Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

The human imagination can be an extraordinary coping device in times of trouble, a tiny window providing mental escape from whatever cell fate has consigned us to.

Diarist and aspiring professional writer Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15, chafed at her now-universally-known confinement in the Secret Annex. She chafed at her mother’s authority and the seemingly effortless saintliness of her older sister. Documenting her daily physical and emotional reality offered temporary respite from it.

The liberating power of the creative mind is one of the aspects writer Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky sought to tease out when adapting Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a graphic novel.

The graphic novel format decreed that entire passages would be cut or condensed. Polonsky can use a single panel to show logistics it took Anne paragraphs to describe. The interpersonal conflicts she dwelt on are now conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

As with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s 2010 Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biographythe diary’s small stage is expanded to give readers, particularly those unacquainted with the original text, a historical context for understanding the wider social implications of Anne’s tragedy.

But this graphic retelling is unique in that it traffics in magic realist visuals that should play well with 21st-century youth, who cut their teeth on CGI, fast-paced edits, and streaming teen-focused entertainments wherein characters are apt to break the fourth wall or break into song.

These are the readers to whom the project is most intentionally pitched. As Folman told Teen Vogue’s Emma Sarran Webster:

I truly believe that in a few years, when the very last survivors will have died, the angle that will be taken from the story will be that with every year, we are 10 years further away from the original. [...] There is a severe threat that the things we have to learn from it will not be taught and learned if we don’t find a new language for them. So any new language in my opinion is blessed, as long as it stays within the framework and reaches young audiences by means of their tools, which are now very visual.

Ergo, Kitty, Anne’s nickname for her diary, has been personified, emerging from the little plaid book’s pages like Peter Pan’s shadow, ear attentively cocked toward the secrets Anne whispers into it.

The melodramatic Mrs. van Daan’s prized fur coat has an anthropomorphized rabbit head collar, capable of joining in the dialogue.

Polonsky pays homage to artists Edvard Munch, whose “degenerative” work Hitler had removed from German museums, and Gustav Klimt, who painted many works that were confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazi decree.

Young readers' modern sensibilities also guided Folman’s approach to the text. The spirit of the original is preserved, but certain phrasings have been given a 21st century update.

The snarky Secret Annex menus and diet tips he allows his heroine harken to the direct address of various meta teen comedies, as well as the blistering parody of the Sarajevo Survival Guide, a purported travel guide written during the Siege.

Noble goal of engaging the next generation aside, there are no doubt some purists who will view these innovations as imposition. Rest assured that Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is sanctioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Anne’s father, Otto.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Introduction to Medieval Taverns: Learn the History of These Rough-and-Tumble Ancestors of the Modern Pub

When I think of the medieval tavern, I see grim footage from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and grimy drinking scenes from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. While only the first of these uses an ostensibly historical setting, the imagery of them all is what we think of when we think of taverns. Huge casks in the corners, great, indestructible wooden tables and wooden mugs, signs with pictures instead of words; drunken singing and the occasional axe fight.

The crudely animated Simple History video above confirms these impressions, describing the taverns, inns, and ale houses that were ancestors of the modern pub as “places of drinking, gambling, violence, and criminal activity.” Art history and scholarship further confirm our impression of taverns as rough-hewn, rowdy houses where brawls frequently broke out and all sorts of shady business transacted.

Ale houses had an “ale stake or ale pole” that could be raised to show they had a brew ready to serve. Taverns had a pole with leaves, called a “bush,” for the same purpose. Wine might be pricey, but beer was cheap, as “taxing it would not have been well-received.” Barmaids poured drinks from pitchers of leather into mugs of wood. Food was… well, not so good…. Maybe we can visualize tavern life by extrapolating backwards from our local dive bars.

However, we might find it hard to imagine living in a time before beer. Milan Pajic, junior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, found that beer made a relatively late entry in the history of English drink, arriving only in the latter half of the 14th century when introduced by Dutch immigrants and demanded by soldiers returning from the 100 Years War.

Between around 1350 and around 1400, Pajic claims, all of the beer drunk in English taverns was imported from the Netherlands. “The first evidence of someone brewing beer” in England, Pajic writes in an article published in the Journal of Medieval History, “comes from 1398-9.” The brewer, a “Ducheman,” was “fined for buying ‘wheat in the market in order to produce beer, to the great damage of the same market.”

Such persecution could not last. In a hundred year's time, a few hundred brewers could be found around the country, most of them immigrants from the Low Countries. But in part because the English distrusted the Dutch, “it took almost a century from the moment it was introduced as an imported commodity and consumed largely by immigrants before it came to be produced on English soil and accepted by the natives.”

Tavern, inn, and ale house designs would have conformed to local joinery trends, but the medieval English tavern’s chief draw—cheap, freshly-brewed beer, and lots of it—was a suspicious continental import before it became a national treasure.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Guitars Were Like 400 Years Ago: An Introduction to the 9 String Baroque Guitar

Maybe it’s just me, but it sometimes feels like guitar music is on the wane. Sure, there are plenty of guitar bands out there, guitar sales seem to hold steady, but the synthesizer, midi controller, and digital audio workstation have become the dominant instruments of popular music. Then again, it’s short-sighted to count the guitar out just yet, given the 500-year longevity of its design.

In the 17th century, the Lute Society of Dartmouth notes, the guitar was “cultivated by players and composers within the courts of princes and kings.” The Baroque guitar was very much like the modern six string (or, as often these days, seven and eight string) that we know today, “aside from a difference of tuning,” writes luthier Clive Titmuss. Where “the modern guitar is a baritone/tenor… the baroque is an alto instrument, about the size of a viola.”

The differences in size and pitch change the sustain and articulation. The Baroque guitar's tonal characteristics are much more delicate, percussive, and lute-like. “The greatest music for baroque guitar is difficult to render adequately on the modern guitar because the traditions of the two instruments have diverged so widely: They speak basically the same language, but with a different vocabulary and accent.” Early Renaissance guitars had what is called a “four course” string arrangement, with eight doubled strings. The baroque guitar added one more for a “five course” instrument with nine strings.

Like its Renaissance forebear, lutes, and modern twelve-string guitars today, four of those “courses” were doubled, with pairs of strings tuned to the same note. This essentially made it a five string guitar with the ringing sonority of a mandolin. In the video at the top, Brandon Acker explains what this means in theory and practice. The tuning was fairly close to a modern six-string, but one octave up and missing the low E. The lone high E string was called the chanterelle or “singing string.”

Popular mainly in southern Europe, the Baroque guitar “may well have been used as it frequently is today,” the Lute Society points out: “to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or small group.” It was first held in contempt by early Spanish composers who preferred the similar vihuela. But the guitar would displace that instrument, as well as the lute, in musical compositions across Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe.

In the videos above, you can see and hear some fine demonstrations from Acker, who plays period pieces like Suite in D Minor by Robert de Visée, court composer and musician for Louis XIV and Louis XV. Below, see guitarist Stefano Maiorana play a gorgeous Spanish piece.

Given the 400 years that separate the modern guitar from its Baroque ancestor, the resemblances are remarkable, proving that the instrument’s 17th century refiners hit on a design that perfectly complements the human voice, sounds great solo and in groups, and can handle both rhythm and lead. Even if most guitars in the future double as midi-controlling synth instruments, it’s probably safe to say modern music won’t give up this brilliant, time-tested design any time soon.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Monument Valley Became the Most Iconic Landscape of the American West

The American West has never been a place so much as a constellation of events—incursion, settlement, seizure, war, containment, and extermination in one order or another. These bloody histories, sanitized and seen through anti-indigenous ideology, formed the backdrop for the American Western—a genre that depends for its existence on creating a convincing sense of place.

But where most Westerns are supposed to be set—Colorado, California, Texas, Kansas, or Montana—seems less important than that their scenery conform to a stereotype of what The West should look like. That image has, in film after film, been supplied by the towering buttes of Monument Valley. The Vox video above tells the story of how this particular place became the symbol of the American West, beginning with the ironic fact that Monument Valley isn’t actually part of the U.S., but a tribal park on the Navajo Nation reservation, inside the states of Utah and Arizona.

“For centuries, only Native Americans, specifically the Paiute and Navajo, occupied this remote landscape, fielding conflicts with the U.S. government.” That would change when settlers and sheep traders Harry and Leone “Mike” Goulding set up a trading post right outside Navajo territory on the Utah side. Goulding tried tirelessly to attract tourists to Monument Valley during the Great Depression but didn’t get any traction until he took photos of the landscape to Hollywood.

The movie world immediately saw potential, and Western directing legend John Ford chose the stunning location for his 1939 film Stagecoach. It would be the first of scores of films shot in Monument Valley and the origin of cinematic iconography now inseparable from our idea of the rugged American West. The landscape, and Ford’s vision, elevated the Western from low-budget pulp to “one of Hollywood’s most popular genres for the next 20 years.”

Photo by Dsdugan, via Wikimedia Commons

Stagecoach provided the “breakout role for American icon John Wayne” (who once declared that Native people “selfishly tried to keep their land” for themselves and thus deserved to be dispossessed.) And just as Wayne became the face of the Western hero, Monument Valley became the central icon of its mythos. Ford used Monument Valley seven more times in his films, most notably in The Searchers, set in Texas, widely praised as one of the best Westerns ever made.

Ford’s final film to feature the landscape takes place all over the country, appropriately, given its title, How the West Was Won. Its all-star cast, including Wayne, sold this major 1962 epic, marketed with the tagline “24 great stars in the mightiest adventure ever filmed.” But it wouldn’t have been a true Western at that point, or not a true John Ford Western, without Monument Valley as one of its many landscapes. The imagery may have become cliché, but “clichés are useful for storytelling,” signaling to audiences “what kind of story this is.”

From Stagecoach to Marlboro Ads to Thelma and Louise to The Lego Movie to the Cohen Brothers’ comic classic Western tribute The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the image of Monument Valley has become shorthand for freedom, adventure, and the risks of the frontier. But like other iconic places in other forbidding landscapes around the world, the myth of Monument Valley covers over the historical and present-day struggles of real people. We get a little bit of that story in the Vox explainer, but mostly we learn how Monument Valley became an endlessly repeating “backdrop” that “could be anywhere in the West.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 108-Year-Old Woman Recalls What It Was Like to Be a Woman in Victorian England

The perils of old age—dementiaeconomic insecuritysocial isolation—are receiving a lot of attention these days.

How refreshing to spend three minutes in the company of a sharp-witted 108-year-old, who, responding to a question about what life was like for women in Victorian England, acts out a couple of socially relevant, period Punch cartoons, deliberately drawing attention to her shockingly well-preserved ankles in the process.

Florence Pannell was born in London in 1868, 3 years after the US abolished slavery and eleven before the advent of the electric lightbulb.

Her appearance on Thames Television’s Money-Go-Round program appears to be her only public recording. The Kensington Post captured her leaving her polling place, after casting her ballot in a 1971 election at the age of 102.

It’s a pity there’s not more of an online presence, as this captivating storyteller clearly relishes the opportunity to revisit the past.

A pity too, that she was stuck with a dud of an interviewer, Joan Shenton, who has gone on to find fame as a prominent AIDS denialist.

The AIDS crisis is one event of global historical importance that Mrs. Pannell missed—barely—she died in 1980, a few months shy of her 112th birthday.

We learn that she founded a successful beauty care business that took her to Paris for a time, but other than that, the details of her private life are left to our speculation. She was married. Did she have children, and if so, did she survive them?

Did she ever get the chance to go up in an airplane? As of 1977, she hadn’t, but was open to the idea, implying that the risk had outweighed the potential thrill in the early days of aviation.

Most striking is her hearty reply concerning the biggest change she had witnessed over the years:

Everything! Nothing is the same! Everything’s changed!

Some of the milestones she was alive for, as noted by various YouTube and Reddit commenters:

The coronation of the five monarchs to follow Queen Victoria: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II (whose 93 years on the planet she makes seem marginally less impressive)

Jack the Ripper’s terrorization of London

The sinking of the Titanic

Both World Wars

The Great Depression

The telephone


The hippie movement

The moon landing

Star Wars

Another commenter suggested that it would have been mathematically possible for Mrs. Pannell to have heard stories about Napoleon at her grandpa’s knee.

Readers, what are you boggled by, with regard to the significant events transpiring within this woman’s lifetime?

(And for those curious as to her formidable accent, there’s a wealth of linguistic information here.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the Persian 11th Century Canon of Medicine, “The Most Famous Medical Textbook Ever Written”

It may never lend a catchy title to a steamy TV hospital drama, but Avicenna’s 11th-century Canon of Medicine has the distinction of being “the most famous medical textbook ever written.” It has remained, as William Osler wrote in a 1918 Yale lecture, “a medical bible for a longer time than any other work.” Completed in 1025, the compendium drew Greek, Roman, Arabic, Indian, and Chinese medical science together in five dense volumes of material informed by the theories of Galen and structured by the systematic philosophy of Aristotle, whom Avicenna (Abū-ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn-ʿAbdallāh Ibn-Sīnā) called “The First Teacher.”

Translated into Latin in the 12th century and “often revised,” the Canon, notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “formed the basis of medical instruction in European Universities until the 17th century.” A copy of excerpts from the text has even been found translated into 15th-century Irish, demonstrating a link between medieval Ireland and the Islamic world. Avicenna’s influence generally on the intellectual culture of medieval and early modern Europe and the Arab-speaking world can hardly be overstated.

Born in 980 A.D., the Persian philosopher and physician was instrumental in the recovery of Hellenic thought, first in the Islamic world, then later in Europe. He took to the study of medicine very early in his extraordinary career. “I became proficient in it in the shortest time,” he says, “until the excellent scholars of medicine began to study under me.” He also became a practicing physician, inspired by a desire to put his learning to the test. “Through my experiences I acquired an amazing practical knowledge and ability in methods of treatment.”

The practical knowledge in The Canon of Medicine was largely the basis for its continued use for centuries. It lays out rules for drug testing, which include an insistence on human trials and the importance of conducting multiple experiments and showing consistent results across cases. Like most classical scientific texts, it weaves empirical observation with metaphysics, theology, scholastic speculation, and cultural biases particular to its time and place. But the practical outlines of its medical knowledge transcend its archaisms.

The work presents “an integrated view of surgery and medicine,” notes the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. In addition to his imminently useful guide for assessing the effects of drugs, Ibn Sina tells his readers “how to judge the margin of healthy tissue to remove with an amputation,” an intervention that has saved countless numbers of lives. “The enduring respect in the 21st century for a book written a millennium earlier is testimony to Ibn Sina’s achievement.”

One of the defining features of the text is its insistence on the practice of medicine as a systematic scientific pursuit of equal merit to the theorizing of it:

Someone might say to us that medicine is divided into theoretical and practical parts and that, by calling it a science, we have considered it as being all theoretical. To this we respond by saying that some arts and philosophy have theoretical and practical parts, and medicine, too, has its theoretical and practical parts. The division into theoretical and practical parts differs from case to case, but we need not discuss these divisions in disciplines other than medicine. If it is said that some parts of medicine are theoretical and other parts are practical, this does not mean that one part teaches medicine and the other puts it into practice – as many researchers in this subject believe. One should be aware that the intention is something else: it is that both parts of medicine are science, but one part is the science dealing with the principles of medicine, and the other with how to put those principles into practice.

Of course, much of the medical theory in the Canon has been disproven, but it remains of keen interest to students of the history of medicine and of European and Islamic intellectual cultural history more generally. Avicenna towers above his contemporaries, yet his work also bears witness to the larger “intellectual climate of his time,” as the site Medical History Tour points out. He emerged from a milieu “shaped by centuries of translation and cross-cultural scholarship” of Greek, Roman, Indian, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic literature. “A rich Persian medical tradition began 200 years before Avicenna.”

Nonetheless, “however the world came by the genius of Avicenna, his influence was lasting,” with The Canon of Medicine remaining a definitive “best practices” guide to medicine for centuries after its composition. See full scans of several Arabic copies of the text at the Library of Congress’s World Digital Library and read a full English translation of the massive 5-volume work, with its extensive chapters on definitions, anatomy, etiology, and treatments, at the Internet Archive.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Provocative Art of Modern Sketch, the Magazine That Captured the Cultural Explosion of 1930s Shanghai

"With its newspapers in every language and scores of radio stations, Shanghai was a media city before its time, celebrated as the Paris of the Orient and 'the wickedest city in the world.'" So British writer J.G. Ballard remembers the Chinese metropolis in which he grew up in his autobiography Miracles of Life. "Shanghai struck me as a magical place, a self-generating fantasy that left my own little mind far behind." Born in 1930, Ballard caught Shanghai at a particularly stimulating time: "Developed on the basis of 'unequal treaties' successively instituted after the First Opium War in 1842," writes MIT's John A. Crespi, Chinese port cities like Shanghai "experienced a welter of technological and demographic changes," including automobiles, skyscrapers, rolled cigarettes, movie theaters coffeehouses, and much else besides.

Such heady days also gave rise to media that reflected and critiqued them, and 1930s Shanghai produced no more compelling an example of such a publication than Modern Sketch (时代漫画, Shídài Mànhuà).

Among its points of interest, writes Crespi, "one can point to Modern Sketch’s longevity, the quality of its printing, the remarkable eclecticism of its content, and its inclusion of work by young artists who went on to become leaders in China’s 20th-century cultural establishment. But from today’s perspective, most intriguing is the sheer imagistic force with which this magazine captures the crises and contradictions that have defined China’s 20th century as a quintessentially modern era."

Published monthly from January 1934 through June 1937, the magazine first appeared on newsstands just over two decades after the collapse of China’s dynastic system.  The modernization-minded May Fourth Movement, nationalist Northern Expedition, and purge of communists by “Generalissimo” Chiang Kai-shek were even more recent memories.

But the relative stability of the "Nanjing Decade" had begun in 1927, and its zeitgeist turned out to be rich soil for a wild cultural flowering in China's coastal cities, none wilder than in Shanghai. To the reading public of this time Modern Sketch offered treatments of material like "eroticized women, foreign aggression — particularly the rise of fascism in Europe and militarized Japan — domestic politics and exploitation, and modernity-at-large," writes Crespi.

The magazine's attitude "could be incisive, bitter, shocking, and cynical. At the very same time it could be elegant, salacious, and preposterous. Its messages might be as simple as child’s play, or cryptically encoded for cultural sophisticates."

Sometimes it didn't encode its messages cryptically enough: as a result of one unflattering depiction of Xu Shiying, China's ambassador to Japan, the authorities suspended publication and detained editor Lu Shaofei. Not that Lu didn't know what he was getting into with Modern Sketch: "On all sides a tense era surrounds us," he wrote in the magazine's inaugural issue. "As it is for the individual, so it is for our country and the world."

As for an answer to the question of whether the strange and tense but enormously fruitful cultural and political moment in which Lu and his collaborators found themselves wold last, "the more one fails to find it, the more that desire grows. Our stance, our single responsibility, then, is to strive!"

You can read more about what project entailed, and see in greater detail its textual and visual results, in Crespi's history of this magazine that strove to capture the everyday reality of life on display in 1930s Shanghai — "though I sometimes wonder," Ballard writes, "if everyday reality was the one element missing from the city."

via 50 Watts

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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