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Sunday 8 December 2013

The Flying Dutchman in Comics

2013 is Wagner’s bicentennial year, and one of the more unusual celebrations I saw mentioned on the Wagnerian’s blog was The Flying Dutchman: The Comic Book. This reminded me of three other “Flying Dutchman” comics I’ve come across. I don’t mean adaptations of Wagner’s opera, but alternative takes on the Dutchman legend. Since these happen to be the work of some of my all-time favourite comic-book creators, this gives me a good excuse to indulge in another nostalgia session!

Rather than embed half a dozen images in the blog (and since I’ve been wanting to try out iMovie) I thought I’d make a short video instead... with a Wagnerian soundtrack, of course (Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer featured earlier this year in Fortean Opera).

Chronologically, the first of the three Dutchman adaptations appeared in issue #4 of Out of This World, published by Charlton Comics in June 1957. This was the work of Steve Ditko, who I’ve mentioned at least once before, in Giant from the Unknown. I first came across Ditko in reprints of early Spider-Man and Doctor Strange stories... and also (even more strikingly when I was 10 or 11) reprints of the short, quirky pieces he did for Marvel in the pre-superhero days. He also produced similar stories for Charlton comics, although I only became aware of these relatively recently when they came into the public domain – they can now be read online at That’s how I came across Ditko’s “Flying Dutchman”... although sadly it’s well below his best both in terms of storytelling and artwork.

A funny animal comic may seem an unlikely place to encounter the Flying Dutchman legend... but not when the funny animal in question is Scrooge McDuck. Created by Carl Barks, the Uncle Scrooge stories of the 1950s had less in common with Mickey Mouse than with Doc Savage – in terms of his globetrotting adventures, at least: “The Secret of Atlantis”, “The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone”, “The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan”, “The Mines of King Solomon” and dozens of others. “The Flying Dutchman” first appeared in March 1959, although I would have seen it in a British reprint circa 1964. I used to love the exotic adventure genre in those days... almost as much as I do today!

The idea of an elderly Scottish duck travelling around the world in search of adventure puts a modest strain on the imagination, but it’s nothing compared with the third and final comic on the list: The Silver Surfer. The idea of a silver-plated (but otherwise perfectly normal-looking) humanoid travelling through intergalactic space on a surfboard is – well, it’s downright silly, isn’t it? Not when you’re 11 years old, it isn’t – it’s just the totally coolest thing imaginable. Even more so when the artwork is by the incomparable John Buscema and the peerless prose is by none other than Stan Lee himself. In issue #8 (September 1969), the Surfer’s arch-nemesis Mephisto conjured up the ghost of the Flying Dutchman for the perfectly logical reason that he needed to steal the Surfer’s soul, and this was the simplest way to go about it.

After producing the video above, which is really just a fancy slideshow, I thought I’d try my hand at something more creative. Some time ago I wrote a post called Philip K. Dick, music critic, about a short story called “The Preserving Machine” in which various works of classical music are transformed into living creatures. Here is a video I’ve just put together on the same subject:

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