Corto Maltese

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For the fictional location, see Corto Maltese (DC Comics).
The first Corto Maltese adventure, Una ballata del mare salato, Italian publication cover.

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.

Publication history[edit]

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 Sergeant Kirk in July 1967.[1] 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.

In 1976, Ballad of the Salt Sea was published in book format and was awarded the prize for best foreign realistic comic album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.[2]

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.

On October 7, 2014 Italian publisher Cong who owns the rights to Corto Maltese, announced that a new album is being made by writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Rubén Pellejero. No release date was announced.[3]


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 an 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, Ferdynand Antoni 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's favourite reading is Utopia by Thomas More, but he never finished it. He also read books by London, Lugones, Stevenson, Melville and Conrad, and quotes Rimbaud.

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. Beginning in 2014, IDW Publishing's EuroComics imprint announced plans to reprint the complete series in English for the first time, in books corresponding to the twelve volumes released in B&W by Casterman. New translations are being made from Hugo Pratt's original Italian scripts by Eisner and Harvey Award-winner Dean Mullaney and Simone Castaldi, associate professor at Hofstra. The series (published by IDW) began with "Under the Sign of Capricorn," published in late December 2014.

  • 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. The complete edition in English is "Under the Sign of Capricorn."
  • 1917 (French) Corto toujours un peu plus loin (black and white 1970–1971); various episodes are available in English as separate editions. The complete edition in English, titled "Beyond the Windy Isles," was published in July 2015.
  • 1917–1918 (French) Les Celtiques (black and white 1971–1972); in English as The Celts, the complete edition in English is expected to be published in January 2016
  • 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 (black and white and colour editions, both 1992). Not currently available in English.


In 1975–1977, Secondo Bignardi produced semi-animated Corto Maltese stories for the RAI television programme Supergulp, fumetti in TV!.[4]

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.

A Corto Maltese tarot deck was published by tarot publisher lo Scarabeo in 2008.[5]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]