While imprisoned at the Terezín concentration camp in Czechoslovakia by Hitler’s Nazi regime in 1943, Peter Kien and Viktor Ullmann wrote Der Kaiser von Atlantis, or The Emperor of Atlantis, a one-act opera that they never got to see performed. Now Dark Horse’s Berger Books will adapt the story into a graphic novel by Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Investigations Dave Maass and artist Patrick Lay.
Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis will also feature character designs by Ezra Rose and lettering by Richard Bruning. In addition to adapting the opera, the graphic novel will also feature an historical essay on the opera’s creators, as well as Kien’s artwork and photographs.
“Written in a concentration camp, Peter Kien and Viktor Ullmann’s opera is the truest form of artistic resistance, a middle finger to the Nazis and all authoritarians across history,” Maass said. “By adapting this fierce, genre-blending satire, we hope to introduce this nearly lost masterpiece to new audiences–and to challenge the tyrants of today.”
A performance of the opera was planned in 1943, but after seeing a rehearsal the Nazis shut the production down, claiming it satirized Adolf Hitler. Their manuscripts survived thanks to Dr. Emil Utitz, a university professor who served as the camp’s librarian. Passed down through history, the opera was eventually performed for the first time in the Netherlands in the 1970s. It’s been performed around the world, including in the U.S., since then, and was the subject of a German film and two documentaries.
“We’ve incorporated Peter Kien’s own incredible artwork, excellent character designs by Ezra Rose and the architecture of Terezín and Prague to craft visuals draped in passing shadows, smoke and vapor,” said Lay. “From the book’s ’Realm of the Unreal’ to the streets of Atlantis, the history of resistance against oppression and censorship is ingrained in the world.”
The story itself is one that combines mythology and elements of the supernatural:
In Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis, it is everyone against everyone. The book — like the opera, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, that inspired it — presents a world where Atlantis never sank, but instead became a technologically advanced tyranny, one where a power-mad buffoonish Emperor declares all-out war. Death goes on a labor strike, creating a hellscape where everyone fights, but no one dies. Can the spirit of Life stop this terror with the power of love?
“With the frightening rise of anti-Semitism, book-banning and political condemnation of the ‘other’, Dave and Patrick’s powerful adaptation of this dark and dramatic satire about the ravages of war and fascism feels as relevant today as when it was created 80 years ago,” Berger said. “It’s a remarkable story that, despite or possibly because of the tragic circumstances in which it was created, is underscored with hope and humanity.”
The graphic novel will arrive in stores beginning Nov. 7.