‘Corto Maltese’ Vol. 1 Comic Review
Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn is an upcoming 140 page collection from IDW Publishing. Written and illustrated by the legendary Hugo Pratt, the series collects the first loosely linked short stories which feature Pratt’s most well known character, Corto Maltese. IDW recently acquired the rights to publish English language translations of the entire series in the original black and white over-sized format. This is the first of 12 volumes that will collect this amazing series, in it’s entirety, and it has been a long time coming. Although there have been sporadic releases of translated versions of various episodes of the series, this will be the first time the entire series has been translated into English and reprinted in the original format.
Born in 1927, and passing on in 1995, Hugo Pratt was an Italian born comic book writer and illustrator. The Corto Maltese series was one of his most well known series, combining both his love of adventure (rooted in his own wanderings and experiences around the globe), and more metaphysical forays into the realm of dreams and the occult. Corto Maltese first appeared in ‘A Ballad of the Salt Sea’ in 1967, and soon became Hugo’s signature character.
He is, at first glance, an utter rogue interested in the main chance and only out for himself. As the reader digs deeper into the character, first impressions fall by the wayside, and Corto becomes much more complex and intricate. A wanderer, mercenary, and occasional pirate, the man constantly sticks up for the downtrodden, persecuted, and unfortunate. Frequently sacrificing his own good fortune for those who have been overlooked by fate, the man epitomizes the ‘rogue with a heart of gold’ character type.
He finds his friends where he may, never looking down on background, upbringing, or appearance. As a young man of ‘questionable’ lineage, he realized that he had no fate line on his palm, and carved one there with his father’s razor. Casting caution to the wind, he announced that he would carve his own destiny, and live a life of his own choosing. Corto’s motto became “I have no enemies!” although he is quick to add, when necessary, “They are not my enemies… but neither are they my friends.” A peripatetic man of the world, who is also allowed glimpses of the mysteries that lurk beneath our reality, Corto is a man you definitely want on your side.
The stories contained in this collection take place in the early 1900’s, and range all the way up to War I. As well traveled as his creator, Corto’s wanderings never cease, although they are fairly well contained in this release. Initially helping out a down on his luck former professor, Corto soon becomes involved with a young heir to a great fortune, whose father was searching for the prehistorical land of Mu. Along the way, he meets various never-do-wells, foreign operatives, escaped prisoners, and more followers of black magic than you can shake a stick at. Additionally, he helps an oppressed people overcome those who are exploiting them, eliminates his young charge’s most fervent enemy, and saves the descendant of one wrongly accused by society.
The heart and soul of the series are the characters. Whether it be Corto himself, the mysterious Goldmouth, or the treacherous pirate Rasputin, Pratt’s writing brings these multifaceted men and women to wondrous life. All of them are enigmas, with layer upon layer of wants, needs, and other ulterior motivations. One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is trying to figure out what, exactly, is the various personal endgame that each player is working towards. The reader is never certain of which way the story will turn, or of which way the characters will jump at any given moment. Ostensibly an adventure series, there are many other elements contained within the tales. The philosophies of existentialism and fatalism are explored, along with more esoteric philosophies, such as the concept of eternal return. Past and present are one big circle, each leading forward and back to one another. This is so much more than a simple adventure story.
Let’s get to the art, shall we? Pratt excels at visually depicting the locales, mode of dress, and vehicles and abodes of the time period. He rigorously researched the setting and time period of his various stories before beginning the process of illustrating (and writing) them, which clearly shows in this work. Everything is as it should be, with nary a hair out of place. His line work is exquisite, and he works with light and shadow beautifully. Traveling between beauty and the grotesque, he wonderfully captures the human condition. The action sequences jump off the page, and his forays into the world of dreams and hallucinations are suitably outre. The character designs are unique, with no two alike, except when he intentionally chooses to draw the reader’s attention to a kinship between certain characters. Hugo Pratt was a master of his craft, and his mastery is on full display with this release.
The Corto Maltese series is an absolute treasure, containing outstanding work by an acknowledged master creator, one who has long been out of reach of comic book fans. The stories are engaging, the art enthralling, and the characters are simply wonderful. A masterpiece of adventure storytelling, IDW should be lauded for their efforts to showcase Pratt and his creation, and hopefully introduce a new generation of comic book enthusiasts to this gem. Personally, I have to say that every volume will eventually be on my shelf, and that I would recommend this to any true fan of comic book storytelling. It’s that good. Pick it up, and enjoy getting lost in the world of Corto Maltese. Happy reading!