An Opera Written in a Concentration Camp Is Being Turned Into a Genre-Bending Graphic Novel

An Opera Written in a Concentration Camp Is Being Turned Into a Genre-Bending Graphic Novel

Eighty years ago Peter Kien and Viktor Ullmann, imprisoned in the Nazis’ Czechoslovakian ghetto at Terezín, wrote Der Kaiser Von Atlantis, a one-act opera that imagined a world where the famous underwater kingdom never actually sunk. While the two didn’t live to see their work performed, now it’s been transformed into a genre-mixing graphic novel.

io9 can reveal that Dark Horse Comics’ Berger Books will release Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis, adapted by the EFF’s Dave Maass and artist Patrick Lay, this fall. Like the opera that inspired it, Death Strikes will envision Kien and Ullmann’s dystopian world where the unsunken Atlantis has become a tyrannical fascist entity, declaring war on the world around it. As the bodies pile high, Death itself goes on a labour strike, leading to a forever war where people keep fighting but can’t actually die — leading to the spirit of life itself to go on a quest to put an end to this endless hellscape.

“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,” editor Karen Berger said in a press release provided to Gizmodo. “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.”

Image: Dark Horse
Image: Dark Horse

Maass and Lay’s graphic novel — featurirng character designs by Ezra Rose and lettering by Richard Bruning — will also include historical essays and photographs looking at Kien and Ullmann’s lives at Theresienstadt, and how Der Kaiser Von Atlantis survived the final years of the war and beyond. Also included will be Kien’s own artwork and photography, giving a personal insight into one of the men behind the original opera.

“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 in a provided press release. “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.”

“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 vapour,” Patrick Lay added. “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.”

Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis will be released November 7, 2023 in book stores, and November 8 in comics shops.

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