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Unlike Anne Frank's diary, the graphic biography by Ernie Colón and Sid Jacobson covers the period before and after she and her family went into hiding. (Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A New Look at Anne Frank

Two comic book veterans—who authored the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Report—train their talents on the young diarist

With a solemn commitment to accuracy and authenticity, the authors immersed themselves in research, right down to the details of military uniforms, period furniture and political posters. Although Colón already considered himself a student of World War II, as he pored through thousands of photographs of the period, he found he was stunned anew. “We will never fully understand the descent into barbarity and deliberate sadism of the Nazi regime,” he said in a recent interview with CBR, a comics web site.

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Anne Frank has inspired and fascinated people across generations and national boundaries, a phenomenon that shows little sign of waning. A steady flow of books and articles, films and plays continues, including an anime version of the Diary produced in Japan, where Anne is a hugely popular figure.

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 whom are under the age of 30. Last August, when heavy winds felled the Anne Frank Tree—as the massive horse chestnut tree behind the house came to be known—the event sparked international headlines. “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind,” Anne wrote on February 23, 1944. Months later, she added: “When I looked outside right into the depth of nature and God, then I was happy, really happy.”

The tree that gave her solace did not die childless. Saplings have been distributed for replanting in dozens of sites around the world, including the White House, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, and Boise, Idaho, where a statue of Anne was erected in 2002 with the support of thousands of Idaho schoolchildren who held bake sales and other fundraisers. The monument was defaced with swastikas and toppled in 2007 before being reinstalled.

“She was murdered at the age of 15. Her figure is a romantic one, so for many reasons it’s not surprising that she’s the icon that she has become,” says Francine Prose, author of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (2009). Prose feels, however, that Anne’s canonization has obscured her literary talent.

“She was an extraordinary writer who left an amazing document of a terrible time,” Prose says, pointing to the many brilliant revisions Anne made in her own journal entries to sharpen the portraiture and dialogue. The seriousness with which she worked on her writing was not evident in the popular stage and screen versions of The Diary of Anne Frank, Prose believes. “The almost ordinary American teenaged girl Anne that appears in the play and the film are very different from what I finally decided was the genius that wrote that diary,” Prose says.

In the end, it was Anne Frank the person—not the larger-than-life symbol, but the individual girl herself—that touched Jacobson and Colón and made this project unique among the many they have undertaken. “It was amazingly meaningful for both of us,” says Jacobson, who was struck by the knowledge that he and Anne were born in the same year, 1929. “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.”

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