Corto Maltese, the laconic early 20th century seafarer created by Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt, is returning to these shores in the first English translation in twenty years, reports John Seven at Publishers Weekly. (The last time Corto reached us in English it was in seven black-and-white volumes translated for and published by NBM in the late 1980s.) “Just before Pratt was devising his character, Malta had become independent of Britain and stood as a Mediterranean symbol of freedom,” said Seven. “The character of Corto was born in the capitol of Malta, La Valletta, and functions as a walking extension of that symbolism.” The record of his first adventure, The Ballad of Salt Sea (Casterman, 1975; NBM in comic book format, seven issues, 1996; translated by Ian Monk), is now on the stands. But it isn’t winning kudos from fans, whose hopes were soon blasted.

The ComicsBeat reports that “although the new edition uses the color of the original Casterman edition ... it also uses the redesigned page format of the Casterman editions, and the files are at a very low res, Corto Maltese panelresulting in ugly scratchy looking art. “When we eagerly flipped open the pages of the edition when it arrived we were ... underwhelmed. Quite frankly, the rugged beauty of Pratt's line has been made ugly, rough and amateurish by this awful low res version.”

Designer Chris McDonnell explained that he had asked for the original format pages and better quality line art files, “but the files that we ultimately used were the only option for files provided by the licensor or the estate (I don't know who).”

ComicsBeat continues: “When, over the years, we asked why there was not a good English version of Corto, we were always told that it was because the licensor couldn't come to an agreement with the U.S. That made it sound like quality concerns were the issue. But instead, it seems that somehow Casterman and Rizzoli have produced an awful looking, budget version of the story.” ComicsBeat goes on to quote from a letter to the publisher from Big Planet Comics, a retailer with stores in the Washington, D.C. area:

“The art has been scanned at a low resolution, leading to pixelization that obscures or erases the smoothness of the fine and precise art of Hugo Pratt. ... Most offensively, the original panels of Hugo Pratt's art have been resized, cut, and cropped to fit this amateurish new layout scheme, in some cases removing over a third of each panel, or splitting a panel into two new panels. Some panels appear to have been zoomed in, resulting in further loss of quality and removing more of Hugo Pratt's art. These terrible mutilations of Hugo Pratt's art are insulting enough, but there are numerous panels where someone has taken upon themselves the hubris to fill out the gaping holes in the modified panels by adding to the art itself.”

Sad. But at least we have the NBM books.

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