Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese adventures

Post written by Justin Colussy-Estes

Right now, in the US, we're in a golden age of reprints. So many classic comics - from Bud Sagendorf Popeye collections and the Walter Simonson prestige format oversized edition, to comic strip collections like the Complete Far Side boxed set and Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage - are available, in print, and, for the most part, affordable. But there's notable holes in the material you can get, particularly when it comes to non-manga foreign material. One of the biggest missing pieces in the pantheon of comics greatness, however, is now available. The phenomenal Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt and his rogue adventurer hero Corto Maltese is now available again in English for the first time in over two decades through gorgeous reprints from IDW.

Corto Maltese, whose picture you see above, is sardonic, witty, cool, sexy, always sympathetic towards underdogs and lost causes, and friend of the powerful, the mad, and the misbeggotten. He is a sailor and not quite gentleman, adrift and seeking his fortune in the turmoil of the early years of the Twentieth century. Famous historical figures like Hemingway and Butch Cassidy grace the page's of his adventures, as do legends like Merlin and Oberon. His travels have involved him in fascist Italy, the Spanish civil war, WWI, and South American revolutions. He's sought out pirate gold and lost continents. He quotes Rimbaud -- this dude is cool as cool comes. His adventures are like Indiana Jones and Jack Sparrow and Robin Hood rolled into one. He's been adapted to animated television and movies, but he began at the hands of the one and only Hugo Pratt.

Pratt produced a dozen volumes worth of Corto Maltese material, and his work influenced American cartoonists like Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli, INJ Culbard, and Chris Schweizer, to name a few. His drawings are expressive and exciting, about as good as adventure comics ever get. At the same time, his use of line and shadow can sometimes get surreal and illusory. He's playful and sweeping in his staging of figures and scenes. He's somebody whose work you can read again and again.

IDW has plans to print 12 volumes of Corto Maltese 's adventures. Their first volume, Under the Sign of Capricorn, is already out and available through comics retailers, independent bookstores, and the publisher's own website. It's got six Corto Maltese stories originally published in the 1970s that make up the initial introduction to this swashbuckling hero. The second volume, Beyond the Windy Isles, is due out in about a month. It includes my favorite Pratt story: "Banana Conga" my first introduction to Corto Maltese. But I haven't been able to read many of his stories because so few have been available here for so long - through this new IDW collection, I hope to discover even more great Hugo Pratt tales.

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn (
Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles (

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