‘She has be­come al­most a pop icon’

How do you get teenagers to read Anne Frank’s diary? Tim Martin meets the duo who’ve turned it into a comic

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - BOOKS -

The 13-year-old Anne Frank, dark-eyed and clever-look­ing, whis­pers se­crets into the ear of a shad­owy fig­ure who steps from the pages of an enor­mous diary. Am­s­ter­dam wal­lows un­der­wa­ter as though af­ter a huge flood, its steeples pok­ing out above the waves. A dream­ing Anne bursts out of a psychedelic fug and into a night­mare of march­ing troops.

These are some of the im­ages in a new graphic adap­ta­tion of Anne Frank’s diary by Ari Fol­man and David Polon­sky, the duo whose film cred­its in­clude the Os­carnom­i­nated Waltz with Bashir. Com­mis­sioned by the Anne Frank Fonds, the foun­da­tion set up by Anne’s fa­ther in 1963, and in­cor­po­rat­ing Frank’s orig­i­nal text, it’s the kind of pro­ject that could go wrong very eas­ily – why would this, of all texts, need to be ush­ered into an­other form? But Fol­man and Polon­sky’s adap­ta­tion brings poignant com­edy and a touch of the sur­real to its por­trait of the eight in­hab­i­tants of the Achter­huis, the an­nexe in Am­s­ter­dam where the Frank and Van Pels fam­i­lies lived in hid­ing for two years be­fore their de­por­ta­tion to the labour camps in 1944.

“The text it­self doesn’t need any­thing,” says Polon­sky, when I meet him and Fol­man in Paris. Polon­sky is the il­lus­tra­tor whose ex­pres­sive, el­e­gant ligne claire gives this adap­ta­tion much of its sly hu­mour. “That’s why it’s so pop­u­lar, and why peo­ple love this girl. But its place in the world is chang­ing. Anne has be­come al­most a pop icon. The big is­sue is the mem­ory of the Holo­caust. Like ev­ery big story, it needs to be re­told ev­ery gen­er­a­tion. That’s also a very Jewish thing; things that hap­pened hun­dreds of years ago can be kept alive by retelling them to new au­di­ences with dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ties.”

Fol­man, writer and adapter-in­chief for this pro­ject, points out that soon there will be no liv­ing sur­vivors of the Holo­caust to tell their story. “I have the deep feel­ing that, if the sur­vivors are not among us any more, per­cep­tions of the Holo­caust will change a lot. It wor­ries me that the at­ti­tude to­wards the past will be” – he adopts a wide-eyed teenager’s ex­pres­sion – “This is a ter­ri­ble thing that hap­pened, but I’m 16 years old, and – when did it happen? The 20th cen­tury? Well, yeah, OK…”

He also wor­ries about chang­ing reading habits. “I think Anne Frank’s diary is a mas­ter­piece. But I can’t imag­ine my kids reading

360 pages of it. I read it as a teenager, I know parts of it by heart, and I can’t be­lieve a 13-year-old girl wrote it. You want kids to go on reading that, but they’re con­nected to con­soles now, and it’s tougher to make them read. My kids read this” – he bran­dishes the graphic adap­ta­tion – “eas­ily.”

Fol­man has a per­sonal con­nec­tion with Anne Frank’s story. “I grew up in a fam­ily of Holo­caust sur­vivors,” he says. “My par­ents ar­rived at Auschwitz the day that the Frank fam­ily ar­rived, the same day. They ar­rived on the night trains from Poland; the Franks ar­rived from Wester­bork. It in­flu­ences ev­ery­thing I do. Even phys­i­cally, Anne re­sem­bles my mother when she was young.”

The con­nec­tion brings to mind one of the adap­ta­tion’s most strik­ing se­quences, which imag­ines Anne in early mid­dle age, trimly dressed and coiffed, of­fer­ing a wry half-smile to the reader as she sits at a writer’s desk sur­rounded by the mem­o­ra­bilia of a fa­mous ca­reer. “What I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing here,” runs the diary text across the top, “is a good be­gin­ning to an in­ter­est­ing life.” Anne died in Ber­gen-Belsen shortly be­fore the camp’s lib­er­a­tion. Fol­man’s mother sur­vived. “She’s 95 this year,” he says, knock­ing on wood. “She read the en­tire graphic diary on her com­puter.”

Fol­man and Polon­sky’s ver­sion ex­pands on el­e­ments of the diary, par­tic­u­larly the parts deal­ing with Anne’s fer­vent imag­i­na­tion. When she en­vis­ages the labour camps, Polon­sky pro­vides a vi­sion of striped­py­ja­maed slaves in an An­cient Egyp­tian frieze, build­ing a huge ea­gle un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a hi­ero­glyphic-style Nazi. When she fan­ta­sises about find­ing love, she wan­ders among Gre­cian busts un­der a per­gola thronged with flow­ers. Where did these ideas come from, I ask Polon­sky, who, like Fol­man, per­sis­tently and charm­ingly refers to Anne in the present tense. “You get to know her fields of in­ter­est a bit,” he says. “She’s re­ally into mythol­ogy and his­tory and movie stars. You try to

BE­TWEEN THE LINESIm­ages from Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adap­ta­tion by Ari Fol­man and David Polon­sky, the team be­hind the 2008 film Waltz with Bashir, below

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