Sometimes I am forunate enough in researching birthdays to come across an artist whose work is exciting and such is the case with Hugo Pratt. I cannoit elaborate on his work as well as just observing the art. The work says it all. Love this work and the slight of hand in the drawing. Every line is important. Genius, pure genius.
Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15, 1927 – August 20, 1995) was an Italian comic book creator who was known for combining strong storytelling with extensive historical research on works such as Corto Maltese. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2005.
Born in Rimini in Romagna to Rolando Pratt and Evelina Genero, Hugo Pratt spent most of his childhood in Venice in a very cosmopolitan family environment. His paternal grandfather Joseph was of English origin, while his maternal grandfather was a Marrano Jew and his maternal grandmother was of Turkish origin. He was also related to the actor Boris Karloff, whose birth name was William Henry Pratt. In 1937, Hugo Pratt moved with his mother to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), joining his father who was working there following the conquest of that country by Benito Mussolini‘s Italy. Pratt’s father, a professional Italian soldier, was captured in 1941 by British troops and in late 1942, died from disease as a prisoner of war. The same year, Hugo Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp at Dirédaoua where he would buy comics from guards and later was sent back to Italy by the Red Cross. In 1944, he was at risk of being executed as SS troops had mistaken him for a South African spy.
After the war, Pratt moved to Venice where he organized entertainment for the Allied troops. Later Pratt joined the ‘Venice Group’ with other Italian cartoonists, including Alberto Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli. Their magazine Asso di Picche, launched in 1945 as Albo Uragano, concentrated on adventure comics. The magazine scored some success and published works by young talents like Dino Battaglia, Rinaldo D’Ami and Giorgio Bellavitis. His character Asso di Picche (“Ace of Spades”) was a success, mainly in Argentina, where Pratt was invited in 1949.
In the late 1940s, he moved to Buenos Aires where he worked for Argentine publisher Editorial Abril and met Argentine comics artists like José Luis Salinas, Alberto Breccia and Solano López. The passage to Editorial Frontera saw the publication of some of his most important early series. These included Junglemen (written by Ongaro), Sgt. Kirk, Ernie Pike and Ticonderoga. They were all written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld, one of the major writers of Argentine and perhaps world comics. Pratt taught drawing in the Escuela Panamericana de Arte directed by Enrique Lipszyc. He often travelled to South American destinations like the Amazon and Mato Grosso. During that period he produced his first comic book as a complete author, both writing and illustrating Anna della jungla (“Ann of the Jungle”), which was followed by the similar Capitan Cormorant and Wheeling. The latter was completed after his return to Italy.
Return to Italy and the creation of Corto Maltese
From the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960, Pratt lived in London where he drew a series of war comics for Fleetway Publications, with British scriptwriters. He then returned to Argentina, despite the harsh economic times there. From there, he moved again to Italy in 1962 where he started a collaboration with the children’s comic book magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli, for which he adapted several classics of adventure literature, including Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.
In 1967, Pratt met Florenzo Ivaldi, and with him created a comics magazine named after his character, Sgt. Kirk, the hero first written by Héctor Oesterheld. In the first issue, Pratt’s most famous story was published: Una ballata del mare salato (A Ballad of the Salt Sea), which introduced his best known character, Corto Maltese.
Corto’s series continued three years later in the French magazine Pif. Due to his rather mixed family ancestry, Pratt had learned snippets of things like kabbalism and lots of history. Many of his stories are placed in real historical eras and deal with real events: the 1755 war between French and British colonists in Ticonderoga, colonial wars in Africa and both World Wars, for example. Pratt did exhaustive research for factual and visual details, and some characters are real historical figures or loosely based on them, like Corto’s main opponent, Rasputin. Many of the minor characters cross over into other stories in a way that places all of Pratt’s stories into the same continuum.
Pratt’s main series in the second part of his career include Gli scorpioni del deserto (five stories) and Jesuit Joe. He also wrote stories for his friend and pupil Milo Manara for Tutto ricominciò con un’estate indiana and El Gaucho.
From 1970 to 1984, Pratt lived mainly in France where Corto Maltese, a psychologically very complex character resulting from the travel experiences and the endless inventive capacity of his author, became the main character of a comics series. Initially published from 1970 to 1973 by the magazine Pif gadget, it brought him much popular and critical success. Later published in album format, this series was eventually translated into fifteen languages.
From 1984 to 1995 Pratt lived in Switzerland where the international success that Corto Maltese sparked continued to grow. In France, most of his pre-Corto Maltese works were published in several album editions by publishers such as Casterman, Dargaud, and Humanoides Associés. A wanderer by nature, Hugo Pratt continued to travel from Canada to Patagonia, from Africa to the Pacific area. He died of cancer on 20 August 1995.
Pratt has cited authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, James Oliver Curwood, Zane Gray, Kenneth Roberts, Joseph Conrad, Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville and Jack London as influences, along with cartoonists Lyman Young, Will Eisner, and especially Milton Caniff.
One of the series created by Pratt, entitled “The Scorpions of the Desert” in English, has been continued after Pratt’s death. In 2005 a sixth volume in this series was released, drawn by Pierre Wazeem and entitled “Le chemin de fièvre”. A seventh album was scheduled by the French publishers Casterman for release in March 2008. Casterman have also on several occasions hinted at the possible future release of a further episode in the Corto Maltese series.