Corto Maltese in Siberia
By Hugo Pratt
a new translation by Dean Mullaney and Simone Castaldi
120 9x11.5-inch pages, b/w
2017 EuroComics imprint of IDW

Corto Maltese in Siberia coverThe fifth in IDW’s current Corto Maltese reprint project, this volume is the first book-length tale, qualifying thereby as an authentic graphic novel; published in 1974, it preceded Will Eisner’s A Contract with God by four years. All the previous Corto Maltese books have been compilations of short stories, often related to each other but free-standing, too.

In this tale set in about 1919, Corto meets his old frenemy Rasputin, and the two go off in search of a train carrying vast amounts of gold that once belonged to the recently murdered Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Along the way, Corto meets numerous fascinating scalawags.

After being hired by the Red Lanterns, Corto encounters sundry freebooters on opposing sides of a many-sided struggle for power in post-Tsarist Russia. These encounters take him to Shanghai to Manchuria and Mongolia to Siberia. Despite amusing interludes, he doggedly continues his pursuit of the gold train, but when it finally falls into his hands, it is quickly snatched away, and the train car carrying the gold falls into a river gorge. Shanghai Lil watches it go over the cliff; later, she and others of her gang return and retrieve the gold.

Corto falls into and out of the hands of various of the competing warlords, although he is never captured or imprisoned. He and they have witty repartee and then he goes on to the next episode, sometimes roughing up thugs on the way.

Pratt’s solid blacks seem crisper in these pages than in the earlier works, especially the immediately preceding volume, The Ethiopian, in which some of the drawings are copiously textured for shading. No hachuring at all in this volume: all modeling is done by black solids, perhaps the most Caniffian of Pratt’s work so far.


Pratt’s tales are imbued with an almost hypnotic attraction. Corto’s encounters with other pirates and subversives are shaded with menace. Will they start fighting? Will Corto’s conversational partner take him prisoner or otherwise threaten his well-being? And throughout it all, Corto seems relaxed, at ease, despite the unspoken threats.

Another Corto Maltese in Siberia was published by NBM in 1988. I have this volume, and the differences between it and IDW’s version are negligible. The artwork seems sharper in IDW’s (perhaps due to its being printed on slightly glossier paper), but NBM’s offers several informative pages of rambling introduction to the situation in China and Russia at the time of the tale’s action. While that helps orient us to the action, it doesn’t seem to be essential; the IDW book’s orientation is less than a page long and works as well as we need it to.

IDW’s book is a new translation from the original. That, too, seems nearly negligible, but there are nuances that IDW reveals that NBM doesn’t. NBM’s translation seems perfunctory; IDW’s catches subtleties that the other misses. Unless you’re a nut for the niceties of language, NBM will do just fine. Assuming you already have it. If you don’t, get IDW’s instead and enjoy.

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