Jacobson & Colon Explore "Anne Frank"

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon were already well-respected and admired comics veterans with decades of work to their collective credits when in 2006 they teamed up to create "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation." Few people expected a government report to be turned into a comic, let alone a good comic that was, for many people, far more illuminating and educational than the actual report. With its publication, the two creators began a new stage of their career, moving from the worlds of Marvel and Harvey to that of nonfiction comics.

Since then, the duo has collaborated on numerous books including "After 9/11: America's War on Terror" and "Che." Their newest book, published by Pan MacMillan, is "Anne Frank," a biography of the young diarist authorized by the Anne Frank House, detailing the story of Anne and her family. It is a difficult book to read at times, about a subject with an ending that readers enter into knowing is not a happy one, but it's a valuable story, one that we should should all know. As Jacobson said, "I hope this book helps people remember. That would be my deepest hope."

CBR News: How did you two meet? Was it when you both worked at Harvey Comics?

Sid Jacobson: Yes, we did meet at Harvey a century or so ago and became good friends from the start. Our wives were friendly, we socialized and worked together at Harvey, then later when I was at Marvel. [We've] collaborated on many projects over the years.

The two of you have been working together in the realm of nonfiction for a few years now, since joining to create the "Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report." What is it that you enjoy about working together?

Jacobson: The first thing we've enjoyed about working together on graphic novels is that the ideas have stimulated us from the start. Ernie came up with the idea of the 9/11 Report and asked me to join him on it. I won't repeat my comment, but I more than jumped for joy. Our closeness in thinking, if not in distance from each other, makes it an easy and wonderful task. And our success in this venture doesn't hurt.

When you first came up with the idea for the illustrated 9/11 report, Ernie, why did you go to Sid Jacobson with the idea?

Ernie Colon: I bought and tried reading the report. I found it near impossible to remember names, dates and timelines.

Making the complex clear is part of what Sid and I have done in the past. We were not alone in this - comics have been used to teach in the military, as well as to children. Having worked with Sid for so many years and knowing his skills, he was the logical choice.

The Anne Frank biography is the second in a row that you've worked on after last year's "Che." What's the specific challenge of crafting a biography as compared to other forms of nonfiction or fictional comics?

Jacobson: Each idea brings up its own problems and its own assets. With "Che," we searched out the story ourselves, mainly, of course, from books. With "Anne Frank," we also had the Museum at our disposal, opening up their archives of photos, letters and knowledge, and escorting us through Amsterdam and Anne's house, neighborhood and, indeed, hiding place which is the site of the Museum. I feel we are far closer to a true picture here than "Che." Or probably any other biography we might try.

How did this biography of Anne Frank end up happening? Is this a project you sought? Did they come to you?

Jacobson: The Anne Frank biography was offered to us by the Anne Frank Museum. They were so impressed by The 9/11 Report that they decided we'd best fit what they had in mind. They got in touch with Thomas LeBien, our publisher at Hill and Wang, and we were thrilled and so honored by the offer.

Colon: I almost said no - didn't think I was good enough. In a way, I still don't - but I content myself with knowing I did the best I could.

How helpful was the Anne Frank house and their resources as far as doing research and really handling the details of a project like this, and how does it compare to working on "Che?"

Jacobson: I know I read probably nine or ten books in completion and went through many, many letters and articles, as well as photos involving the Franks and the rise of Nazism. I lived through those years, but as a child close to Anne's age. While I was involved with what was going on, time has made me forget. I hope this book helps people remember. That would be my deepest hope.

Colon: The House was very attentive to details, for which I was grateful. Though I relied heavily on Google, it was good to have their enormous resources and expert knowledge. "Che" was basically in the same process, but less harrowing.

The book is more than just the story of Anne, really presenting the story of her family. What made you decide to work form that angle and how important did you think it was to make this book the story of a family, that was fairly ordinary, that found itself in this time and place?

Jacobson: It was obvious to me to write about the entire family - and to write simultaneously about the happenings in Europe. You can't understand this family's situation without that knowledge. You have to know that this family was German, acting in every way like German citizens, and having to flee their own country to stay alive. And still, of course, they weren't safe enough. Hitler and his legions came after them. No, they were not an ordinary family. And Anne made them more extraordinary.

I did want to ask about one artistic choice you made towards the end of the book in not depicting Anne's death. Was it a question of lacking specific information?

Jacobson: Anne's dying was not seen. She and Margot were found dead one day, and because of the deadly nature of what they suffered, the reason was assumed. But the exact circumstances were never viewed.

As you pointed out, had she survived, you would have been Anne's contemporaries. Having lived through these years, and now years later, having had children, how personal a work did the book end up becoming?

Jacobson: Yes, I realized quite early in working on this book that Anne Frank and I were born the same year. She was born only four months before me in 1929. It was a severe burden to carry and often came into my head. She could - and should - have had all my years of living, and more. It also made me try to remember what I was doing during my early teenage years, and to realize how far ahead of me this young woman was. And, of course, to think of my own children and my grandchildren, and to thank our fortune that my parents decided to leave Russia and come to the United States in the early 1900's.

Colon: Anne brought tears to my eyes several times. Sometimes, when I came across a date, I would try to think of what I was doing on that day or week. We were removed by planets of experience - and bound together by our ages and hopes. [It is] impossible to read her diary and not love her.

What sort of process is involved in putting a book like "Anne Frank" together? It's an immense amount of research but after a few years i'm sure you know how the other works pretty well

Jacobson: We have not before spent so much time on a project. It was necessary, and we were happy to have the chance.  We first used our own resources, and many that the Museum suggested. Then the Museum went over it and made many, many more important corrections and suggestions. Working alone could never have given this book the authenticity we now believe it has. So, much thanks to them and to the resources of our editor, Thomas LeBien.

So, how long did you end up spending on this project, and how much was spent on research alone?

Colon: I lost track of just how long it took. Fact checking, research of uniforms, streets, principals, the drawing and coloring itself, all added to the time needed to adhere to complete authenticity.

Your recent books have been defined by the amount of research required and the eye for detail that you've shown. Obviously, drawing these books versus Richie Rich is different, but has your process fundamentally changed in order to draw these nonfiction books, or is it just a question of requiring more research and reference?

Colon: I'm fortunate to be able to draw in different styles, but each style demands another approach from the previous. With "Anne," my reliance of the computer became complete. I haven't used paper for some years now. The drawing, coloring, lettering and panel lines are all done in Photoshop and one or two other programs. When the pages are complete, I upload them to my publisher's FTP site so I no longer have to burn discs or ship them via FedEx.

Richie required little reference - an occasional plane or historic landmark.

It's a hard book to read at times, and i'm sure that it wasn't a particularly easy book to write or draw. Was there anything in particular that stood out for you or something that you chose not to depict?

Jacobson: There are things that I first wrote about and then eliminated at the Museum's suggestion, but I had to reason they were not absolutely accurate. I can't think of something that I left out or would leave out because I didn't want to depict it. Still, I must say that my task was far easier than Ernie's. He had to live with those horrible images and, in fact, create them.

Colon: It was the toughest assignment ever. To begin - we all know the story and how tragically it ends. But the research added to the disturbing development. Her last days in the camp were devastating. We will never fully understand the descent into barbarity and deliberate sadism of the Nazi regime.

Thomas LeBien, the editor of the book and also your publisher, has been a great supporter of your recent work and of graphic novels in general. What's your working relationship with him like?

Jacobson: Thomas LeBien has for years and will continue to be a great asset as our editor, our publisher and our close friend. He is a great judge of a book's importance, its appropriate road and its best depiction. As is often said, we couldn't do it without him, only this time it is true.

You've both had long careers in comics, but your work over the past few years has really stood out. When you think of the past few books, like "Anne Frank," and "The 9/11 Report," is this the work you'd like to be remembered for?

Colon: No question this was an honor and I'm proud to have been part of it. As to my work - I don't think it's that important. I'm not the stylist some great cartoonists have been. I feel I do what I love, and the fools pay me for it.

Jacobson: I certainly would hope that if I was remembered for anything, it would be for these graphic books. Though I must say that anytime I make an appearance, people come up to me in bunches to talk about Richie Rich or Casper or some other comic book I worked on. I think during those years in the past, both Ernie and myself did work we were proud of and work that made an awful lot of kids and their parents happy.

I originally wanted to go into journalism and, for want of a job, I got sidetracked into comic books. For almost fifty years! During that time, however, I realized what this medium could accomplish. Thank goodness for Ernie who approached me with the idea of "The 9/11 Report." So much of the news world thought this book was news - though we were incredibly surprised. It always was evident to us. Now we, more or less, have entered the world of journalism and the world of history.

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