East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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A Ballad of the Salt Sea

230px-Pratt-corto1And so I went and did it – I re-read A Ballad of the Salt Sea, the first Corto Maltese story, serialized in the magazine Sgt. Kirk starting in June 1967, little more than one month after my birth.

For this re-read project I am using the Panini Comics/L’Espresso color edition of the book that was published in 2006 – 10 volumes collecting the whole series, in chronological order1, with extra contents and articles.

So, let’s begin – how does it feel like, reading “Ballad** at fifty? Continue reading

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The man who invented the periscope

Photo_of_Morgan_RobertsonMorgan Andrew Robertson said he had invented the periscope. He had written a story, called The Submarine Destroyer, in 1905, which featured a submarine provided with a telescoping periscope, and called it a periscope, so he claimed he had invented the thing.
A former jeweler that had to find another job due to a loss of eyesight, Robertson mostly wrote sea stories, being the son of a Great Lakes captain and having spent ten years in the Merchant Marines (he had ran away from home at the age of 16, in 1877).

He mostly wrote short stories and novellas, that he sold to the story magazines that came before the pulps. He started writing, apparently, after reading some rather bad sea stories and going “What the heck! I can do better than that!”

He never made much money with his writing, but he sort of did better than that. Continue reading


Sailing the South Seas with Henry De Vere Stacpoole

230px-Pratt-corto1It’s weird this way in which the world of adventure seems to be connected.
What with the latest posts about Corto Maltese and all the rest, I went and started re-reading A Ballad of the Salt Sea, and instantly found a connection with Folco Quilici’s documentaries about the Pacific (and 1955’s The Last Paradise), and other bits and pieces of that adventure-oriented culture in which we children of the Apollo-Missions-generation found ourselves immersed – and quite fun it was.
And also, I found a name I vaguely remembered, but could not place – then I read Umberto Eco’s article included in the hardback 2006 reprint of Pratt’s graphic novel ante litteram, and all lights turned on all of a sudden.
The name of Henry De Vere Stacpoole.
Who was this guy anyway? Continue reading


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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Shameless adventures

adventure_19350815Do you mind if I rant?
You see, I don’t always call other people cretins, but when I do, it is usually because they pretend to know what they are talking about when they in fact they do not know.

Yesterday I was told that adventure stories – and genre fiction in general – is a second-rate form of cheap entertainment, aimed at housewives and blue-collar working-class brutes that can’t appreciate a good, solid, proper “real novel”.
And the word cretin erupted through my lips before I could think about something more scathing and cruel.

Then I launched in a long-winded rant the gist of which I will now inflict on Karavansara readers.
Because like a guy once said, I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn. Continue reading


Italian style

toppi11Many years ago I met a guy that was an excellent comic artist, in a sort of “classical” Japanese manga style.
And I mean, he was really good.
So one day he picked up his portfolio, bought a ticket to Tokyo, and did the tour of the comic publishers there, showing his stuff around.
And the Japanese publishers were absolutely impressed.
There was just a little glitch – they had buildings full of people doing exactly that kind of artwork.
“This is very good,” they said, “but can’t you do something… Italian? Like I dunno, Pratt, or Toppi, or Crepax…”

I thought about this story last week, when the usual “Italians should write Italian stories in Italian” popped up on the web, as it usually happens once every two or three months.

I am in a pretty awkward situation. Continue reading