Corto Maltese, a cult favorite in one of the best European graphic novels, is a veritable legend in twentieth century literature. He’s a traveler – a sailor who combines Mediterranean looks with Anglo-Saxon culture. Corto, meaning “quick” in Spanish, was created in 1967 by Hugo Pratt, a native of Venice. Corto is an anti-hero who prefers his freedom and imagination to wealth. He is a modern Ulysses who takes us traveling to some of the most fascinating places in the world.
His adventures are set during the first thirty years of the 1900s, between Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific.
1887 Corto Maltese is born on July 10, 1887 in La Valetta (Malta). His father is an English sailor, a native of Tintagel, Cornwall. His mother is a gypsy from Seville. His parents met in Gibraltar, where his mother was known by the name of “La niña of Gibraltar” and seemed to have been a model for the painter Ingres (1780-1867)
1887-1903 Corto Maltese spends his childhood in Gibraltar, then in Cordoba where he lives in the Jewish neighborhood. He attends the Jewish school in La Valletta, headed by Rabbi Ezra Toledano (his mother’s lover when they live in Cordoba). At the time of the “Boxer War” (June-August 1900) Corto is in China.
1904 At the beginning of the year, Corto begins his travels as a sailor aboard the Golden Vanity out of the port of La Valletta. He makes a stop in Egypt, where he visits the pyramids of Giza. In February, he reaches Ismailia, followed by stops in Aden, Muscat, Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Madras, Rangoon, Singapore, Kowloon, Shanghai and Tien Tsin.
1904-1905 Toward the end of 1904, Corto arrives in Manchuria at the time of the Russian-Japanese War (February1904-September1905). In Mukden, (today Shenyang) he becomes acquainted with the Songs family, befriends the American writer Jack London who was, at that time, a war correspondent, and meets Rasputin, a young deserter from a regiment of Siberian riflemen. With Rasputin he arrives in Tien Tsin and they sail for Africa in search of the gold mines in the Danakil. At this time the episode “The Youth” takes place.
1905-1906 A mutiny occurs aboard the ship on the Sea of Celebes. Corto and Rasputin are rescued and taken aboard a merchant ship. They reach Valparaiso in Chile. From there they travel by train to Santiago first, and then Argentina in 1905. In Cholila, Patagonia, they meet the American outlaws Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Etta Place.
1906-1907 Corto’s travels resume. In 1907 he travels to Ancona, where he meets the Russian revolutionary Dzhugashvili, a doorman who would become Stalin. In 1908 he returns to Argentina and, at the Hotel Drowning Maud, he meets author Jack London and the American dramatist Eugene O’Neill
1908-1913 In 1909 Corto leaves Marseille for Trieste where he meets the writer James Joyce. In 1910 he becomes the second officer on the ship Bostonian transporting cattle between Boston and Liverpool. In 1911 he arrives in Tunisia and in the same year, he travels by ship to Argentina. En route he stops in Brazil and Salvador de Bahia where he spends some time in Itapoa. He also travels to the Antilles, to New Orleans, India, and China in 1913.
1913 Corto travels the length and breadth of Indonesia and the South Pacific, to Surabaya (Java), the Samoa Islands, and the Tonga Islands. During this period, he becomes a pirate and works for a mysterious character, the “Monk”. On October 31st, his crew mutinies and abandons him off the coast of the Solomon Islands. The following day Corto is rescued by Rasputin, himself a pirate and an accomplice of the “Monk.” The first day of November 1913 is the beginning of The Ballad of the Salt Sea.
1914 Corto and Rasputin are in the Pacific between New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Escondida Island (169 ° longitude West and 19 ° latitude South, near the island of Niue).
1915 On January 19, 1915, Corto and Rasputin leave the island of Escondida, and sail toward Pitcairn Island. This concludes The Ballad of the Salt Sea. From Pitcairn they stop in Easter Island, Sala y Gomez Island, Iquique (Chile), Callao (Peru), Guayaquil (Ecuador) and arrive in Panama in August.
1916 Corto Maltese and Rasputin part company in Panama. Corto is accompanied by professor Jeremiah Steiner from the University of Prague along with the young Tristan Bantam. In1916-17 he lives a series of adventures in Latin America, which are gathered in the volumes (Carribean Suite, Golden Sea and Corto Always A Little Further. It all starts in Paramaribo (Dutch Guiana) with The Secret of Tristan Bantam. Next, he is in Saint-Laurent-de-Maroni (French Guiana) and Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) with the story, Appointment in Bahia, followed by the Brazilian “Sertào” in Samba With Tiro Fisso. Here, he meets for the first time the sorceress “Bocca Dorata” (Golden Mouth). It ends on the island of Marajo, at the mouth of the Amazon river in An Eagle In The Jungle.
1917 This is the most intense year with seven episodes that take place in Latin America (the end of Caribbean Suite, The Golden Sea and Corto Is Always A Little Further), followed by four stories in Europe including the beginning of the stories The Celtics. Every month, from February to December, there is an adventure for Corto Maltese. Here are the 11 episodes of 1917:
- So much for Gentlemen of Fortune where Corto finds Rasputin again in the Antilles at Saint Kitts.
- The Seagull’s Fault, which takes place in British Honduras (now Belize)
- Mushroom Heads set in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
- Bananas Conga, set in Honduras, with the first appearance of Venetian Stevenson and Esmeralda (who Corto met in Buenos Aires when she was a little girl because Esmeralda’s mother, “Parda Flora,” loved Corto).
- Voodoo for the President, which takes place in Barbados (West Indies) and then in the island of Port Ducal (nowhere to be found in the maps, but that Pratt locates southwest of Guadeloupe).
- Sweet Dream Lagoon in the delta of the Orinoco.
- Grandfathers and Fairy Tales, in the Peruvian Amazon (forest).
- The Angel At the Window of the Orient (first chapter of the story “The Celtics” set in Venice).
- Under the Flag of Gold, which can be dated in October (after the battle of Caporetto on October 24, 1917), where Corto meets Ernest Hemingway who an ambulance driver. The story takes place in the Adriatic Sea and then in Ulcinj in Montenegro.
- Concerto in O minor for Harp and Nitroglycerin, in Dublin, Ireland.
- A Mid-Winter’s Morning Dream, set in England at Stonehenge and perhaps in Tintagel, around December 21, day of the winter solstice, precisely because Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream takes place on June 24 (the Feast of St. John) when we celebrate the summer solstice.
1918 In the Spring, Corto Maltese is in France. The last two chapters of the story The Celtics: Cotes de Nuits and Roses of Piccardia take place on April 20 and 21 on the Somme, between Corby and Bray. (Corto here assists in killing the Red Baron, the German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen who was shot down in Vaux-sur-Somme). Burlesque and Between Zuydcoote and Bray Dunes take place on the beaches of the North Sea.
One month later Corto is in Yemen where, In the Name of Allah the Merciful, he meets Cush. This episode is the first chapter in the story The Ethiopian. In September, Corto is in British Somalia. The Last Shot takes place in a single day, September 13. About other Romeos and Other Juliets is in Ethiopia. Dated October 1918, the last episode, The Leopard-Men of the Rufiji, takes place in German East Africa (now Tanzania).
On November 11, Corto is in Hong Kong, where he owns a house (but his legal residence is in Antigua, West Indies). He learns about the end of the war and reconnects with Rasputin. So begins Corto Maltese in Siberia.
1919 Corto is in Shanghai, then to the borders of Manchuria, to Mongolia and to Siberia, in the region of the city of Manchouli.
1920, Between the region of Manchouli and the Dali Nor Lake (or Hulun Nur) Corto was wounded in an action aiming to destroy the armored train of General Chiang (February). Still he is able to reach Hong Kong via Hailar (Inner Mongolia) and Harbin, China. He arrives in Hong Kong during the first fortnight of March, and shortly after the 15th of the same month he leaves again for the Chinese province of Kiang Si (or Xian Jiang) where, in April 1920 Corto Maltese in Siberia ends.
1921 Corto is in Venice. From April 9 to the 25 the story Fable of Venice takes place. In the fall Corto leaves to Rhodes where the episode The Golden House of Samarkand begins.
1921-1922 For about a year, Corto Maltese goes in search of the treasure of Alexander the Great (which he will be only glance at from a distance). He also finds Rasputin. He leaves Rhodes and arrives in Adana (Turkey) in December. He crosses the village to Van. Then passing through Azerbaijan he reaches the Caspian Sea (crossing by boat from Baku to Krasnovodsk), and arrives in the emirate of Bukhara. There he meets Rasputin, who has just been released from a prison called “The Golden House of Samarkand,” near Baldjouan, south-east of Duchambe (now the capital of Tajikistan). Here Corto and Rasputin witness the death of General Enver Pasha (August 4, 1922). From here they go to Kafiristan (Afghanistan region, now called Nuristan). The Golden House of Samarkand ends on September 6th, 1922, when Corto and Rasputin cross the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (then part of the empire of the Indies).
1923 In early June, Corto Maltese returns to Argentina after being away for fifteen years. He arrives aboard the steamship Le Malte, owned by Freight Forwarders Reunited, which was en route from Hamburg to Buenos Aires. On June 13, he begins the story of Tango, which ends on the night of June 20th.
1924 Corto visits all the Swiss cantons. The Helvetics begins in the fall, after a retreat in the small village of Savuit-sur-Lutry (Canton of Vaud). Corto and Professor Steiner go to Montagnola (Canton Ticino) where they meet the writer Hermann Hesse. Later, Corto goes to Zurich with the painter Tamara de Lempicka.
1924-1925 In Tarifa (the southernmost tip of Spain), Corto and Rasputin receive a telegram from their friend Levi Colombia in Venezuela. He invites them to a cruise in the Caribbean to search for Atlantis. This begins the story of Mü.
1926-1936 Not much is known of the life of Corto Maltese at this time. We know that in December 1928 and January 1929 he is in Harar (the Ethiopian town where the poet Rimbaud lived) in the company of the novelist Henry de Montfreid and paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin.
1936 In July 1936 the Spanish civil war begins and it will last until May 1939. Corto joins the International Brigades fighting with John Cornford (son of the English poet Frances Cornford Croft, grandson of Darwin). Then we lose track of Corto. In January 1941, in the story “The Scorpions of the Desert” Cush, says, “It seems Corto Maltese disappeared during the Spanish Civil War.” We also learn that Corto sent a hawk, Al –Andaluz, to Cush from Spain.
Did he disappear in 1936 after the “last romantic adventure,” the Spanish Civil War? It could be, but apparently there is a letter written by Pandora in which she says that Corto and Tarao, now of a certain age, went to live with her and her children (who consider them as “uncles”).