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Comic book hero Corto Maltese comes home

Combining a Mediterranean look and an Anglo-Saxon culture, Corto Maltese is a modern anti-hero who believes in the infinite potential of man, a risk taker who is constantly testing the fine line between grand goals and utter recklessness.

A sailor in the British merchant navy, he is a gentleman of fortune and wears white pants, a sailor’s cap and an earring

With this spot-on description of the hero by author Marco Steiner, St James Cavalier in Valletta is hosting an exhibition on Corto Maltese consisting of 40 prints, specifically mounted for Malta, depicting sketches of the hero. It is presented by the French Embassy.

The exhibition, aptly called Ici Commença l’Aventure (Here the Adventure Started), was opened by French Ambassador Michel Vandepoorter yesterday.

Mr Steiner has extensively covered the tracks of Corto Maltese throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Ethiopia and the Americas. Born in Rome, he worked for a time as editor and translator at Lizard, the publishing house founded by Hugo Pratt, the creator of Corto Maltese.

Fictional Corto Maltese was born in Valletta. His father was a British sailor from Cornwall, his mother a gypsy from Gibraltar. He took up residence in Antigua but preferred to live in Hong Kong.

To honour him, the Maltese erected a monument in Valletta – at least that is what Pratt wanted his readers to believe.

Corto was created in 1967 when he appeared in his first story The Ballad of the Salt Sea in an Italian magazine. However, it was in 1970 that the hero became an instant success with fans of the bandes dessinées when he made his first appearance in Paris, where Pratt had settled.

Corto’s creator had picked the name from Spanish meaning fast. For the Maltese connection he tapped into the 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, which became very popular as a film.

As an Italian soldier during the war, Pratt’s father was captured by British troops in Abyssinia and, in 1943, died from disease in a prison camp. That same year, Pratt and his mother were interned; there the young boy would buy American comics from the guards. Corto is the result of a particular confluence of literature, design and American cinema. A sailor in the British merchant navy, he is a gentleman of fortune and wears white pants, a sailor’s cap and an earring on his left ear.

Basking in the success of several Corto Maltese publications, Pratt settled in Lausanne in 1984, where he died in 1995.

Ici Commença l’Aventure (Here the Adventure Started) runs at St James Cavalier until December 24.

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