Corto MalteseCorto Maltese is sailor adventurer character of Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt.
Corto Maltese (lit. short Maltese) is a nominally landless sailor whose exploits are placed around the beginning of the 20th century (1900-1930s). He is a treasure-hunter with a heart of gold and tolerance for most people in the world. He is a son of a British sailor from Cornwall and a gypsy witch from Gibraltar and carved a new life line to his palm when he was dissatisfied with the lack of the original.
Corto Maltese debuted in the novel-length tale Una Ballata del Mare Salato (Ballad of the Salty Sea, 1962) about WW1-era Pacific Islands where he was one of the protagonists. 1970 Pratt begun to write shorter Corto Maltese stories to French Pif magazine. 1974 he switched to novel-length stories and the first full album sent Corto to 1918 Siberia (Corto Maltese en Siberie).
Chronologically, first Corto Maltese story happens during the Russo-Japanese war. He sees the First World War from more than two sides, Russian Civil War after the October Revolution and beginning Fascist Italy. According to Pratt, he disappears during the Spanish Civil War but he never wrote a tale to that effect. Still, he rarely takes any sides, trying to stay neutral.
Corto does not care about national, ideological and religious boundaries. He befriends people he finds sympathetic from all walks of life, including murderous Russian Rasputin (no relation), British heir Tristan Bantam, Voodoo priestess Gold Mouth and Jewish Alchemist Steiner. He also knows and meets various historical figures during his adventures, including Jack London, Butch Cassidy, Russian White general Roman von Ungern-Sternberg and Enver Pasha of Turkey. His list of aqcuintances is rather impressive, as he makes a telephone call to Josef Stalin when he is arrested, and threatened to be executed, at the border of Turkey and Armenia.
Corto Maltese stories range from straight historical adventure stories to occult dream sequences. He sees how Red Baron is shot down, helps Jivaros in South America and flees fascists in Venice but also unwittingly helps Merlin and Oberon to defend Britain and visits the Lost Continent of Mu.
The name Corto Maltese also appears in Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns as the name of an island at the centre of an incident not unlike the Cuban missile crisis. The choice of name is apparently an inside joke as Miller has confessed to be a great admirer of Pratt's work.