Corto Maltese is a comics series featuring an eponymous character, a complex sailor-adventurer. It was created by Italian comic book creator Hugo Pratt in 1967. The Corto Maltese series has been translated into numerous languages.
The character debuted in the serial Una ballata del mare salato (Ballad of the Salt Sea), one of several Pratt stories published in the first edition of the magazine Sgt.Kirk in July. The story centers around smugglers and pirates in the World War I-era Pacific Islands. In 1970, Pratt moved to France and began a series of short Corto Maltese stories for the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pif gadget, an arrangement lasting four years and producing many 20 page stories. In 1974 he returned to full-length stories, sending Corto to 1918 Siberia in the story Corte sconta detta arcana (Corto Maltese in Siberia), first serialised in the Italian comics magazine Linus.
Pratt continued to produce new stories over the next two decades, many first appearing in the eponymous comics magazine Corto Maltese, until 1988 when the final story Mu was serialised, ending in June 1989.
Corto Maltese (whose name is possibly derived from the Venetian Corte Maltese - Courtyard of the Maltese, today Corte Contarini del Bovolo, next to Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo) is a laconic sea captain adventuring during the early 20th century (1900-1920s). A "rogue with a heart of gold", he is tolerant and sympathetic to the underdog. Born in Valletta on July 10, 1887, he is a son of a British sailor from Cornwall and a gypsy Andalusian witch and prostitute known as "La Niña de Gibraltar". As a boy growing up in the Jewish quarter of Córdoba, Maltese discovered that he had no fate line on his palm and therefore carved his own with his father's razor, determining that his fate was his to choose. Although maintaining a neutral position, Corto instinctively supports the disadvantaged and oppressed. Corto Maltese's character is based on a famous Polish adventurer, author and explorer Ossendowski, who collaborated with Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, among others.
The character embodies the author's skepticism of national, ideological, and religious assertions. Corto befriends people from all walks of life, including the murderous Russian Rasputin (no relation with the historical figure, apart from physical resemblance and some character traits), British heir Tristan Bantam, Voodoo priestess Gold Mouth and Czech academic Jeremiah Steiner. He also knows and meets various real-life historical figures, including Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Butch Cassidy, James Joyce, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Frederick Rolfe, Joseph Conrad, Sukhbaatar, John Reed, White Russian general Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, Enver Pasha of Turkey and Sergei Semenov, modelled after Grigory Semyonov. His acquaintances treat him with great respect, as when a telephone call to Joseph Stalin frees him from arrest when he is threatened with execution on the border of Turkey and Armenia.
Corto Maltese stories range from straight historical adventure to occult dream sequences. He is present when the Red Baron is shot down, helps the Jivaros in South America, and flees Fascists in Venice, but also unwittingly helps Merlin and Oberon to defend Britain and helps Tristan Bantam to visit the lost continent of Mu.
Chronologically, the first Corto Maltese adventure, La giovinezza (The Early Years), happens during the Russo-Japanese War. In other albums he experiences the Great War in several locations, participates in the Russian Civil War after the October Revolution, and appears during the early stages of Fascist Italy. In a separate series by Pratt, Gli Scorpioni del Deserto (The Desert Scorpions) he is described as disappearing in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
This is a list of the twelve Corto Maltese novels in chronological order. Original titles - French or Italian - are given first, followed by English ones. Not all the albums are available in English and some NBM albums do not correspond to any original French or Italian title. French editions were published by Casterman, Italian by Edizioni Lizard.
- 1905 (French) La Jeunesse (black and white 1981, colour 1985); published in Italian as La giovinezza (colour 1983); in English as The Early Years
- 1913–1915 (French/Italian) Una ballata del mare salato/La ballade de la mer salée (black and white 1967–1969; colour 1991); in English as Ballad of the Salt Sea
- 1916–1917 (French) Sous le signe du Capricorne (black and white 1971; colour edition as - episodes 1 to 3 - Suite caraïbéenne, 1990; and - episodes 4 to 6 - Sous le Drapeau des Pirates, 1991); various episodes are available in English as separate editions
- 1917 (French) Corto toujours un peu plus loin (black and white 1970–1971); various episodes are available in English as separate editions
- 1917–1918 (French) Les Celtiques (black and white 1971–1972); in English as The Celts
- 1918 (French) Les Éthiopiques (black and white 1972–1973); in English as Corto Maltese in Africa
- 1918–1920 Corte sconta detta Arcana (black and white 1974–1975), better known under its French title Corto Maltese en Sibérie; in English as Corto Maltese in Siberia
- 1921 (Italian) Favola di Venezia - Sirat Al-Bunduqiyyah (black and white 1977; colour 1984), in French as Fable de Venise, in English as Fable of Venice
- 1921–1922 (French/Italian) La maison dorée de Samarkand/La Casa Dorata di Samarcanda (published simultaneously in France and Italy, black and white 1980, colour 1992); in English as The Golden House of Samarkand
- 1923 Tango... y todo a media luz (first published in Italian, black and white 1985; editions in other languages normally use the same Spanish title)
- 1924 (Italian) Le Elvetiche - Rosa alchemica (colour 1987; also known as La rosa alchemica); in French as Les hélvétiques, in English as The Secret Rose
- 1925 Mu (first published in Italian, first part in 1988–1989, second part in 1988–1989). In French as Mû (black and white and colour editions, both 1992). Not available in English.
A 2002 French-language animated film, Corto Maltese: La Cour secrète des Arcanes, was based on the Pratt novel Corte sconta detta arcana, ("Corto Maltese in Siberia"). Also in 2002, Canal + produced a series of Corto Maltese adventures for television, adapting the stories La Ballade de la mer salée, Sous le signe du Capricorne, Les Celtiques and La Maison dorée de Samarkand. Canadian animator and cartoonist Guy Delisle documented his observations of colleagues working on one of these French-language adaptations at SEK Studio in North Korea in Pyongyang.
- Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century for Ballad of the Salt Sea
- Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Hugo Pratt".
- ToutEnBD. "Le Palmarès 1976" (in French).
- Fondazione Franco Fossati. "Corto Maltese" (in Italian).
- "Aeclectic Tarot's entry for the Corto Maltese Tarot".