By Marianina Patsa
“I’m not a hero. I like to travel. I don’t like rules but will respect just one: to never betray my friends. I’ve searched for many treasures without ever finding one, but will always continue to look. You can count on that”. Treasure hunter, explorer, captain, and pirate all wrapped in one.
Corto Maltese holds all conflicts and adventures of life within himself. In his stories, people, magicians, historical events, myths, mysticism and love coexist. Even though he is a cartoon character, he almost has tangible human virtues and weaknesses, which set him apart from other cartoon heroes.
Asterix and Tintin were the first cartoons of the Franco-Belgian comics industry; however, the well-traveled character of Hugo Pratt (1927-1995) became one of the most influential European comic heroes. His name means “little Maltese” and is the son of an extramarital affair between a beautiful gypsy and an English sailor from Cornwall: “My name is Corto. Corto Maltese. I was born in Malta on July 10th, 1887 – or so I was told. From early on in my childhood, I remember a flag full of crosses and my father’s red beard. My mother was a gypsy from Seville. She was so beautiful that the painter fell madly in love with her, but I don’t know if that’s true, because she never spoke to me about these things”.
Free-spirited, concise and skeptical, Pratt’s charming captain made his first appearance in the comic book “The Ballad of the Salty Sea” in the 1960’s. The story was centered on a group of smugglers and pirates and unfolded in the Pacific Islands during World War I. The comic book was written in 1967 and has been ranked by Le Monde as one of the 100 best books of the 20th century.
Maltese is one of the most genuine characters that were ever sketched by a cartoonist. What makes him so human is that he often lives in grey areas. He’s become affected and troubled but struggles to stay neutral. In the end however, he almost instinctively defends the weakest. His adventures have led him to every place of the Earth, and it’s where he met some of the most important figures of history and literature, such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse and James Joyce… “When I want to relax, I read essays written by Engels. But when I want to read something more substantial, then I read Corto Maltese”, says Umberto Eco, because Maltese was the incentive to investigate important historical events. From the Russian Revolution to the rise of fascism in Italy, Maltese was there.
Pratt wants us to believe that the captain-pirate disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, so he wrote a separate series called “The Desert Scorpions”. But Corto Maltese is always here for his fans, and ready for new adventures. Full speed ahead Captain!