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Corto Maltese, by Hugo Pratt

The author

Hugo Pratt (1927-1995) is considered one of the greatest graphic novelists in the world. His strips, graphic works, and watercolours, have been exhibited in major museums. The term «drawn literature» (graphic novel) was coined to define his genre. He lived in Italy, Argentina, England, France, Switzerland, and he travelled the world over.

Corto Maltese

Corto Maltese is a legend in twentieth century literature. He’s a traveller – a sailor who combines Mediterranean looks with Anglo-Saxon culture. Corto was created in 1967 by Hugo Pratt, a native of Venice. Corto is an anti-hero who prefers his freedom and imagination to wealth. He is a modern Ulysses who takes us travelling to some of the most fascinating places in the world. His adventures are set during the first thirty years of the 1900s, between Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific.

Islands & oceans

Corto Maltese is a tireless wanderer of the seas. For Pratt, the sea is an essential part of storytelling. Pratt’s enthusiasm is obvious, like other writers who wrote about voyages. Pratt loved to quote the words of Montaigne: «Always have your boots nearby and be ready to go,» and he’d often include illustrations of Treasure Island, Stevenson’s masterpiece. But Pratt came into his own with the release of the The Ballad of the Salt Sea, depicting with great imagination the islands and oceans of the South Seas.


During World War II, Hugo Pratt lived among soldiers from different countries. In his watercolours and illustrations, Pratt exhibits a deep fascination with the beauty, distinctive design and colours of different uniforms. All of the icons, flags, the coat of arms of Italian, English, or French armies, and even the Senegalese riflemen are symbolic of what Pratt called «military culture».

The women

Throughout his life, Hugo Pratt was fascinated with strong, liberated women. His many magnificent watercolour images of these women are tied closely to his travels. Throughout his artistic life, Pratt paid tribute to all women, whether real or fantasy, from women met on a distant island, to the legendary myths from literature and cinema, like Pandora, Louise Brooks, Ipazia, Bocca Dorata and Shanghai Lil.

«My style is the outcome of an entire life’s research. I’ve worked fifty years to find the approach I now have. Ideally, one day I will find a way to tell a story with one simple line,» Pratt said. In his passion to find that simple line that reduces storytelling to the bare essentials – the desert became for him the ideal location for telling a story. What’s more difficult for a graphic novelist than bringing to life the straight line of the horizon?



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