Jacobson, Sid, illus. by Ernie Colón. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. Hill and Wang, 2010. ISBN 978-0809026852 160 pp. $18
This graphic biography chronicles the life of the Nazi movement (beginning with Germany in WWI) and its rise to power, and the life of Anne Frank (beginning with her parent’s courtship) and her development from carefree girlhood to pensive adolescent, culminating with the Armistice and Anne’s death at Auschwitz, just a few weeks before the end of WWII.
Each chapter contains at least one “snapshot:” a 1/3 to full page that, like a sidebar, imparts some background information, like a family tree with portraits drawn from photographs, a map that shows the territories in control of each of the combatants, and a page on concentration camps. The snapshots break up the narrative of Anne’s life and the progression of the Nazi movement.
The text is well-supported with facts and primary source material, such as interviews with concentration camp survivors, and of course, excerpts from Anne’s diary itself. The creators occasionally put undocumented thoughts into the character’s heads, and I was left wondering how they KNEW that’s what the person was thinking at the time.
The layout is very orderly, a classic 2 panel by 3 panel formation. Style varies slightly from page to page, employing the classic left to right Z formation for reading. A few split screen style illustrations show what various characters are doing, within the same timeframe. One especially clever panel on pg. 104 uses the spread of an airplane’s wings to transition a scene. Perspectives vary, making use of techniques such as silhouette, closeups, angles, and aerials, only the text breaks out of the neat boxes, and there are plenty of opportunities–chaotic moments–for such deviation. Chapter headings have unique full page illustrations with interesting angles.
The artist employs traditional devices such as a lightning bolt shaped speech bubble for speech coming from a radio, and puffy cloud like speech bubbles to indicate thoughts instead of spoken words. The somber hues of the artwork–especially the gray and beige of the concentration camps–are effective at setting mood, while the browns and golds lend an old-fashioned and historical feel. Many illustrations are beautifully rendered reproductions from actual photographs: of the building at 263 Prinsegracht, of emaciated prisoners in the camps, of Otto Frank. Several, rendered in grayscale, pack a real punch, forcing the reader to stop and contemplate the significance of the action captured. Anne’s palette shifts from pink, purple and white as a young girl to more sober maroons, browns and blues as a teen. The soft, hazy style of the illustrations on page 74 of rooms in the annex (devoid of their inhabitants) has a nostalgic, nearly ghostly feel; the same technique, employed in sepia on pg 139, is nothing short of haunting.
The chronology at the end of the book juxtaposes two timelines: Anne’s family (in black ink) and WWII (in red ink). Sources are credited on the final page, with only one suggestion for further explanation (the museum website).
I think this well-intentioned book would be a much more satisfying read if it had stronger art/editorial direction; it suffers from a textbook-like tone in too many places for the reader to become lost in the very powerful story of Anne’s life. In spite of the objective tone, the images in chapter 9, “Discovery” are absolutely heartwrenching. Chapter 10, The Story Lives On, chronicles the one surviving member of the eight who hid in the annex, and how Anne’s diary not only went on to see the light of day, but was made into a play and a film, translated into over 70 languages, and achieved her dream of someday becoming a writer.
I feel strongly that delivery is too lecturey in tone, and unfortunately diminishes the appeal of this book. In spite of the popularity of Anne’s story, the tragic appeal, the message about peace, harmony and acceptance. It’s not a balanced enough piece to warrant 5 stars. It has too much of a souvenir feel, like the book was commissioned to sell in the gift shop at the Anne Frank House to teach people about Anne’s life.