The series The Scorpions of the Desert by Hugo Pratt will be published for the first time in English in eBook format.

CongeEditions is the new publishing house of CONG SA – Hugo Pratt Art Properties, the company that manages all of Hugo Pratt’s work. The 5 titles in the series will be published in English in eBook format only.

Many consider Pratt’s narrative level to be of the same caliber as that of such novelists as Dumas, Conrad, or Jack London. This view is not an exaggeration, given the great quantity of adventures that he drew. Corto Maltese is certainly his most famous character (the series has been published in the USA by Euro Comics – IDW Publisher – starting in December 2014), but Pratt created many other characters and series, such as The Scorpions of the Desert, Wheeling, Sgt Kirk, Ernie Pike e Jesuit Joe, just to mention the most important ones.

Even his personal life recalls that of a character straight out of an adventure novel.
The saga of The Scorpions of the Desert was not a random choice for Pratt; he actually lived in Abyssinia for a number of years that were important from both a historical and a personal viewpoint. In 1940, Hugo, who was only 13, was enlisted by his father in a battalion of the Italian colonial army in Addis Ababa. The battalion was made up of high school and college students who were in charge of protecting civilians from potential attacks by marauders while awaiting the arrival of official troups. At the time, Hugo was the youngest soldier of the Italian army: a sort of mascot of his battalion.

In this apparently ridiculous role, Pratt experiences the real war. In the adventures of the Scorpions, one clearly picks up on the memories of a young wanderer who, in the guise of a ‘mascot,’ discovers the hard reality that permeates the situations that all men, like it or not, must face in a conflict.

The Scorpion series was born out of a little-known piece of history that took place in North Africa between 1940 and 1941, when the famous “Afrikakorps” had not yet entered into action in the desert, while on the Mediterranean Sea the French had momentarily left the field of operations. Hence, only the Italians and the English were left to confront each other directly.

Translated by Fiore Sireci and colored by Patrizia Zanotti.
First volume available on iTunes in February 2015.
52 pages, ISBN 978-2-940552-00-9, $7.99

eBook: The Scorpions of the Desert

Vol. 1 – Gli Scorpioni del Deserto

Autumn 1940, in the desert on the border between Libya and Egypt. The protagonists of the story are a group of men that belong to the fighting elite of the British Army: the Long Range Desert Group, aka the Scorpions of the Desert. They come from every battlefield of the Empire, and they travel alone, on the edges of the great maneuvers. They appropriate jeeps, armored vehicles, camels; or they march for days on end before an attack, striking and disappearing behind the sand dunes without much regard for rules.
But everything is bewildering around here, the borders, the enemy’s uniforms, the colors and the flags on the vehicles used by these men. Sometimes whoever is telling a story doesn’t tell the whole truth. Only Vladimir Koïnsky, lieutenant of the Polish cavalry, stays right on track. Koïnsky has enrolled in the LRDG after leaving behind the Cracow disaster and fleeing across Romania and Persia. He is a cynic and an individualist, but he can see beyond the mirages and recognize a spy. Redheaded, tough, disfigured (and not just in the face), Koïnsky is among those characters who do not want to make history, but rather live from day to day facing risks straight on, and overcoming them, because tomorrow doesn’t matter when you have nothing to lose.

Vol. 2 – Piccolo Chalet

January 1941. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.The war, the desert, the regular Italian and English armies—all these elements appear and disappear in the vibrant mirage on the far horizon and set a distant scene for the story of three solitary men: Koïnsky, the cynical Polish lieutenant of the Desert Scorpions; the individualistic and romantic lieutenant Stella; and Cush, the tough and charming revolutionary of the Beni Amer tribe. This odd trio acts outside normal limits. They are not allies; they are just trying to survive, to keep each other in check and to mutually respect each other in order to arrive alive at a common destination. All three are in search of a treasure, a way out of a war that doesn’t consider them. Each has his own, different motives, but they share the journey across the fragile border between life and death, between dreams and escape, between materialism and idealism.
In the background a gramophone plays a repetitive refrain and there is the vague but intense fragrance of a faraway woman. There are scorpions who pretend to be scorpions and an Andalusian hawk that brings to mind poems in Arabic and the right place to find more than just a treasure.

Vol. 3 – The Spades of Danakil

Lieutenant Koïnsky,  who has been promoted to commander of the Desert Scorpions, is now on board an airplane, on his way to the British military summits for an important meeting with the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. His flight is intercepted by the CR42 of one of the aces of the Italian Royal Air Force, Captain Visentin. The English are not shot down, only forced to land, and their imprisonment does not last long; after seizing a Savoia Marchetti, they take off in a southerly direction, but the fate of that trip is sealed: the aircraft has mechanical problems and Koïnsky ends up in a strange, small Italian fort surrounded by Danakil marauders, among Eritrean mercenaries weary of a futile war and officers on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
A surreal and deeply human story enhanced by a soundtrack of opera music; there are the sensual movements of a curvaceous woman, shots that come out of nowhere, officers with brilliantine-sculpted hair, and French soldiers fleeing a desert teeming with more than just ghosts.

Vol. 4 – Dry Martini Parlor

Captain Koïnsky must persevere on his mission to reach Djibouti and then Harar. This time the trip begins in a jeep with the French lieutenant De La Motte. Theirs is a strange journey; the intense colors of the desert gradually fade, and after having passed a ridiculous, miniscule tank that tries to incinerate them with its flamethrower, the two officers arrive within sight of the sea.
The reflection of the moon on the water will lead the Frenchman to melancholy recollections of Adrienne, a woman he loved very much. But the same woman is present in the memories of other soldiers: a Somali is enamoured of her, and she is the first great love of the Italian commander Fanfulla. Fanfulla is truly a special character: in appearance violent, in reality sentimental. He is a mournful and fatalistic man who, having contracted leprosy, is still attempting to achieve something worthwhile; meanwhile, time is slipping away from him. As in a dream, the real exchange between the three officers takes place in the presence of three perfect glasses of well-chilled Martini, topped off with a twist of lemon. But the calm cannot last; Koïnsky will continue his southward journey in solitude, and the Italian flag of the fort will remain at half-mast.

Vol. 5 – Brise de Mer

An adventure in the yellow sands of North Africa, following the coast of the blue sea toward Djibouti and Dire Dawa, Captain Koïnsky’s final destination. The journey features a colorful theater of characters in succession. The Polish officer starts out with two degenerate Indochinese riflemen that he ran into by pure chance. Next he bumps into the singular soldier Gallina, faithful to his Breda, a priceless armored vehicle which proves essential for continuing along the difficult way. At that point a guide is needed, and a sensuous Dankal woman, Ghula, comes on the scene. She is lithe of body, but her dagger is always ready to strike. Accompanying her behind the scenes is a band of libertarian warrior women. Then it is the turn of the beautiful Madame Brezza of the “Brise de Mer,” the legendary brothel in Djibouti.
It’s a far cry from the classic war story; everything spins around as if on a merry-go-round where anything can happen and then change again—even a German motor torpedo boat will change its name and flag. It’s the world that Pratt experienced as a boy, a world that left an impression on him and ultimately changed him.
In this dramatic and romantic story there are silent heroes who sacrifice everything so that Pratt can have Koïnsky carry on, and that tough soldier, just like the author, will not remain unaffected.