It is not uncommon that a comic book series with a long history and a worldwide following has struggled to reach English-speaking audiences. Corto Maltese is one of the most striking examples. His adventures can be easily found at most bookstores of Europe and Latin America, in Spanish, French, Italian, Greek and several other languages. However, the original English translations by NBM and Harvill Press are expensive and rare, while some issues have never been translated in English.
Who is Corto Maltese?
Created by Hugo Pratt in 1967, Corto Maltese is a charming sailor and adventurer who lived in the beginning of the 20th century. His father was a sailor from Cornwall and his mother a gypsy witch and prostitute from Andalusia. When he was a child, a fortune teller warned him that his palm lacked a ‘Fateline’. Corto’s reaction was to grab his father’s razor and cut a line of fate in his palm himself. He has been determining his own fate ever since.
His first adventure, chronologically, takes place in Manchuria, during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, where he becomes friends with Jack London and Rasputin. From there, he sails to a series of adventures that take him to every corner of the earth. He makes friends from all walks of life: Butch Cassidy, Joseph Conrad, Herman Hesse, Enver Pasha and even Stalin.
Like a true adventurer he witnesses wars, finds himself in the middle of battles and mutinies, seeks treasures and gold mines, smuggles guns for IRA, makes great friends and enemies and always, everywhere, gets involved with beautiful women. With his very own code of honor, he never adheres to a nation, religion or ideology but he always fights for the oppressed, the underdog, the weak. His world is magic yet real, and more than often in his adventures, local legends come to life to help or haunt him.
Rich Context, Beautiful Art
History and mythology are probably the most fascinating aspects of Corto Maltese. His creator, Hugo Pratt, paid his respect to local legends while always aiming for as much historical accuracy as his poetic license allowed him. The precision of his ink drawings are mesmerizing and his art is a tribute to minimalistic beauty. The atmosphere of mystery is always present and all characters are a natural continuation of the place, well-developed, complex and tragic.
There are not many comic book adventurers that mingle with devils in Bahia, druids at Stonehenge, shamans in Ethiopia. There are not many artists who introduce their stories with lengthy historical descriptions, maps and detailed depictions of uniforms, flags, hieroglyphics and escutcheons. There are not many comic books like Corto Maltese.
The uniqueness of the story, the art and the hero himself has made him one of the most famous comic book heroes in the world, one that appeals to both boys and girls of various ages and nationalities. Frank Miller is an admirer of Hugo Pratt, who entered the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005. Some of his adventures have been adopted for the screen or for animation, and a Nintendo DS game that is based on Corto Maltese is going to be published in the fall of 2010.
Although there are often rumors that Corto Maltese will be translated in English again, no such action has been taken so far. Comics in the USA may have a very different history and context from Europe, but there are always comic book lovers that appreciate an original, more esoteric, artistic expression, as long as a publishing company decides to take the leap.
Albums by chronological order of Corto Maltese’s adventures (Descriptions in English):
1905: La Jeunesse (The Early Years): Corto Maltese in the Russo-Japanese war
1913-1915: La ballade de la mer salée (Ballad of the Salt Sea): On the islands of the Pacific Ocean
1916-1917: Sous le signe du Capricorne (The Brazilian Eagle): Dutch Guyana, Brazil, the Amazon, Honduras, Lesser Antilles
1917 : Corto toujours un peu plus loin (Banana Conga; Voodoo for the President): Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Caribbean, the Amazon
1917-1918: Les Celtiques (The Celts; A Mid-Winter Morning’s Dream): Venice, Ireland, England, France
1918: Les Éthiopiques (Corto Maltese in Africa): Yemen, Somalia, Abyssinia, Horn of Africa
1918-1920: Corto Maltese en Sibérie (Corto Maltese in Siberia): Siberia, Manchuria, Mongolia
1921: Fable de Venise (Fable of Venice) : Venice
1921-1922: La maison dorée de Samarkand (The Golden House of Samarkand): Turkey, Soviet Union, Iran
1923: Tango: Argentina
1924: Les hélvétiques (The Secret Rose): Switzerland
1925: Mu: Central America
L’album GEO ‘Le Monde Extraordinaire de Corto Maltese’ Casterman, 2002
Corto Maltese Memoirs, Casterman, 1998