Hugo Pratt

Hugo Pratt, illustrator, painter of water colours and creator of Corto Maltese: a man about whom many stories are told that have become part of the Pratt legend (Pratt and jazz musician Dizzy Gallespie getting drunk together in New York; Pratt teaching the Tango in Buenos Aries; Pratt living in the Samoan Islands - and all of them true) was born in Rimini, Italy in 1927. Pratt's maternal grandfather was English, living in Lyon France, and he was an only son of a diplomat father and a gypsy mother (or so the legend goes). He spent his childhood in Venice before joining his father in Abyssinia (then an Italian colony) at the age of 10. Prisoner of the English and then the Germans during WWII, he spent the end of the war organizing entertainment events for the allied soldiers.

After the war, Hugo Pratt started out as an illustrator for the comic As de Pique (Ace of Spades) in Venice. In 1947 Hugo Pratt discovered London where he stayed for a few days. He was twenty years old, with very little money, and slept in Victoria train station.

Cover of Hora Cero by Hugo Pratt

In December of 1948 As de Pique ceased publication, and it was at that time that Pratt, and some of his fellow artists on the comic received an invitation from Italian publisher Cesar Civita who had a publishing house in Argentina. The year 1949 found him working in Argentina for the magazine Salgari where he drew Ray Kitt, and later (in 1952) the western character Sgt. Kirk in Misterix, both written by Hector German Oesterheld. Pratt later left the Abril publishing house to join Oesterheld's new publishing house Ediciones Frontera, where he worked on Hora Cero and Frontera with scripts written by Oesterheld.

It was during his time in Buenos Aires that the "Group of Venice", originally founded in Venice, came into its own and included many Italian artists such as: Pratt, Pavone, Victor Hugo Arias, Horacio Lalia, Faustinelli and Ongaro as well as many South American "honorary Italians" like Alberto Breccia, Solano Lopez, Carlo Cruz and Arturo Perez del Castillo. It was also during this fantastically creative period that Pratt fell in love with the Tango. At one time friends had to persuade him not to give up his art, for he wanted nothing more than to teach the dance. Instead he taught something else, he and Alberto Breccia taught art classes at the newly founded Escuela Panamericana del Arte.

War Picture Library No.50 by Hugo Pratt

In the second part of his autobiography (De l'autre cote de Corto), Pratt mentions a conflict occurring between himself and Oesterheld in early 1959 and by the summer of 1959 he had left for London where he began writing his own scripts, such as Ann of the Jungle, a character inspired by his second wife, Anne Frognier. Of this period he says "Roy d' Ami offered me work with the Fleetway Group.... in fact I was already drawing small war stories for them and sending them to London from Argentina". His return to London was for one year, the summer 1959 to the summer 1960. He lived in Petersham Place, in a mews close to Fulham Road, at a place called The Boltons. As in Venice, Addis Addaba or Buenos Aires, it quickly became his. With his artist's eye London appeared to him to have be a "dominant red with a black net".

Suffice to say that in 1959 Pratt found himself working for Fleetway in London, where he worked on War Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library, and Battle Picture Library. Pratt also drew Thriller Picture Library No. 297 - Battler Britton and the Wagons of Gold (released in the French version as Battler Britton No. 30 - November 1960). Click here for a complete list of Pratt's Fleetway titles. He left London in 1960, for Ireland, to research the leprechauns, those imps of Celtic folklore.

After traveling extensively in South America and the Samoan Islands, Hugo Prattt launched the magazine Sgt. Kirk in Genoa in 1967, and published the first strips of the Ballad of the Salt Sea, in which Corto Maltese makes his first appearance. In 1969, Pratt decided to feature him as the main character in albums such as The Celts, Voodoo for the President and Corto Maltese in Africa, to name a few.

One of 30 Pratt watercolours used to illustrate the Poèmes of Rudyard Kipling (Vertige Graphic 1993 - bi-lingual English/French).

November 1975 found Pratt staying at the Napoleon Hotel in Lucca, Italy, where he was a member of the annual Lucca comic festival Committee. Not only did this give him a chance to catch up on old friends like Claude Moliterni, but on this occasion he stumbled across two Englishmen who were also there. One was comic enthusiast, collector and writer, Denis Gifford, the other was Frank Hampson, creator of Dan Dare. The two Brits had been invited to Lucca to give some lectures during the festival. Pratt knew of Hampson's work and was shocked to hear of the shoddy treatment that Hampson had received at the hands of his publishers, his ill health and poor financial circumstances. Pratt passed this information on to the Committee, and the result was that Frank Hampson was awarded a special Yellow Kid Award for 'Best Writer and illustrator of a comic strip since the Second World War' - Il prestigioso maestro.

Meanwhile, the adventures of Corto Maltese were a resounding success: in 1983, two magazines in France and Italy were entirely devoted to the feisty captain. That same year, Hugo Pratt wrote Indian Summer for illustrator Milo Manara.

In 1984, Hugo Pratt settled in Grandvaux, a small village in the vineyards of Lavaux overlooking Lake Geneva. His home was large enough to house his collection of some 30,000 books.

He also created the series Cato Zulu, Scorpions of the Desert and continued the adventures of Corto Maltese with Fable of Venice and The Golden House of Samarkand. The illustrator tirelessly continued his world travels until he passed away on August 20, 1995, at a clinic in Pully, near Lausanne.


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