Page 3-4: Anschluss

In March 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Reich. Hitler arrived by train for a triumphal procession through Vienna, and passed down Leopoldstadt's largely Jewish main street right under our family's window.

I've taken dramatic license by drawing my grandparents standing at the bay window. That day, Nazi SA paramilitary entered street-facing apartments to keep residents away from their windows. My dad remembers that one of the brownshirts, figuring a 7-year-old wouldn't pose much danger to Hitler, lifted him up on his shoulders to watch the parade. So he was the only one of the family who got a clear view.

Page 5: Adolph Mechner's autobiography

In the introduction to his 1978 memoir, my grandfather expresses the hope that his descendants will read it and perhaps one day add their own stories: "Vivant sequentes — may others follow."

I won't upload his entire memoir here, but these first pages (PDF) convey his style and intentions.

Page 6: "Wahr spricht, wer Schatten spricht."

The line is from Paul Celan's poem "Sprich auch du." I'd translate it in English as "Who speaks shadow speaks true."

Celan was born in Czernowitz, like my grandfather, and made his reputation as a German poet in post-war exile in France. To me, this short poem evokes a mysterious descent into an underworld as a human shadow — and, maybe, a return.

Page 9: Los Angeles

From 2004 to 2015, we lived in Los Feliz, east of the Hollywood Hills. That's the Griffith Observatory in the distance, as seen in Rebel Without a Cause (more recently, LaLaLand).

Page 10: New York

In 1975, New York City was more dangerous, vice- and crime-ridden than it is today, yet no one batted an eye at a couple of 11-year-olds wandering around on their own, browsing in comics shops or catching an R-rated double feature. My best friend Mark and I considered ourselves jaded and mature, but we were just babies.

I lived in Chappaqua, a green suburb an hour north of Manhattan. I was always happy to take the train to the city to meet Mark, and maybe add to my MAD Magazine collection. The Crockwork Lemon parody is one I remember well: a movie even the St. Marks Cinema wouldn't let us into.

That's my dad at the piano, playing Schubert's "Aufenthalt." Here's a recording my grandfather made in 1969 of a similar family gathering. You'll hear my grandfather's voice introducing the performance, followed by his brother Carl singing, with my dad accompanying on piano.

Introduction by Adolph Mechner (MP3):

"Aufenthalt" recording by Adolph Mechner (MP3):

Page 11: 1914

My grandfather's hometown of Czernowitz (in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire) was one of the first to fall to the Russian army in August 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War I. The town's two main bridges, on the Pruth river, were destroyed, presumably by retreating Austrian troops. This photo shows one of them. (Courtesy of the Center for Urban History in Lviv, Ukraine.)

Page 12: Prince of Persia

Readers interested in the making of Prince of Persia, or the nuts and bolts of 1980s-era game development, can find plenty of gory details on this site. (The Games & Books and Library tabs are good starting places to dive down the rabbit hole.) Here's a snippet of the original 1985 parking-lot video footage of my brother. He's 15, I'm 21.

Page 16: Apple II music

My dad isn't a professional musician, but a serious amateur classical pianist. (Mostly, he's an educational psychologist and entrepreneur.) He made his composing debut with the scores for my first games, Karateka and Prince of Persia.

The audio capability of the Apple II being limited, he first composed the music at the piano, then we figured out how to simplify it so I could program the computer's tinny built-in speaker to play the notes.

Here's a recent piano cover of my dad's Prince of Persia score:

Page 18: Hitler watercolors

I'd heard the story of Uncle Joji and the Hitler watercolors from my dad and my grandfather, but I hadn't realized it was known outside our family until I read Brigitte Hamman's book Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship and learned that the middleman was a picture framer named Samuel Morgenstern.

Hamman writes: "One of Morgenstern's main customers was the lawyer Dr. Josef Feingold [my dad's Uncle Joji]... He had his law offices downtown, near Stephansplatz, and supported a number of young painters sent by Morgenstern. He bought a series of old views of Vienna by Hitler, which he had framed by Morgenstern in the style of Biedermeier." Per Morgenstern: "In my experience, it is easier to sell frames if they contain pictures."

Hamman's footnotes contain details my dad hadn't known, including that Josef gave four paintings to his hairdresser's daughter, an enthusiastic Nazi voter. "According to the hairdresser Mock's report to the NSDAP archive in 1936, these were views of the old Schönbrunn gate, the Ratsenstadl, Auersperg Palace, and the old Burgtheater, all signed ‘A. Hitler.' [Feingold] left Vienna on 4 August 1938, heading for France."

Morgenstern and Uncle Joji, like most of Hitler's Vienna art-world patrons and customers, were Jewish. Hamman observes that before World War I, Hitler had many Jewish friends and expressed positive attitudes and admiration for Jews in general. People who knew him were shocked when he emerged in the 1920s as an anti-Semitic politician calling Jews "parasites," because it was so unlike the Hitler they remembered. Hamman's book makes me wonder to what extent Hitler's anti-Semitism might have been an opportunistic posture to get votes, rather than a reflection of his personal beliefs.

Page 20: My journal

I started keeping a journal as a college freshman at Yale, in 1982, and kept up the habit.

In this panel, I'm sitting in a window of Calhoun College — named after the pro-slavery white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. In 2017, Yale changed the name of my old residential college to instead honor the brilliant mathematician and computer science pioneer Grace Hopper, who joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and used her talents to fight Nazis.

Page 24: Else Mechner's paintings

My grandfather considered his sister Else a great painter, whose promising career was cut short when she abruptly left Paris in 1930. Family and financial issues, and the Nazis' rise to power, combined to keep her from getting back on track. Today she is unknown.

Papi included in his memoir photographs of as many of Else's paintings as he could locate, with press clippings of her 1920s Paris exhibitions. Here's one from Luc Benoit, conservator at the Louvre (translated by Papi):

"One does not explain aught but oneself, and the best preface to her paintings should have been written by madam Mechner herself. But she would not consent. She has renounced everything: sculpture, music, poetry, to express herself through color and line. In touching canvasses, she has attempted, in melodic flight, to establish imaginary forms and synthesize poem, sculp­ture, music. All this stems from a spiritualist and even mystical art. It is vision and symbol, steeped in biblical nuance and resounding with the psalms of Bach. It is an art that is longing, aspiring to enormous space, to gigantic frescoes, yet does not astonish from the palette of the artist, who came from Rumania to place red roses on the grave of Delacroix... The contradiction to be avoided is to see in her a neoclassicist. If she ever escapes, it will be through surrea­lism, full speed through a forest primeval, mounted on a snow-white charger."

My dad has never shared Papi's enthusiasm for Else's work. He prefers French Impressionist-style landscapes, portraits and still lifes from nature; her symbolic/mystical art isn't his thing. A dozen of her canvases are in closets in his New York apartment, but none on the walls.

Page 26: Asteroids

My first serious swing at becoming a best-selling software author was in 1981, with a faithful reverse-engineered port of the coin-op hit Asteroids. Still in high school, I was thrilled when Hayden Software (a subsidiary of Macmillan) agreed to publish my game. I was already spending the royalties in my imagination when Atari's lawyers caught on and started warning publishers to quit selling unauthorized floppy-disk knockoffs of their arcade games.

This was new legal ground. In 1981, there was no precedent to establish whether the "look and feel" of a video game was even copyrightable. Sierra On-Line's Ken Williams was one of the few willing to fight a David-vs.-Goliath lawsuit. Hayden preferred not to take the risk. My Apple Asteroids died a quiet death, and I went on to start college.

Page 30: Karateka

Before the Internet, there weren't many ways a 17-year-old aspiring game designer could learn about the industry. Softalk magazine was my lifeline. (See page 29.)

Thanks to Softalk's monthly Top-30 software bestseller chart, I knew the #1 game was Broderbund's Apple Galaxian. In a November 1981 article profiling the company, writer Al Tommervik rhapsodized about Broderbund's work culture and the ethics, human decency, and general awesomeness of its founders, siblings Doug, Gary and Cathy Carlston. From that point, my dreams of becoming a published software author zeroed in on Broderbund.

I submitted my game Deathbounce to Broderbund in 1982 (on a floppy disk, mailed in a manila envelope). A few weeks later, the dorm room phone rang: it was Doug Carlston himself. He said Deathbounce wasn't for them, but he'd be curious to see what I did next.

I wrote about this thrilling event, and my other undergraduate adventures trying to break into the game industry, in my then-private journal (later published under the title The Making of Karateka: Journals 1982-1985).

My roommate Ben's dad, Don Normark, was a photographer. Twenty years later, we met again in Los Angeles, and worked together to make a documentary film based on photographs he'd taken in Chavez Ravine in 1949. That's another story.

Page 32: Downsizing

For readers worrying what happened to my collection of 1980s computer magazines, games, manuals, and work products during this drastic downsizing: Thanks to a timely introduction by fellow hardcore Apple II enthusiast John Romero (see his cameo on page 180), the Strong Museum of Play stepped in and shipped it all to their archives in Rochester, NY, where it's in safer hands than mine.

Page 35: Papi's memoir

In Replay, I've used three color palettes to indicate three timelines: yellow for present day (my move to France in 2015-2019), blue for my past (1960s-2012), sepia for my father's and grandfather's pasts (1900-1942). Square-cornered panels are my own memories, rounded corners depict events I was told about by others.

For my grandfather's narration I use a typewriter font, as he did in his memoir. The excerpts are condensed — in a graphic novel, pictures talk and space is at a premium — but I've tried to preserve his style and stay as close to his words as possible. For comparison, here are the original memoir pages from which three panels on Replay's page 35 are adapted:

Papi saved and included in his memoir a series of letters he received from the Austrian medical authorities after the Anschluss, informing him that he would be dismissed from the Workers' Sick Fund, and requesting his cooperation to transfer his practice to a non-Jewish physician. This one is from April 1938.

One story thread that didn't make it into Replay (the book is dense enough already) was my grandfather's invention and patent of a cold remedy, made from snake venom, marketed under the trade name Viperin. In 1938, his hard work was just starting to pay off, with successful clinical trials, a royalty stream, and boost to his reputation. His decision to flee Vienna meant giving all that up along with his regular medical practice.

In his memoir he tells the Viperin story in detail, including his later attempts as a refugee to reproduce and market the formula with a Cuban pharmaceutical company. The discovery and subsequent release of the first antihistamine (Antergan) in 1942 stole their thunder; Viperin missed its window. Papi believed until the end of his life that Viperin had been superior to antihistamines, and regretted its loss.

The newspaper clippings above are from 1938, before the Anschluss. (French headline: "A radical cold remedy is discovered.")

Page 36: Paris

The few months my dad spent in Paris with Lisa in 1938-39 left him with warm memories and a positive first impression of France. Here's one of the few photo souvenirs.

Page 37: Second grade

My dad (age 8) wrote this letter to his mother and grandparents in Vienna a few months after that photo was taken.

"My dears! I am already going to school. I like it very much. I'm getting 10/10. Is Hannerl being good? Lisa is working in Raymond's office. She is earning money. She is very happy. I am making many airplanes. How are you? I went to Notre Dame. It's very beautiful. Dr. Saxl and another lady and I went inside. I have Easter vacation. I got this letter-paper and many automobile brochures from Lisa's pupil. His name is Didier. Many kisses, Franzi."