Born today Hugo Pratt (15 June 1927 – 20 August 1995, Italy)
At an early age, Hugo Pratt got to see a lot of the world as he moved with his parents, first to Venice, then to Ethiopia, then back to Italy. In 1945, he met Mario Faustinelli, with whom he created his first comic book, ‘Asso di Picche’. He became part of what some call the Venice group, an association of writers and artists, such as Alberto Ongaro, Paolo Campani, Mario Faustinelli and Dino Battaglia. With them, he worked on several series for the comic Asso di Picche, including the title comic, ‘Ray e Roy’, ‘Silver-Pan’, ‘Indian River’ and ‘April e il Fantasma’. Finding few opportunities for comic artists in post-war Italy, Pratt, Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli moved to Argentina after an invitation by the publisher Cesar Civita of Editorial Abril.
During his stay in Argentina, he created some of his most important comics, such as ‘Sgt. Kirk’, ‘Ernie Pike’, ‘Anna della Jungla’, ‘Wheeling’ and many others. His first Argentine work was ‘Ray Kitt’, which appeared in the magazine Salgari in 1949. He got associated with writer Hector German Oesterheld, with whom he created ‘Sgt. Kirk’ in Misterix and with whom he worked at the publishing house Ediciones Frontera. The Groupe of Venice was re-assembled in Buenos Aires, and produced a great many comics for the magazines Hora Cero and Frontera. In cooperation with Oesterheld, Pratt produced series like ‘Ticonderoga’, ‘Ernie Pike’, ‘Lord Crack’ and ‘Lobo Conrad’. In addition, he made his ‘Ann y Dan’ (‘Ann de la Jungle’) in Supertotem with his own scripts. For a while, he taught at the Pan-American Art School in San Paolo, Brazil.
In 1959, he left Argentina for London and started working for the British Fleetway group through the agency of Roy d’Ami. He contributed to War Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library and Battle Picture Library. A year later, he moved to Ireland. In 1964, Hugo Pratt was working in London for the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Pictoral. Briefly back in Argentina, he was editor for magazine Misterix, for which he created the series ‘Capitan Cormorant’ and ‘Wheeling’. In 1965, he moved back to Italy, where he worked for the Corriere dei Piccolo in Milan, illustrating series like ‘Billy James’, ‘Le Legende Indiane’, ‘L’Epopa dell’America’, ‘Sinbad il Marino’, ‘L’Odissea’, ‘Kiwi il Figlio della Giungla and many others, mostly with scripts by Milo Milani.
Two years later, he founded his own monthly Sgt. Kirk. For this, he wrote and drew ‘Luck Star O’Hara’ and ‘Gli Scorpioni del Deserto’, as well as ‘Una Ballata del Mare Salato’, a brooding tale about the South Seas, in which a character was featured who would later become the famous Corto Maltese, Pratt’s most popular creation, whose stories appeared in the French magazine Pif Gadget from 1970. The similarities between Pratt and his travelling protagonist are so striking, that they inspired Alberto Ongaro to write a book on the subject. Besides continuing his work on the ‘Corto Maltese’ series, Pratt created a number of independent comic series during the last twenty years of his life, such as ‘Cato Zulu’, ‘West of Eden’, ‘Saint-Exupéry: the Last Flight’ and ‘Jesuit Joe’. In 1991, he wrote the script for ‘The Gaucho’, which was illustrated by Milo Manara. In the summer of 1995, Hugo Pratt died of cancer at his home in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Hugo Pratt is considered to be one of the greatest among comic artists for his versatile fantasy and use of graphic freedom, and the combination of these factors resulted in very strange stories. In his tales, reality can change into dream and vice-versa, and in this way he took his readers into the strangest lands and even through time. He is thought to be one of the first comic artists to mix literature with adventure. Hugo Pratt has been a great inspiration to comic artists all over the world. In 2002 a full animated feature film was made called ‘Corto Maltese: La cour secrète des Arcanes’ (2002).
In 1999 the French newspaper Le Monde compiled a list with 100 Books of the Century they considered to be essential reading. The ‘Corto Maltese’ album ‘Ballad of the Salt Sea’ ended at 62th place, as one of the few comics in that list. On 24 October 2007 a statue of Corto Maltese, designed by Luc and Livio Benedetti, was erected in Grandvaux, Switzerland. On 4 July 2008, the men erected another statue of Croto and placed it on the footbridge in Angoulême, France. Despite not being a Belgian character ‘Corto Maltese’ also received his own comic book mural in Brussels, as part of the Brussels’ Comic Book Route. Since 28 October 2009 it can be viewed in the Quai des Péniches / Akenkaai, near the local harbour.