Saturday, 12 April 2008


The Life of Corto Maltese

by Andy Etris

According to Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese was born July 10 1887 in La Valetta, Malta, to an Andulasian Gypsy, Amalia, a prostitute known as "la Niña de Gibraltar". Corto Maltese is therefore a British subject. Corto's official residence is Antigua, in the British West Indies, but the only home of his depicted in the series is in Hong-Kong. We learn a little about the childhood of Corto in "Ballad of the Salt Sea", notably that he was living in the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, Spain at the age of 10. When a fortune-telling friend of his mother read his palm, she noticed that he had no 'Fateline'. The young Corto thereupon took his father's razor and single-handedly cut a line of Fate to suit him...

In the summer of 1900, at age 13, Corto made his first trip to China. According to Hugo Pratt's assistant Raffaele Vianello Corto's first feat of arms was performed there; in the midst of the Boxer Rebellion (June - August 1900) he destroyed a cannon. In Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 - September 1905) he became a friend of war correspondant, later famous author, Jack London. This was the occasion of his first meeting with Rasputin, at the time a deserter from the Tsarist army. Together the pair sailed to Ethiopia in search of gold mines.

However there was a mutiny aboard their ship and they wound up in Argentina! In 1905, in Patagonia, Corto and Raspoutine met Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta Place, the notorious outlaws fleeing from United States Marshals.

In 1907 Corto was in Italy, at Ancona, where he came to know a humble hotel night-porter named Josef Djougatchvili, the future Russian dictator Stalin. This friendship got Corto out of a tight spot 14 years later (see the album The Golden House of Samarkand).

Returning to Argentina in 1908, he reunited with Jack London. Between 1908 and 1913 Corto travelled to Marseille, Tunis, the Antilles, New Orleans, India and China. According to Juan Antonio de Blas, a specialist in the work of Hugo Pratt, Corto was second mate on the Bostonian in 1910, a ship sailing between Boston and Liverpool. On board Corto came to the defense of John Reed, future reporter and Marxist hagiographer, at the time a ship's boy accused by the captain of causing the death of another cabin boy. Corto proved Reed innocent at the trial, and as a result wound up on the captain's blacklist.

Following this voyage Corto became a smuggler. In 1913 he was working for the mysterious crime boss "the Monk" in the South Pacific. On October 31, Corto's crew mutinied (he was certainly unlucky in his crews!) and he was cast adrift in mid-ocean, tied to a crate. The following day, November 1st 1913, he was rescued by Raspoutine, also a member of "the Monk"s secret syndicate. Raspoutine had also rescued teenage castaways Cain and Pandora Groovesnore at the beginning of 'la Ballade de la Mer Salee', the first appearance of Corto Maltese in the oeuvre of Hugo Pratt.

Corto spent 1914 on the fictional island of Escondida (169 degrees longitude west, 19 degrees latitude south) When the British Navy captured Escondida Corto's German friend Slutter wound up in front of a firing squad. Around January 1915, Corto Maltese bade Pandora farewell and sailed with Raspoutine for Pitcairn's Island.

Then, Corto’s adventures in Latin America begin. In 1916, Corto Maltese, together with professor Jeremiah Steiner of the University of Prague and young Tristan Bantam, sail in succession to Paramaribo, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Salvador de Bahia, then to Brazil and the mouth of the Amazon. In early 1917 they were at Saint-Kitts in the British Antilles, sailing from there to British Honduras (Belize), then Maracaibo and Venezuela, Honduras, Barbados, the Orinoco delta and the Amazonian jungle of Peru.

Corto's friend Levi Columbia was obsessed with the lost gold mines of El Dorado and during the adventure "Fables and Grand-peres" Corto learned of the existence of a treasure map. Crossing the Atlantic in search of it he arrived in Venice in the Fall of 1917. After a frustrating encounter with Venexiana Stevenson he sailed into the Adriatic prior to the battle of Caporetto (24 October 1917). He spent some time in Dublin while smuggling guns for the Irish Republican Army, then headed to Stonehenge, in England, for a nap! Instead he was caught up in a faery counterplot against German sabotage in "A Mid-winter's Morning Dream". Corto was in France on April 21 and witnessed the death of the Red Baron, killed in the sky over Vaux-sur-Somme. "The Celts" ended with Corto Skinnydipping with Captain Rothschild off the beaches of Normandy!

A month later the adventures in Africa begin, with Corto Matese in Yemen. By September 13th Corto was in British Somaliland, travelling from there to Ethiopia. The African adventures come to their conclusion in German East Africa.

Corto was in his home in Hong-Kong after learning of the end of the Great War, November 11 1918. Raspoutine turned up shortly afterward, elegantly attired in a Burberry and impatient to begin new adventures. A Chinese secret society, the Red Lanterns, directed the pair to Shangai, first stop in a journey to the collapsing Russian Empire in pursuit of a shipment of Czarist gold. There Corto hitched a ride with a pilot of the U.S.M.C., crash-landing near Chita in Siberia. Crossing into Mongolia Corto was captured by the troops of a White Russian Cossack commander and imprisoned in Duroy. Corto out-fought the Cossack Ataman Semenov near Chita but was severely injured while destroying the armored train of Chinese warlord General Chang outside of Bolkan-Nor in Manchuria. On February 15, 1920 he was taken to a Japanese military base at Hailar, recuperating at the U.S.M.C hospital at Harbin. In March he returned to Hong-Kong. "Corto Maltese in Siberia" concludes in the Chinese province of Jiangxi in April of 1920.

Exactly one year later a Masonic lodge in Venice was being called to order when Corto Maltese made a dramatic entrance into a story like a stageplay: 'Fable of Venice'. From there Corto travelled to the Aegean island of Rhodes in the Autumn of 1921 to began a new Asian adventure, "La Maison Doree du Samarkand". This took him from the Turkish coast to the mountains of Afghanistan in search of the treasure of Alexander the Great. Beginning in Adana he crossed Turkey into Azerbaidjan. Arrested by a trigger-happy Bolshevik Comissar he was nearly shot but was saved by the intervention of then- Commissar Stalin (always tip your porter!) Next Corto crossed the Caspian Sea from Baku to Krasnovodsk. There he found Raspoutine imprisoned in the Emirate of Bukhara. During a Russo-Turkish border dispute in Tadjikistan the pair witnessed the heroic death of Enver Pasha on August 4 1922. Finally they reached Afghanistan where for a hallucinatory moment they see the treasure of Cyrus. At the end of the adventure Corto and Raspoutine bade each other farewell at a borderpost on the Pakistani frontier.

In June of 1923 Corto Maltese was in Argentina looking into the disapearance of the beautiful Louise Brookzowyc, introduced in 'Fable of Venise'. In Tango he runs afoul of a prostitution ring called "the Warsavia", which had enslaved the young woman. Corto killed Estevez, the corrupt policeman responsible for his friend's death, and left Argentina the night of June 20.

In 1924, Corto Maltese went hiking in the Swiss Cantons with Jeremiah Steiner. In 'Rosa Alchemica' he met writer Herman Hesse at his home in Montagnola. Despite his skepticism Corto was drawn into the world of the mystic's imagination and in a dream drank the philtre of Paracelsus, becoming immortal. Or was it really a dream?

In 1925 Corto Maltese, at the request of Levi Colombia, sailed with Rasputin in search of the lost continent Mu.

A watercolour of Hugo Pratt's from la Revue Corto suggests that Corto was at Harar in Ethiopia with romancier Henry de Monfreid and the paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin in December 1928. In 1936 the armed struggle between right and left began with the last romantic crusade, the Spanish Civil War. 5 years later the Danakil warrior Cush, reminiscing with one of 'Les Scorpions du Desert', says: "Apparently, he disappered during the Spanish Civil War". So it appears! But disappear doesn't mean die...

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...