When an illustrator like Hugo Pratt, who has lived a life right out of the movies (as you have seen), with the experiences he had accumulated, is allowed at age 40 to draw whatever he wants, without worrying about contracts, without publishing schemes or strategies–well, when this happens, a masterpiece is born. It is “Una ballata del mare salato” (The Ballad of the Salty Sea), the first comic in comic strip history to earn the definition of “drawn literature,” and the sailor becomes a cult character not just for those who love oceans, palms, and pirates, but above all for those who love freedom.
With Corto now comes fame and the move to Paris. With the comic magazine PIF, which sells millions of copies, Corto becomes a serial hero; the stories of Corto Maltese over 25 years expand to 29, taking the sailor to practically every corner of the world: on the high seas, in deserts, steppes, and jungles. Nor is his creator far behind: Pratt travels from Africa to Canada, from Apia (Samoa) to Easter Island, just to mention the main cardinal points.
These years are not just about Corto. There are also The Scorpions of the Desert and Jesuit Joe, just to continue talking about south and north. There is also St. Exupery, who flies the skies one last time; and Mü, the last of the Corto stories, in which the fantastical universe of Hugo Pratt flies toward the magnificent nowhere of a vanished continent, much like its creator, who in 1995 passes away in Switzerland, where he had elected to live since 1984.
But Pratt never did disappear; he continues to fuel dreams and stories. All you have to do is look at his watercolors, displayed in the most important museums of the world, or read one of his earlier stories in order to understand the later ones; it’s enough to glance at the bold black brush strokes in Indian ink to sense the poetry, or to keep travelling by following one of Corto’s improbable itineraries. Hugo Pratt himself will not be on one of those islands, but there will be a bit of the treasure that he wished to scatter here and there among his sketches, among the dreams and clouds.