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Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea [Paperback]

Hugo Pratt
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Mar 2012 Corto Maltese

Treasure hunter, sailor, and adventurer, Corto Maltese remains one of the most popular characters from graphic literature in Europe and maintains a devoted cult following among American readers and creators. Originally published in 1967, Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea introduces our hero for the first time. The story begins with Corto Maltese adrift at sea in the Pacific during World War I. He is picked up by a Russian pirate/privateer named Rasputin. The graphic novel follows Corto and the adventure that ensues. 

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea is sure to appeal to fans of swashbuckling action-packed tales and sophisticated readers seeking elegant stories alike. 


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Universe Publishing; First Edition edition (13 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0789324989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0789324986
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 2.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece 18 Jun 2012
Great to see one of the key masterpieces of comics back in print in English. Perfect for anyone who loves classic adventure stories.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Ruined 9 May 2012
I have earlier nbm versions of this corto maltese strip, which i must stress is one of the most beautifully drawn and written graphic stories i have ever had the pleasure to read. The rating for this review however is based upon universals decision to change the layout, cropping, lettering and translation of this classic of european comic art. Pages are cropped at the wrong place, interrupting the flow and rhythm of the original causing it to look disjointed. Whole panels have been cut to fit into universals page size, why? Why change the size of the book from the european format to the american? Surely more work was involved changing this than leaving it be?. It beggars belief that a giant of comic strip history has been sullied in this nature and i cant believe that a more sympathetic publishing house didnt pick this up, given the stature and influence it has. Anyway, if you are not aware of corto maltese or hugo pratt then by all means pick this up as the earlier books are very expensive. Pratt is in the classic Caniff/Toth school of drawing, obviously with a european slant and certainly deserves better treatment than this shambles. it pains me to give any Pratt book a bad rap but i can only hope the publisher pulls his socks up!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last! 21 Feb 2013
It has been very rare for an English speaking reader to enjoy Hugo Pratt's 'Corto Maltese' simply because there have not been many publications of it in English.
At last after some time this american publisher decided to publish the first graphic novel of Corto Maltese series. The book is very well binded, it is in a really good quality paper and it has additional color.
The last one can be an issue for some that were used to the original black & white format. Personally i find the additional coloring a very subtle and innovative approach that fits best to the whole atmosphere of the book.
Also this edition has a smaller format than the original one. Once again that can be an issue for those who prefer the original format. It is true that the illustations are cropped for the sake of the smaller format but it has been done in a rather gentle and unnoticeable way.
Last but not least, the price of this edition is a very reasonable one.
On the overall this book is an opportunity for a new reader to discover Hugo Pratt's universe as well as for an old one to remember the beauty of it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last 30 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Yes, I have the last American version of this tale but I bought it again - as much as anything to encourage further volumes! Despite the nonsense published by another reviewer there's nothing wrong with the formatting of this book. It was done sympathetically and by someone well authorised to do so. Beyond that the story is an amazing boys own adventure with remarkable depth. Corto Maltese is the pinnacle of comic art - it is to comics as Moby Dick is to adventure novels. A must read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corto Maltese is a great argument for comic books as art 11 Mar 2012
By Vik Gill - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
ADDENDUM (March 20th, 2012): One issue that's come up in some reviews is that the panel layouts have been modified from the original, serialized version of Ballad. These panel layouts were not modified by Universe for this reprint, but by Hugo Pratt and Patrizia Zanotti in 1994. Patrizia Zanotti, having worked with Pratt extensively during his career, is the executor of Pratt's estate and has presided over numerous Corto Maltese reprints from RCM MediaGroup's other publishing arms. She was the co-curator of a Hugo Pratt exhibit in Paris just last year--and she's behind this particular reprint. Zanotti has a tremendous amount of respect for Hugo Pratt and would not put her name on something that would disrespect his work.

Originally published in Italy, Corto Maltese has enjoyed an immense amount of popularity in Europe--particularly France--for over 40 years. The series has remained relatively unknown in English countries despite Hugo Pratt's induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005 and a handful of releases in English by NBM and Harvill Press in the 80s and 90s. In the case of Ballad of the Salt Sea, Ian Monk's English translation for the mid-90s Harvill/NBM releases is currently out of print and going for extremely high prices on Amazon and elsewhere. Based on Ballad's lack of availability alone, this new translation by Hall Powell/new release by Universe is very, very, welcome. Of course, there are many more reasons to buy this book:

With regard to the physical qualities of the book: it is very nicely bound. It's a softcover that folds into inside flaps when opened, and the binding is such that the panels don't get lost in the gutters while reading. The pages are extremely thick and glossy--the book's subject matter lends itself to more pulpy stock, but the quality of the inking would certainly be diminished by worse-quality paper, so it's a net gain. The cover is quaint, it has these striking reds, light blues and sandy yellows that evoke a maritime quality. That red "Corto Maltese" flag is reflective and smoother than the rest of the cover; Corto's head and Hugo Pratt's signature on the spine are of the same texture. There's praise by Frank Miller and Umberto Eco on the back--they're presented as speech balloons coming out of Pratt's characters, nothing obtrusive. The UPC is over a mostly solid black/red region and is unobtrusive in the sense that it's not covering a significant portion of Pratt's art.

In terms of lettering: the book uses the military lettering of the cover for titles, translator, colorist and publishing credits. The rest of the text is in a font that almost evokes bamboo sticks tied together. It's entirely capitalized, stout, sans-serif, with little flourishes--the horizontal lines on the Es extending past the letter's spine, for example--that fit the setting of the story. It's not the hand-lettered NBM version, but it is just a little more charming due to these qualities.

For people acquainted with the NBM version, recall that every page had a border on the top, a composite image of certain characters and background elements of the book. Its purpose was to have the book fit on typical comic-book-sized pages without upscaling the art to fit the page. This comic just sticks to a smaller size without the obtrusive border.

Ian Monk's translation was very good, very true to the original text, but it exhibited a certain sort of stiffness at points that didn't really detract from the quality of Ballad as a whole, but was still noticeable. Hall Powell's translation is also very true to the original text and exhibits less moments of stiffness--the natives, for example, don't weave in and out of perfect grammar and syntax as they did in the Ian Monk translation--but there are several points in the story where he does not play with the text to effect the charm of the original work. Page 98 of the Hall Powell translation, Corto's remark to another character: "Pretty girl, huh? Too bad the both of us are a bit old to be in the running, don't you think?" The equivalent dialogue in the Ian Monk translation: "Pretty, isn't she? It's a shame we're a bit too long in the tooth to be taken seriously, don't you think?" Both lines say the same thing, but there is a world of difference between them, and a reader comparing the two translations is going to notice a handful of points where the Hall Powell translation lacks invention.

Patrizia Zanotti is responsible for the colors--she's an editor who's worked closely with Hugo Pratt in the past and colored some of the Corto Maltese oeuvre. Admittedly, I was a little off-put by the coloring at first, because the more coarser aspects of the art--inconsistent faces, for example--are brought into high relief by the coloring early on. Solid colors are used, for the most part, for characters and foreground details--they're not intense and they have a somewhat muted quality that never detracts from the story and fits the setting. The background colors utilize gradients and have a subtle, more organic quality to them--as if they were painted with watercolors.

With regard to the work itself: the art is fantastic on the whole. Hugo Pratt uses a lot of negative space contrast and very bold lines to render his work--it gives off a rough sort of quality that fits the raffish charm of the title character, and the events of the story. Hugo Pratt's draftsmanship is also very impressive in the sense of his technical skill and artistic finesse. In the case of the former, there is a lot of attention given to details, such as uniforms, weaponry, ships, native headwear, et cetera--the accuracy of these details really enhances the story, set in a clearly defined time period (1913-1914). In the case of his artistic finesse: the paneling consists, generally, of variations on six panels (three rows, two columns) per page, with few, if any, splashes. Pratt, however, infuses a lot of depth into these panels--background details and even the placement of characters in a panel are both very important to consider when interpreting the work. For example, a wordless panel on the bottom of page 97 has a girl running into the middle of the background while the faces of Corto and another character are on opposite ends in the foreground; the girl almost splits the panel in half to highlight the very opposite personalities of the two characters in the foreground. There are entire pages where not a single word bubble is used, Pratt instead preferring to encode what he's trying to convey in his art. Action scenes typically use few words, and Pratt's panel progression makes them exude a sort of frantic feeling.

This is very clearly an early Corto Maltese work and an early Hugo Pratt work, and there's a noticeable difference in quality between the first twenty pages of Ballad and the last twenty pages of Ballad. Because Ballad was first serialized in an Italian magazine, this difference makes sense: Pratt was probably in the process of refining himself as an artist and his designs as he wrote Ballad. That's not to say that the earlier parts of Ballad are particularly bad--Pratt's draftsmanship is still excellent. The difference in quality mainly arises out of character designs; it isn't until about 60 or 70 pages into Ballad that the title character has a concrete design to the extent where you can visualize him clearly in your mind's eye--but this assumes that one ignores his fully-realized design on the cover. On the other hand, certain characters such as Rasputin are fully-realized and consistent from beginning to end. The change in quality through the course of Ballad is very gradual, and despite the fact that there is a difference between the beginning of Ballad and the end of Ballad, it's not an extremely jarring one and the work remains uniform.

The story is fantastic. It is set on the eve of, and then during World War I, in the Pacific Ocean. The story opens with Rasputin, a coarse privateer, coming across two shipwreck survivors--Pandora and Cain, members of a rich family--and immediately plotting to hold them for ransom. Corto Maltese is introduced shortly after as a man tied to a raft by his former crew, he is picked up by Rasputin, and the story goes into a more complicated plot of the movements of a group of pirates and thieves operating in the Pacific. The plot is entwined with the politics of the period--with the tensions between Britain and Germany in the months before World War I. The politics of the story are never the primary focus, they are elements of the setting that drive the events of Ballad and the motivations of the characters--this is very much a high adventure story.

Ballad really shines in its characterizations: most characters are introduced such that they can be distilled into particular archetypes. There's the wavering girl; the arrogant boy; the pirate with no regard for other people; the charming, almost-detached drifter; the officer bound to his duty above all else--all of these characters become real through the course of the story, and their motivations, intentions and relationships to one another become very complex. The ending of Ballad is extremely satisfying because a number of the cast reach the end of their development cycle at the same time--and not in a contrived, overbearing way. The ending is worth noting because it's the culmination of having become invested into a lot of these characters, and it makes the optimistic ending--one typical of adventure stories--taste especially sweet.

The charming, almost-detached drifter is, of course, Corto Maltese, who becomes less detached and more charming as the story goes on. Save for maybe Rasputin, he is the most complex character in Ballad. He has an air of aloofness at many points in the story, and he is initially depicted as a secondary character in favor of Pandora and Cain. As a secondary character, he's more an observer or commentator, not really driving the plot forward--but he is gradually brought to the forefront as an active character when he becomes sympathetic towards the characters he accompanies. This is a gradual change that feels organic, and not the result of Hugo Pratt trying to refine or get a sense of Corto's characterization--Corto is almost entirely realized as a character from his introduction.

To reiterate an earlier point, the art and story engage each other extremely well--Ballad is really enhanced by Pratt's synthesis of the two. The comic book aficionado and the non-comic book reader will both appreciate Ballad as a piece of literature--an unpretentious adventure story that is dense and rich. It certainly has the quality of being a good story when read once, but casting a critical eye on the work during further rereads reveals the extent of Hugo Pratt's skill as a writer and artist. Ballad is a great argument--when addressing the detractors--for comic books as art.

At the very least, Universe and Hall Powell have made Corto Maltese accessible for English readers in 2012, but both deserve far more credit for putting together a very good book that does not detract from Hugo Pratt's original work in any significant way. I look forward to more Corto Maltese stories from this publisher and translator.
32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great story, but the book is poorly done. 15 Mar 2012
By feihong - Published on
I was excited to pick up this new edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea, but there are a number of serious problems with the edition. First, the quality of the printing inside the Universe edition is quite pixellated and poor. Lines even close to straight come out jagged and choppy-looking. Second, a number of panels are cropped in or stretched to fit into new spaces throughout the book. This is because in this smaller edition, Universe has reformatted the panels throughout the book. The first page, which in the Harvill and NBM editions has 6 panels on it, in the new Universe edition only has 3 panels. The other 3 get dragged to the next page, sending the carefully plotted and paced-out pages Hugo Pratt originally created into a jumbled mess. In a couple of instances they have taken panels from one part of a scene and switched around when they appear in the scene.

It seems as if Universe hasn't published a graphic novel before this, because so little attention has been paid to the way in which Hugo Pratt structured his opus, and so little effort has been expended to approximate the look his stories have previously displayed. Besides the zooming and cropping, it appears as if the artwork was scanned at or was compressed to too low of a size or pixel depth to render the line art in high quality. Strangely, the cover, which features much larger, zoomed in pieces of art, is not pixellated or distorted. But the biggest concern is the casual way in which this publisher has fractured Hugo Pratt's narrative and his storytelling style, changing the shape and panel counts of the pages, and twisting the panels to make them fit into new dimensions. This is doubly disappointing in that for most people this edition will be the only affordable way to get their hands on a copy of Corto Maltese. Hopefully Universe will improve greatly on this very minimal effort if they publish further Corto Maltese books.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed reprint quality balanced by genuinely excellent translation 29 July 2012
By Chris Schweizer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As you'll certainly notice in the other reviews, this book suffers from flawed reproduction values. While much of this blame seems to be foisted on the publisher (Universe), I have a number of French and Italian reprints of this series and the format is based on those. The flaws inherent in this edition are inherent in all of the reformatted and colored versions that I have seen, and from what I understand these are the files that the publisher makes available.

Some folks argue that one should wait for another edition, one without the flaws. Well, the last time we got English editions of Corto Maltese was when NBM did their run, which was almost thirty years ago. You could wait another thirty years, or you could get this, and hopefully allow Universe the financial go-ahead to release future editions. I would suggest the latter.

There are some panels where the art is definitely marred, but I'd say that this is balanced out by the excellent translations. While I've always been a big fan of Pratt's art, I never entirely understood the fanatic love for the character. After reading Hall Powell's take on the dialogue, I finally do. The book reads like a dream, and it is clear why they Europeans equate Pratt's opus with the finest works of literature. The kinship that the book has with some of Pratt's influences - Melville and London especially - is strikingly clear here in a way that I don't feel came across in the NB version. Reading this book gave me that sense of satisfaction that comes too rarely but always from truly fine works that will stay with you.

If you're a comic purist, you're gonna be bugged by some of the technical issues. The font, too, is pretty terrible, though purportedly it was the one provided by the European publisher. But the story really overcomes all of these issues. If you haven't read Corto Maltese before, this is an excellent introduction. The best, really, available. If you HAVE, give this one a try. It'll change your take on the character.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Find Classic! 9 Mar 2012
By Silas Sparkhammer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Originally in French, translated into English in "comic book" format, this is a welcome reprint. The black-and-white drawings have been colored, which, I think, is a bit of a shame. But the coloring is subtle, using "tints" instead of harsh colors, so the intrusion is minimal. Actually, I'm starting to get to like it...

This is Corto Maltese's "origin story," and it is a bit rough. Hugo Pratt grows, through his career, as a writer and as an artist. This is his "masterpiece," the work that establishes his mastery. But...he gets better. The character of Corto Maltese, here, is a bit rough, a bit nasty. It isn't any particular surprise that we first see him lashed to a raft and left to die by his mutinous crew! In this book, he's more than half a villain, although the very beginnings of a coarse kind of nobility are just beginning to show.

This is high adventure, set against the outset of WWI. Most of the characters follow a rude code of chivalry...and it is instructive to note that the protagonist...doesn't!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than expected! 20 Mar 2012
By GoNordrike - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Way better than expected, first learned about Corto Maltese on a book and wanted to learn more about him so when I learn that they finally released "Ballad of the Salt Sea" in English I knew I had to buy it and boy I wasn't dissapointed, a real thrilling plot, amazing graphics and a kick-ass character; Corto Maltese is a must for fans of graphic novels! Now I just hope they release the rest of the books in English!
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