Friday, July 9, 2010

Ethics Police: Depicting the Holocaust in a Graphic Novel?

It seems more than just fiction titles and biographies are being adapted into graphic novels these days. Now, the industry is moving toward memoirs, and some with much more serious subjectmatter...starting with Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl.

The Associated Press reported this morning that The Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam released a graphic novel of the well known Holocaust biography:

The Anne Frank House Museum launched a graphic novel version of the teenage Jewish diarist's biography Friday, hoping to bring her story and death in a Nazi concentration camp to a wider audience.

Spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker said the publication is aimed at teenagers who might not otherwise read Anne Frank's diary, already 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."

Using the style of comic books to illustrate serious historical topics, even genocide, is not new. "Maus," Art Spiegelman's graphic biography of his father, a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The Anne Frank biography, authorized by the museum, is a collaboration between American author Sid Jacobson and artist Ernest Colon. They also co-produced a best-selling graphic novel, The 9/11 Commission Report.

Publisher Hill & Wang will launch the graphic narrative in the U.S. later this month and MacMillan in Britain in the fall. Translations in German, French and Italian also are planned.

Bekker said the biography would be included with classroom teaching materials about World War II. The museum decided to commission the work after the success of a similar educational project, "The Search," about a fictional family in hiding.

Anne Frank wrote the diary from her 13th birthday shortly before her family went into hiding from the Nazis, and during the two years she and her family remained in a concealed apartment in Amsterdam. It was published after the war by her father Otto Frank, the only survivor. Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

See the AP release HERE

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I find this kind of offensive. And I haven't even read Anne Frank's famous work (I somehow got out of reading it in school...I think I was afraid to read it...though now want to and might get it from the NYPL today in fact). The Holocaust is not a time that should be taken so lightly as to illustrate its happenings.

I understand that the Museum wants to get Anne's story out there to even more people, to appeal to teens and what not. I also get that it's been done before and to great success (something I didn't know until this release, however). But I still don't support this choice. To me, it trivializes something that should not be trivial.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that comics aren't to be taken seriously. I respect and appreciate graphic novels. And I know that some graphic novels do address difficult and complex issues about humanity and what not, but somehow this just feels wrong to me because it's history, not speculation or straight fiction.

Is it okay to graphically depict historical genocide in a comic?

Tell us what YOU think!


  1. I don't really think there's anything *wrong* with this. They've made movies about Anne Frank (see:, so why not a graphic novel too? At the heart of this issue, I do think graphic novels should be original works. Adapting them from former works? Stupid. Just STUPID.

  2. True, films have been about Anne Frank and about the Holocaust in general, of course--Schindler's List, anyone?--but I guess it seems to me that the films are somehow more tactful, more true to form, and more somber. Perhaps that's just the stigma of comics creeping in though. It's hard to say...

  3. Didn't you just see Twilight last week? Was that tactful or true to form? Attack the product, not the medium. Films have more potential to be distasteful, but what matters is the final product. You don't see very many distasteful Holocaust movies (you'll find plenty of clichés though) for a good reason; who the hell is going to put out a distasteful Holocaust movie? And talk about adaptations; how about The Book of Genesis done by Robert Crumb of American Splendor fame: I've got it on my bookshelf; it's anything but stupid.

  4. I didn't see the Twilight movie actually. And what historical event was it conveying? None. So it can be as tactless and imaginative as it'd like. It's not recreating history.

    And that's an excellent point that it's about the product, not the medium. But I'm not sure the look of this graphic novel seems very serious. The cover even looks like a children's book or comic strip. I certainly would've packaged it differently to assert the seriousness of the subjectmatter.

  5. Something about this makes me uneasy. Or maybe it's the "graphic novel" genre as a whole. Someone decided to give comic books a fancy name and suddenly they're real literature. And it gives people an excuse to do things like this.

    I don't know. Generations of people have read Diary, including teens. It's not a difficult book. I don't really see the need to create it in a new format.

  6. I think, even though you said you respect and appreciate graphic novels, that this is just a bit of ingrained prejudice against the format. Graphic novels go far beyond just "comic books" and can touch on a widespread number of topics, from superhero stuff to humor and even to serious subjects. Take Gene Luen Yang's Printz-winning/NBA finalist graphic novel, American Born Chinese, which, while not about an actual historical figure, tells a great (serious) story about a Chinese-American youth, using humor, fantasy elements from Chinese legend, and a great twist at the end.

    As far as the Holocaust goes, if you're curious whether a graphic novel can do justice to a horrific historcal event, you should check out Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman. It's a classic in the graphic novel industry and a holocaust story in which the Jews are depicted as mice and the Germans as cats. It won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award.

    I think, in the end, rather than judge this work based on it's format, we should wait until we can judge it based on it's content. Ultimately, that's what matters. While I can understand being a little turned off by this, since it seems a bit like "let's try and make more money off of this tragic story" it may end up being a worthy adaptation that will get the story into the hands of reluctant young readers who might never have picked up the original prose work.

  7. I also wanted to say that I meant no offense when saying it was "ingrained prejudice against the format." I don't think you are deliberately against or vehemently opposed to graphic novels in general (you and I have discussed the genre and I know you're all for it). I think that a lot of people (including the commenter above me, it seems) have a mindset that graphic novels = comics and comics aren't to be taken seriously. Or that because something is illustrated, it must be less serious. It's not the end of the world for someone to have this belief, it's just not correct.

    But that's why I'm here. :-) I'm no graphic novel expert, but I'm happy to be a temporary ambassador and use what little knowledge I do have to help educate those who don't know as much about that side of the industry.

    Now, how I feel about everything in the industry being turned into a graphic novel...that's a whole separate, equally-as-verbose comment that I WON'T be leaving. LOL!)

  8. Yeah. I'm actually a big fan of graphic novels. When they're done well, they can be absolutely amazing combinations of art and prose. (Take Neil Gaiman's Sandman, for instance. Beyond brilliant. Or J. O'Barr's The Crow.)

    As far as the subject matter goes, I think we should wait and see. Those screen-shots don't actually look too bad, but they're a bit on the small side.

    As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words - if "seeing" what happened drives the message home a little harder, than I'm all for that. Any medium can be tactless as well as poignant. (I put up with a lot of anime-bashing over the years, for example. Sure it can be silly and over the top...but it can also be utterly heartbreaking - Grave of the Fireflies, for example)

    If the issue is about the subject matter - I feel that as long as it's treated with respect, then there shouldn't be a problem. The holocaust is NOT a fun topic - but it shouldn't be sanitized simply because the format make some people uncomfortable.

  9. Allison, I'm totally with you, re: putting up with anime-bashing. As a former otaku, I had my fill of obnoxious people who didn't get anime and would mock me for being a fan, or would just roll their eyes or make a comment about me being into "cartoons." It used to drive me nuts.