Saturday, July 10, 2010

Next thing you know they'll turn Anne Frank into a Comic Book

And did they ever!

Spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker said the publication was aimed at teenagers who might not otherwise pick up Anne Frank's diary, the most widely read document to emerge from the Holocaust.

"Not everyone will read the diary," she said. "The one doesn't exclude the other."

There has to be some connection to this pervasive anti-intellectualism in modern pop culture and a constant need take big, weighty solid topics/stories/histories and juice it up into baby food easily digestible for those amongst us who don't want to pick up a real book.

You know, with words on it. In less-than-12 not-Comic-Sans font.

I really shouldn't mock too much. I understand the desire to bring impressionable youngsters into a reality and time much grimmer than their own, and make them see what can happen when we forget the wages our humanity. It makes sense to try to make Anne Frank as accessible as possible -- cool, even -- to everyone. And still, it feels wrong to me.

It's not like this hasn't been done before. Maus was also an autobiography of someone who lived through the holocaust and was turned into a graphic novel for much the same reason. Anne Frank, I contend, is different, because many people have actually read the book, and thus have something to compare it to. I don't have the same concerns about the graphic novels with its images reaching the wrong audience, my concern is more for whether a graphic novel can plumb the same emotional depths that a novel or a film or play can. Graphic novels, by their design, drive home the fiction of the stories they tell, whereas the point of depicting lives of those that lived who through the Holocaust is to drive home the point that it happened here, not too long ago, in this universe. Human beings like us did this to other human beings. This, for me, is the key difference between the graphic novel and, say, a play or film, where we can make the connection to this world, and this time, and that point can be made more clearly. I cannot imagine a graphic novel doing for the story what Martin Sherman's 'Bent' achieved as a play, or Ellie Weisel's 'Night'. Heck, not even 'Schindler's List.'

The main problem I have with turning Anne Frank's diary into a graphic novel is this need we seem to have to evangelize that which we hold in high esteem by any means necessary, even at the risk of stripping out the core that makes the story to poignant in the first place. Are we going to turn Homer's 'Illiad' into a picture book? Beowulf into a rap song? This should be funny, but it really isn't -- the Bible is already available in picture-book form for goodness sake!

Does everything need to be made accessible?

Anne Frank held my imagination when I first read her diary at age 12, and still does. I would love for the whole world to read it as a reminder of how to step outside of ourselves and regard humanity, but having met a lot of people, I don't want that. Part of me wants Anne Frank to stay in a book, in severe font, atop a bookshelf. Part of me, a large part, wants her to stay accessible only to those who care to reach for it on the top shelf, and read it. Maybe if you feel like you can only read Anne Frank in an uber-cool graphic novel, then you don't deserve to read it. You're not doing her a favor by reading her diary. If anything, it's the other way around.

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