Trailing one of Europe‘s great comics characters through the twisty-turny alleyways of his creator’s hometown… and returning to explore IDW‘s new American editions.
Welcome back to our recurring miniseries Comics: Italian Style. Why Italy? Because I just traveled there and there’s plenty to say comicswise! — Dan
Just as I discovered the blues through the Rolling Stones, Corto Maltese came to me through Frank Miller.
For decades, Corto Maltese to me was a politically important island nation that was the catalyst for the nuclear strike that preceded the climactic battle between Batman and Superman at the end of The Dark Knight Returns.
Blissfully ignorant I was until a trip to France some years back, when I visited a Parisian comics shop and found books and books of Hugo Pratt‘s seafaring wanderer … Corto Maltese.
Hey, I never professed to know all there was to know about world comics. We all have gaps, y’know? A colleague of mine just admitted he’d never seen Lawrence of Arabia.
Fast forward to 2015, and I happen upon the Hugo Pratt exhibit at New York’s Society of Illustrators. His art is charismatic, full of life and style and atmosphere. It gives you a genuine sense of place.
Next thing I know, I’m in Venice, which happens to be Pratt‘s hometown. He’s so closely identified with the city that there’s even a guidebook, The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese, published in multiple languages, that provides off-the-beaten-path itineraries for lovers of the city and one of Europe‘s best-known comics heroes.
I picked up my copy and was mindful of it as we traversed the seductively mysterious maze of streets and corners of this city on the Adriatic, crossing footbridges and inadvertently doubling back through neighborhoods as if walking through a wormhole. In Venice, you only think you’re at Point A, when you’re really at Point B.
We visited one of the most unique bookstores in the world, Libreria Acqua Alta di Frizzo Luigi. It’s a store that celebrates books, boats and cats, jammed with volumes every which way and in every which place. It’s not just close to the water — it’s on the water.
It was there that I learned of La Casa di Corto Maltese, a museum/gallery dedicated to the character and his late creator. So we went over for a look. Alas, between my minimal Italian and the broken English of a man standing in the square across the way, I learned that the place had closed down.
We moved on, disappointed.
Corto Maltese books were easy to find not just at that shop, but in stores all over Italy. The problem is I can’t read Italian, so I made sure to get my hands on the first volume from IDW’s EuroComics imprint, Under the Sign of Capricorn, which was nominated for an Eisner in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material category.
Corto Maltese appeared in 29 stories and IDW will be releasing 12 volumes in oversize black and white, similar to how Pratt was originally published. The second volume, Beyond the Windy Isles, was just released.
That Pratt is a favorite among the top American mainstream creators is evidenced by the comments on the back cover, featuring declarations of admiration from the likes of Miller, Brian K. Vaughan and Brian Michael Bendis.
But don’t take their word for it. Look for yourself. These are the lines of a master, bringing you far-flung escapist adventures that take place in the early part of the 20th century, a romantic world of rogues and scoundrels.
I hope to return to Venice one day. In the meantime, through the adventures of Corto Maltese, I’ll find new destinations to add to my travels.