The Italian Almanac

Hugo Pratt

Corto Maltese

A portrait of Hugo Pratt by Milo Manara

Hugo Pratt

Hugo Pratt lived an adventerous life from an early age! He was born near Rimini on the 15th of June, 1927. His father, a Frenchman of English descent, had a criminal record and had to go to Italian Abyssinia to find work: he eventually became an Italian colonial policeman! Pratt's mother was Venetian and Hugo lived in Venice until the age of 10 when his father brought the family to live in Addis Abeba. In 1941, following the British conquest of Italian East Africa, Pratt's father was interned; he died of an infection in a POW camp the following year. The Pope and the Allied powers arranged for the repatriation of Italian families in Africa and Hugo and his mother returned to Venice in 1942. After the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 the Germans set up a Fascist puppet state in northern Italy. That year Hugo Pratt was sent to the Military School of Città di Castello, in Umbria. In September 1943 he was drafted into the "Battaglione Lupo" (Wolf Battalion), a corps of the Fascist 'Social Republic'. He served as an interpreter in the intelligence section until the surrender of the Axis forces in Italy. He was then shipped to Australia. Returning to Italy in 1945 Pratt studied at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts. At that time he created his first comic book hero, a hooded crimefighter named Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades), in collaboration with Mario Faustinelli and Alberto Ongaro. In 1950 Pratt moved to Argentina where he worked for a variety of publications including Cesare Civita, Editorial Abril in Buenos Aires and Editorial Frontera. He also taught at the Escuela Panamericana de Arte during this period. Returning briefly to Venice in 1952 he married, but was divorced 5 years later.

Pratt created some of his most important strips in South America including Sgt. Kirk (1953), a western; Ernie Pike (1956), a WWII story; and Anna della Jungla (1959), a jungle adventure. From Argentina Pratt moved to London, England, working for the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Pictorial and Fleetway Publications. After a brief return to Argentina, where he edited the magazine 'Mister X', Pratt moved back to Italy, working for the Corriere dei Piccoli in Milan, then in 1967 for the monthly Sgt. Kirk. He also created Capitan Cormorant, a pirate story; Luck Star O'Hara, a detective strip; and Ballad of the Salt Sea (Una Ballata del Mare Salato), a tale of the South Seas, in which Corto Maltese made his first appearance as a minor character.

By the late '60's Western adventures had lost much of their appeal and on April 1, 1970, Pratt introduced Corto Maltese as a regular series for the French weekly Pif-Gadget. In 1973 he started to work for the famed Belgian comics magazine Tintin and created Les Scorpions du Désert, a World War II story. Cush, a character in the latter tale, provides Corto Maltese's apparent epitaph, stating that Corto disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, presumably dying fighting for the Republican side.

Pratt created a number of independent comic strip series in the last 20 years of his life, the most notable being Cato Zulu (1984), a tale of the colonial wars in South Africa; Jesuit Joe, (1978-1984), about a Canadian Mountie who is a law unto himself; and West of Eden, an adventure story set in East Africa. He authored two graphic novels illustrated by Milo Manara; Indian Summer, a tale of Puritans and Indians in New England, and El Gaucho, a tale of early 19th century Argentina. He also wrote several novels and an autobiography. Pratt died of cancer at his home near Lausanne, Switzerland, on August 20, 1995.

A famous pic of Pratt with two friends portraied as the characters they inspired