained optimistic, thrilled to be out in the sunlight, happy to meet her close friend Hanneli at the concentration camp, and believing she would become a writer of importance in the years ahead.

And, in the years ahead, she did become a writer of great importance.

Q: When did you first encounter Anne Frank in your life, and how did her life affect you?

The Diary of Anne Frank was first published in the United States in 1952 when I was in my early twenties. I recall reading it, then later seeing the play on Broadway with Joseph Schildkraut as Otto and Millie Perkins as Anne. Both the book and the play were deeply moving experiences, especially for a Jewish young man who had escaped the holocaust by being born and living in the United States. Still, I was not as moved as I later became when in writing this book I finally realized that Anne and I were born in the same year of 1929.

Q: Is it your impression that young people still venerate Anne Frank the way the post-World War II generation did, when the effects of Holocaust were then still very much with us?

I have to say yes, young people do still venerate Anne Frank as much as the post-World War II generation did when the effects of the Holocaust were still with us. I actually believe even more so. In my recent visits to the Anne Frank House, I could not believe the incredible amount of young visitors who lined up and waited for hours to get inside. Today, the Holocaust, almost 75 years since it ended, is taught in schools throughout the world and youngsters everywhere know about it and want it to never happen again. I am astounded by the popularity of Anne’s diary throughout the world, its place in schoolrooms and curriculum of nations of every language, the amount of translations that have already been gotten for our book, and the way our book and, indeed, myself was greeted in Germany.

What I experienced there was tremendous. Jewish people to a good extent have returned. The citizenry there seem humbled by the hatred of the Holocaust and are willing to face their infamous participation. The German translation of our book was greeted in an amazing fashion and I was treated as if I were an important author.

And so much of this, I must say, goes hand in hand with the story of Anne Frank.

Sid Jacobson will present his graphic biography of Anne Frank, Thursday, April 19 in Dodd Auditorium at 7:30 pm on the campus of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia as part of the Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series.

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