From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15, 1927 – August 20, 1995) was an Italian comic book creator who combined his strong storytelling talent with extensive historical research on Corto Maltese and his other series.
Born in Rimini in Romagna to Rolando Pratt and Evelina Genero, Hugo Pratt spent all 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 grandmother was of Turkish origin. He was also related to the actor Boris Karloff, whose real name was William Henry Pratt. In 1937, Hugo Pratt moved with his mother to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), joining his father working there after the conquest of that country by Mussolini's Italy. Pratt's father was a professional Italian soldier who was captured in 1941 by the British troops and in late 1942 died from disease as a prisoner of war. The same year, Hugo Pratt and his mother were interned into a prison camp at Dirédaoua where he bought 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 spectacles for the Allied troops. Later Pratt joined the Venice Group with other Italian cartoonists, including Alberto Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli. His inspiration could be traced back to his reading of authors like James Oliver Curwood, Zane Gray, Kenneth Roberts, as well as the comic books by Lyman Young, Will Eisner and mainly Milton Caniff. 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. The character Asso di Picche ("Ace of Spades") was a success, mainly in Argentina, where Pratt was invited in 1949.
He moved to Buenos Aires where he worked for Argentinian publisher Editorial Abril and met argentinian comics artists like José Luis Salinas, Alberto Breccia and Solano López. The passage to Editorial Frontera saw the publication of some of the most important series by Pratt. These included Junglemen (written by Ongaro), Sgt. Kirk, Ernie Pike and Ticonderoga. The latter were all written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld, one of the major writer of Argentinian 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 Amazon and Mato Grosso. During that period he produced his first comic book as a complete author, 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. After that he returned to Argentina, despite the harsh economic time. From there he moved again to Italy in 1962 where he started a collaboration with the child comic book magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli, for which he adapted several classics of adventure literature, including The Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
In 1967, Pratt met Florenzo Ivaldi, and with him created a comics magazine named after his hero, Sgt. Kirk. In the first number the most famous Pratt's history was published, Una ballata del Mare Salato, introducing his best known series, Corto Maltese.
Corto's series continued three years later on the French magazine Pif. Due to his rather mixed family ancestry, Corto 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 closely 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 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 collaborated with his friend and pupil Milo Manara for Tutto ricominciò con un'estate indiana and El Gaucho.
- Asso di Picche (L'As de pique, Ace of Spades, 1945-1949)
- El Sargento Kirk (Sgt. Kirk, 1953-1959)
- Ticonderoga (1957-1958)
- Ernie Pike (1957-1959)
- Ann y Dan (Anna nella giungla, "Ann of the Jungle", Ann de la jungle, 1959)
- Capitan Cormorant (1962)
- Wheeling (1962)
- Corto Maltese (1967-1992)
- Una Ballata del Mare Salato, La Ballade de la mer salée (1967) - translated into English as Ballad of The Salt Sea (Harvill Press 1996)
- Sous le signe du Capricorne (1970)
- Corto toujours un peu plus loin - partly translated into English as The Banana Conga (1979-1971)
- Les Celtiques - translated into English as The Celts, (Harvill Press 1996) and A Mid-Winter Morning's Dream (1971-1972)
- Les Ethiopiques (1972-1973)
- Corte sconta detta Arcana - Corto Maltese en Sibérie (1974-1975)
- Favola di Venezia - Sirat Al-Bunduqiyyah - Fable de Venise (19)
- La casa dorata di Samarcanda - La Maison dorée de Samarkand (1980)
- La Jeunesse de Corto (1981)
- Tango...y todo a media luz - Tango (1985)
- Elvetiche - Les Helvétiques (1987)
- Mu (1988)
- Gli scorpioni del deserto - Les Scorpions du Desert, The Scorpions of the Desert (1969-92)
- Les Scorpions du désert [episode 1] (1969-73)
- Piccolo chalet... (1975)
- Vanghe Dancale (1980)
- Dry Martini Parlor (1982)
- Brise de mer (1992)
- Sven - L'homme des Caraïbes (1976)
- La macumba du Gringo (1977)
- À l'Ouest de l'Éden (1978)
- Jesuit Joe (1980)
- Tutto ricominciò con un'estate indiana (Indian Summer, 1983, together with Milo Manara)
- Cato Zulu (1984-88)
- El Gaucho (1991)
- Saint-Exupéry - le dernier vol (1994)
- Morgan (1995)
- 1969: Gran Guinigi per il disegnatore italiano (award for an Italian artist) at the Festival of Lucca
- 1974: Prix Saint-Michel for the best realistic story for Corto Maltese
- 1976: Best foreign realistic comic book at the Angoulême International Comics Festival for Corto Maltese
- 1981: Elle award at the Angoulême Festival
- 1987: Best foreign comic book at the Angoulême Festival for Indian Summer
- 1988: Winner of the 15th anniversary special Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême
- 1996: Best German-language Comic—Import at the Max & Moritz Prizes, Germany
- 2005: Included in the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame