East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Erle Stanley Gardner’s Trick

The writer’s life would be ideal but for the writing. That was a problem I had to overcome. Then, I read in the Guinness Book of Records about Erle Stanley Gardner – the world’s fastest novelist – who can dictate up to the rate of ten thousand words a day. That was for me. None of that romantic stuff with a typewriter. I had better uses for those two particular fingers.

The quote above is from a 1972 movie called Pulp, featuring Michael Caine as a rather sleazy pulp novelist that gets involved in a complicated – and in the end pretty ludicrous – caper with mobsters, killer and what else.


The bit about Erle Stanley Gardner is true. Continue reading


Occult Detective Quarterly #4

I am proud to announce that my story Black Frog and Black Scarab is included, side by side with many excellent horror detection stories, in the fourth issue of Occult Detective Quarterly, the finest occult detective magazine out there.


In Black Frog and Black Scarab we’ll meet again centurion Nennius Britannicus and his contubernium, last seen fighting a giant stuffed crocodile in The Hand of Isfet.
It was high time the guys got their own series – and I hope this is the first of many stories.



Corto Maltese, an overview

This is a piece I have been ruminating for a while. It is not in any way academical and it does not even try to be exhaustive. But Bill Ziegler, last night, mentioned his curiosity for Corto Maltese, that he did not know. As a fanboy, I had never contemplated the hypothesis. But now I imagine that many don’t know the character, and so here it is – an introduction, with personal annotations.
This, really, is the sort of post I created Karavansara for. Who knows, maybe we’ll talk again about Corto Maltese again in the future1.

I was born in 1967 – just like Corto Maltese.
51NFhUgaTdL._SX362_BO1,204,203,200_The first story in the Corto Maltese series was Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salt Sea), serialized between June 1967 and February 1969.
Set in the Pacific, and in Papua New Guinea in particular, between 1913 and 1915, introduces us to Corto Maltese, an adventurer possibly of Italian origins, and his alter ego/nemesis Rasputin, as they both serve as members of the crew of a corsair ship commanded by the mysterious hooded Monk, and nominally on the side of the Germans in the Great War. The story marries the classical tropes of adventure fiction with a subtle narration of human passions, betrayal and corruption, while sketching rapidly but accurately an often overlooked chapter of the Great War. Corto Maltese is not even the main character, or the true protagonist – this is an ensemble story, with a multitude of characters.
The lot, in 250 pages.
Continue reading


Hugo Pratt (in Lyon)

prattDo kids still read Corto Maltese these days?
And more in general, do they read Hugo Pratt’s other stories, his westerns and his historical adventures?
I sometimes doubt it.
When a comic book comes with the full endorsement of your father, as a kid you feel the need to give it a wide berth – and Hugo Pratt’s work is idolized by so many Italians in my generation, that we probably forever alienated the younger generations from his work.

Which is a pity, because Pratt – a traveler who told stories through the visual medium – has been a great artist and a massive influence on the world of comic books and adventure fiction. Continue reading

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Ida Pfeiffer

When I was but a little child, I had already a strong desire to see the world. Whenever I met a travelling-carriage, I would stop involuntarily, and gaze after it until it had disappeared; I used even to envy the postilion, for I thought he also must have accomplished the whole long journey.

download (1)I must thank my friend Angelo Benuzzi for introducing me to the remarkable Ida Laura Pfeiffer.
Born in 1797, Ida was an Austrian merchant’s daughter, and as noted in the opening quote, she had a great curiosity for the world and a yearning for travel – the fact that, contrary to the customs of the time, she was given “a boy’s education” probably had something to do with her desire to travel.
She had been in Palestine with her father when she was five, but she started to travel seriously much later, when she was 45. Continue reading

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Darwyn Cooke

I’m going on with my sketching course, and it’s good to see I don’t suck as badly as I remembered.
Now, having the time, a good practice when one wants to learn how to draw, is to check out the works of some artist they like, and start copying them. This is both a good training for eye-hand coordination, and a good opportunity to learn about composition, lighting and volumes.

So, as usual, I did a quick survey of my favorite artists.
Back when I was in high school, I guess I would have given an arm or a leg to be able to do the sort of things that Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo did. Or Chris Achilleos. Or, sure, Michael Whelan. Continue reading