Saturday, June 18, 2016

Going Graphic with the European Union: Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt

Image Courtesy of Comic Book Resources
Over the past few decades, graphic novels have become a respected form of literature. Europe, in particular, has published a wide variety of graphic novels, and these works have become available to wider audiences due to the growth in popularity. In this summer series presented by the EUC, graphic novels from a wide variety of EU members will be reviewed and discussed.

By Rachel Johannigmeier


While Hugo Pratt’s character, Corto Maltese, has been a prominent player in the European comic scene, it is only recently that new translations of the stories have been available in English. In an interview with Michael Lorah of Comic Book Resources, Dean Mullaney notes that the graphic novels were written in Pratt’s native language, Italian, and published in French. Previous English versions relied on the French translations; EuroComics is currently working on a project to translate all the Corto Maltese stories to best re-create Pratt’s intent. While Mullaney states that it is the third volume of Corto Maltese’s tales, Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn, is the first volume of a 12 volume translation project.

Image Courtesy of Comic Book Resources
Story Information

Title: Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn

Creator: Hugo Pratt

Translation: Dean Mullaney and Simone Castaldi

Publisher: EuroComics and IDW Publishing (US Edition)

Audience: Teen and Up


The best way to describe Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn  is to describe it as a series of short adventures that are connected through various plot points and characters. The locations also change throughout the story as the characters travel to the Dutch Guianas, Brazil, Saint Kitt, and Honduras in 1916. The story concerns a young boy named Tristan Bantam who is looking for his half-sister, Morganna, as a part of protecting his recently deceased father’s company. Corto Maltese is recruited by Tristan as transportation and guide in his quest. Rounding out the cast is Professor Steiner.  During their travels, they run into magicians, rebels, immortals, lawyers, colonial soldiers, and even old enemies of Maltese.

Based on the praise on the book jacket and the information provided in the introduction and author’s page, it is clear that Hugo Pratt was an influential figure in the field of graphic novels. The character of Corto Maltese has continued to endure even after Pratt’s death in 1995. While I had never heard of Pratt before beginning my research into European graphic novels, I can see why his work is well respected. The artwork is distinctive, and the dialogue, while short, contains a great deal of wit and creativity. It is also a graphic novel that takes chances in its storytelling, as dream sequences stand side by side with adventure and political intrigue.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the depiction of the world. While there are areas of the graphic novel that may not work as well today as they did back then, it is clear that Pratt has a respect for different cultures;  He also has a political message of anti-colonialism in his works. It is a world filled with people from different walks of life, but the main antagonists are a part of imperialistic forces.

However, there were some concerns I had during reading. Since this is technically the third volume about Corto Maltese, I was confused at mentions of Maltese's past. I also felt as if the story could be improved if annotations regarding the locations and references were provided. It was an entertaining story, but I felt as if I missed parts of it due to lack of information.

I would recommend this graphic novel and the further adventures of Corto Maltese, for anyone who likes  adventure comics of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I would also recommend it for audiences interested in exploring European comic culture.

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