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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 many languages and is known worldwide.
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 concerned 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 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 Linus.
In 1976, Ballad of the Salt Sea was awarded with the prize for best foreign realistic comic album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
Pratt frequently produced new stories in the following years, many first appearing in the comics magazine Corto Maltese, until 1988 when the final story Mu was serialised, ending in June 1989.
Corto Maltese (possibly derived from the Venetian Courtyard of the Maltese) 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 prostitute known as "La Niña de Gibraltar". As a boy growing up in the Jewish quarter of Cordoba, Maltese realised he had no fate line on his palm and therefore carved his own with a razor, determining that his fate was his to choose. Although maintaining a neutral pose, 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 characteristic attributes), British heir Tristan Bantam, Voodoo priestess Gold Mouth and Czech academic Jeremiah Steiner. He also knows and meets various historical figures, including Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Hesse, Butch Cassidy, White Russian general Roman Ungern von Sternberg and Enver Pasha of Turkey. 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 the Utopia by Thomas More, but he never finished it. He also read books by London, Lugones, Stevenson, Melville and Conrad.
Corto Maltese stories range from straight historical adventure stories to occult dream sequences. He is present when 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 visits 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.
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