Corto Maltese

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The first Corto Maltese adventure, Una ballata del mare salato, Italian publication cover.

Corto Maltese is a series of adventure and fantasy comics named after the character Corto Maltese, an adventurous sailor. It was created by the Italian comic book creator Hugo Pratt in 1967. The comics are highly praised as some of the most artistic and literary graphic novels ever written and have been translated into numerous languages and adapted into several animated films.

The series features Corto Maltese, an enigmatic sea captain who lives in the first three decades of the 20th century. Born in Valletta on the island of Malta on 10 July 1887, the son of a sailor from Cornwall, and a gypsy from Seville.

In his adventures full of real-world references, Corto has often crossed with real historical characters like the American author Jack London and his nurse Virginia Prentiss, the American outlaw Butch Cassidy, the German World War I flying ace Red Baron, and many others.

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 French 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 was being made by writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Rubén Pellejero.[3] The album was released in Europe on September 30, 2015 with the French title "Sous le soleil de minuit" ("Under the Midnight Sun") and takes place in 1915. In September 2017, a second album in the new series of Corto Maltese stories was published under the name "Equatoria" and is set in 1911. In November 2019, a third album in the new series was published under the name "Le Jour de Tarowean" ("All Saints Day") and takes place in 1912–1913.


Corto Maltese (whose name derives from the Andalusian Argot and means "quick hands") 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 the son of a British sailor from Cornwall and an AndalusianRomani[4] 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.

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 finishes 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 Jívaro 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 original Corto Maltese novels in chronological order. French editions were published by Casterman, Italian by Edizioni Lizard, English editions by IDW's EuroComics imprint.

  • 1905 (French) La Jeunesse (black and white 1981, colour 1985); published in Italian as La giovinezza (colour 1983); in English as Corto Maltese: 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 The Ballad of the Salty 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); the complete English edition is titled Under the Sign of Capricorn
  • 1917 (French) Corto toujours un peu plus loin (black and white 1970–1971); The complete English edition is titled Beyond the Windy Isles
  • 1917–1918 (French) Les Celtiques (black and white 1971–1972). The complete English edition is titled Celtic Tales
  • 1918 (French) Les Éthiopiques (black and white 1972–1973). The complete English edition is titled The Ethiopian
  • 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; in English as Tango
  • 1924 (Italian) Le Elvetiche — Rosa alchemica (colour 1987; also known as La rosa alchemica); in French as Les Helvétiques, 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). In English as Mu, The Lost Continent

In 2015 the series was continued by Ruben Pellejero and Juan Diaz Canales, with the following albums released so far:

  • 1911 (French/Italian) Equatoria (2017, black and white and colour editions). Future English publication announced.
  • 1912-1913 (Spanish/French) El día de Tarowean / Le Jour de Tarowean (2019, black and white and colour editions). Future English publication as All Saints Day announced.
  • 1915 (French/Italian) Sous le soleil de minuit (2015, black and white and colour editions). Future English publication as Under the Midnight Sun announced.


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


  • In 1975–1977, Secondo Bignardi produced semi-animated Corto Maltese stories for the RAI television programme Supergulp, fumetti in TV!.[6]
  • A 2002 French-language animated film, Corto Maltese, la cour secrète des arcanes [fr], 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.
  • On 20 September 2018, a new opera, Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salty Sea, based on the stories of Hugo Pratt, premiered at the Teatru Manoel in Valletta (Malta) by the Teatru Manoel Youth Opera, as part of Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture. The production, which was commissioned and co-produced by the Valletta 2018 Foundation and Teatru Manoel, was an adaptation of Una Ballata del Mare Salato. The opera was composed by Monique Krüs with a libretto by director Corina Van Eijk, based on an original script by Tama Matheson. Stage and set designs were by Jolanda Lanslots.
  • Christophe Gans was developing a new live action film, for release in 2020. It was an adaptation of "Corto Maltese in Siberia". It starred Tom Hughes as Corto and Milla Jovovich, and was to be produced by Samuel Hadida.[7] However, it was cancelled due to legal problems.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Hugo Pratt".
  2. ^ ToutEnBD. "Le Palmarès 1976" (in French). Archived from the original on 2007-03-13.
  3. ^[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ ""The ballad of Corto Maltese" by Ivan Pintor". Archived from the original on 2016-09-22.
  5. ^ "Aeclectic Tarot's entry for the Corto Maltese Tarot".
  6. ^ Fondazione Franco Fossati. "Corto Maltese" (in Italian).
  7. ^ McNary, Dave (November 1, 2018). "Tom Hughes, Milla Jovovich Starring in Swashbuckler 'Corto Maltese'".
  8. ^ "Corto Maltese : pourquoi l'adaptation de Christophe Gans est-elle annulée ?". AlloCiné.


External links[edit]