When I worked and travelled in Europe I was always amazed to see my fellow young male train and plane passengers absorbed in comic books, something unthinkable to imagine their American counterparts doing. The difference is that we were brought up with Superman, Batman, and much worse. I found a bookshop in Nice called La Bande Desinée, French words loosely translated into the English for cartoon strips. It was a revelation and I feasted visually on the virtuosity of truly great illustrators such as Hugo Pratt.
Hugo Pratt was born in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, on 15 July 1925. Five years earlier, the great Italian film director, and one-time aspiring cartoonist himself, Federico Fellini was also born in Rimini. Wikipedia describes Pratt as an Italian comic book creator, which is like saying Charles de Gaulle was in the French army. It tells only part of the biographical history of this exceptional story teller and illustrator.
The surname Pratt is of English origin belonging to his paternal grandfather. Hugo spent his childhood in Venice and moved with his Italian mother to join his father Rolando Pratt in Ethiopia in 1937 then an Italian colony conquered by the army of the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Rolando was captured by British troops and died as a prisoner of war in 1942. In the same year Hugo and his mother were also imprisoned but later returned to Italy by the International Red Cross.
Hugo Pratt moved to Argentina in the late 1940s where he drew comics and taught drawing while immersed in the company of fellow Italians and Argentine writers, much influenced by illustrating stories by Héctor Oesterheld. He then moved to London in 1959 where he stayed for a year, then back to Argentina and to Italy in 1962 for more comic book work.
In 1970 the French magazine Pif Gadget began publishing stories of Pratt's most famous character, Corto Maltese.
Corto Maltese, a cult favorite in one of the best European graphic novels, is a veritable legend in twentieth century literature. He’s a traveler – a sailor who combines Mediterranean looks with Anglo-Saxon culture. Corto, meaning “quick” in Spanish, 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 traveling to some of the most fascinating places in the world.
From the official Corto Maltese website at http://cortomaltese.com/history/
Corto Maltese as a fine art print by Hugo Pratt
Pages of cartoon panels by Hugo Pratt
A watercolor of a Canadian Mountie in a birch bark canoe
Pratt was a prolific illustrator of his travels, which he used in his books
Canoe trip in a South American jungle
More to come.