Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hugo Pratt & Corto Maltese

If I ever had a hero role-model, it must be Corto Maltese, the character created by Italian comic book writer Hugo Pratt.

Corto Maltese is a sea captain, a classical romantic hero but not a sentimental Byronic wretch. Corto's world is a distinct world of his own: "I don't like hawking 'round other people's memories... That wasn't part of the deal... when I was born." (Corto Maltese inThe Celts)

In Pratt's comics fictional characters intermingle with real historical persons, among them the indestructible Grigoriy Rasputin, a notorious lecher and drunkard, who gained the confidence of the emperor Nicholas II, and who is seen in several albums. The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) appeared in Les Ethiopiques. In 1973 Pratt visited Harar where Rimbaud had lived and where his father was buried. Rasputin is Corto's dark Doppelganger and proclaims in Corto Maltese in Siberia: "It's hopeless to live in a world without adventure, without fantasy, without joy!"

Corto's father is an English sailor from Cornwall, his mother a gypsy from Gibraltar. As a rebel, he mostly sides with the oppressed, with Indians, Irish revolutionaries against the British, Russians fighting against the Czarist system. Pratt often combines fact with fiction, and sets the actions of his characters against some true historical crisis. In The Celt's, published first in Pif in 1971-1972, Corto meets Merlin the Wizard and characters from Shakespeare's play Midsummer Night's Dream, and sinks with a tugboat, named 'Excalibur', a German submarine. Corto himself disappears sometime during the Spanish Civil War.

Going through all my Hugo Pratt comics, I was surprised not to find many drawings of berets, which seems to me such a Pratt-like attribute. Most berets found are military ones, but also a caubeen worn by Banshee O'Danann and a picture of Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Hugo Pratt died in 1995 and I still miss him for what he left: comics that could match any literary novel and provoked an interest in me varying from kabbala and tarot to Central Asian Turkic separatism and African mysticism via many other sidetracks - he should have written a lot more and longer...

Interestingly, Pratt's works never took off in the Anglo-Saxon world, but were and still are big in France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia and many other European and South American countries. Hard to find books in English through the regular bookstores, but you can always try Abebooks.

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