Corto Maltese and its creator, Hugo Pratt, belonged to a free and dangerous world, they were heroes without borders who moved through oceans and territories, sometimes half-explored, sometimes at war and sometimes tired and brimming with history like Ireland or Venice. The mysterious wandering sailor became a symbol of adventure, but also of solidarity and the attempt to understand and coexist with other cultures, one of the themes that run through the work of its creator. The death of Pratt, in 1995, did not end with Corto, a character who has resisted aging on a planet where he fits less and less and whose stories the Spaniards Rubén Pellejero and Juan Díaz Canales have continued in three comics.
Corto Maltés’ promise of adventure is kept alive with the release of A pending appointment (Confluences), a beautiful illustrated book in which Hugo Pratt narrates a trip to the South Seas in search of his vital and literary references; with a new Short, Black ocean (Norma), in which Martin Quenechen and Bastian Vicès take the character to the world of today – a leap that the most staunch fans have received with some bewilderment – and with an exhibition in which the destinies of the character and its creator intersect , reality and fiction, Hugo Pratt. Horizon lines, which can currently be seen in Bordeaux.
“Corto has become an icon,” explains Patrizia Zanotti, world representative of Hugo Pratt’s rights and who accompanied the Italian narrator on his trip to the Pacific. “It is a symbol that embodies classic values such as sensitivity towards other cultures and other populations. They are increasingly important issues. Especially after the period we are living in, people need to feel like dreaming, going on trips, they need positive messages. And we have all that in Short. I think that now, after it has been taken up by authors of other generations, it is more important than a decade ago ”.
On A pending appointment, The Italian writer recounts his trip to the Pacific in 1992 in search of the invented memories that make up his life. “Hugo Pratt had a quality,” Zanotti writes in the foreword. “He managed to feel at home anywhere. It seemed to always return to a familiar, almost familiar environment, even when visiting those places for the first time. Pratt told like no one else the immense Pacific Ocean in his sailor’s first adventure, The ballad of the salty sea, It has now become a classic in literature, a journey that is both epic and intimate, a tale of adventure and impossible love.
The protagonist, Pandora, gives Corto pumpkins despite the fact that he confesses: “Precisely because you don’t look like anyone else, I would like to always find you anywhere.” That tone, between the small and the immense, between the outer and inner adventure, will mark the rest of his travels because they all take place in a single space, humanity, and tell the story of an indestructible and defeated hero.
However, Pratt had never been in those settings that he loved and drew. It was obsessively documented with National Geographic, classic films, photographs, maps, books … He had described with a mixture of intuition and imagination remote places that he had not visited, although the fact that he was able to recreate them in such a powerful way shows the power of stories. “I went to the Pacific looking for or, perhaps, chasing a dream,” writes Pratt in the book, first published in Italy in 1994 and in France in 1995. “I had met him several times throughout my life, in the middle on the way between the real and the imaginary; in an enchanted world, flooded by the illustrations that he had been able to see, by the stories that he had been able to read, even by the colors with which he had dreamed ”.
Corto Maltese himself explains in Tarowean day: “I would not dare to discuss what is reality and what is fiction. I confess that I myself have my doubts ”. This album, the last of the continuation of the series that Juan Díaz Canales and Rubén Pellejero are making, ends right where it begins The ballad of the salty sea.
The purpose of the trip was the grave of Robert L. Stevenson on Mount Vaea in Samoa. The author of The island of the treasure, the great vital and literary reference of Pratt, was known as tusitala, the one who tells stories. But the jungle was stronger than him, and in the end he had to content himself with viewing the grave from a helicopter. Like his character, Pratt also built his life on defeats and unfulfilled dreams.
“Corto Maltés and Pratt remain in the memory of different generations thanks to the anarchic and extremely free character of both”, explains Juan Díaz Canales. “Neither Pratt nor his character conformed to any format, neither physical, nor literary, much less graphic. His stories are a kind of magic catchall where poetry, politics, mysticism, entertainment and even scholarship fit. Pratt’s formula is risky and complex, but it manages to create very personal stories that paradoxically involve the reader on an emotional level that is rarely reached in narrative ”.
The exhibition that can be seen at the Aquitaine Museum in Bordeaux (southern France) until February 6 insists precisely on that mixture from which Corto Maltese’s stories emerge, through all kinds of objects that reflect the geographical infinity of his adventures, but he also relies on music and books that appear in Corto’s stories. It offers many original plates that show the daring mix of styles that marks Pratt’s work. The accompanying drawings A pending appointment They also allow us to contemplate the narrator’s ability to jump from one technique to another, from those close to the clear line in some comics to evocative watercolors of the Pacific that border on abstraction. Pratt never stopped investigating, playing, searching, he always wanted to go a little further. As he writes at the end of the book: “My father was right: I found my treasure island. I found it in my inner world, in the people I met, in my work: spending my life next to an imaginary world was my treasure island ”.
Corto Maltese in Japan
While waiting patiently for the new adventure of Corto Maltés by Díaz Canales y Pellejero, announced for the year 2022, the sailor’s followers have to settle for the strange Black ocean, which shows a very different Short, with bangs and sometimes even a baseball cap. It offers an adventure story that takes place in settings that are almost more typical of James Bond than Hugo Pratt, from the Japan of the Yakuza to the Mosque of Córdoba. Above, for once, Corto liga, when all its stories are full of impossible loves and sentimental debacles. A legend, which Pratt never confirmed or denied, said that Corto disappeared in the Spanish Civil War because with that conflict a world that still believed in hope and that the sailor embodied vanishes. The rest of the 20th century no longer belongs to him.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.