Dean Mullaney was one of the founders of Eclipse Comics and is currently the Creative Director of The Library of American Comics, which includes such collections as Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, and Steve Canyon, which are published by IDW. Now he introduces the EuroComics imprint which will present the best in European comics, beginning with Hugo Pratt’s classic Corto Maltese. Westfield’s Roger Ash contacted Mullaney to learn more about this project.
Westfield: Why did you decide to introduce the EuroComics imprint and what makes Corto Maltese a good book to kick off the line?
Dean Mullaney: I created EuroComics specifically to publish Corto Maltese. I’ve wanted to make English-language editions of Corto since the early 1980s. I had seen the French editions in the late 1970s and was blown away by Pratt’s art. For one reason or another it didn’t work out at the time…which actually turned out to be a good thing because now—thirty years later—I can do a much better job than I could have when I was younger!
Corto is the perfect series to kick off the line because it’s a masterpiece by one of the greatest graphic novelists in the history of comics that has not been available in English. Just imagine if you lived in a country where Eisner’s The Spirit was never published, or Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, or Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange, or comics by Jack Kirby, Art Spiegleman, Alan Moore, et al. That’s why it’s important that we produce a first-rate English edition of Corto Maltese. It’s a gaping hole in our collective appreciation of comics. Brian Michael Bendis summed it up perfectly: if you don’t have Corto Maltese on your bookshelf, you “don’t have a kick-ass graphic novel collection.”
Westfield: For those not familiar with Corto Maltese, what can you tell us about the character and his adventures?
Mullaney: There are 29 stories, some as short as 19 pages, others nearly 200 pages. They take place in the first thirty years of the 20th Century. The settings are as far-ranging as the places where Hugo Pratt lived—the Venice of his youth, northern Africa of his teenaged years, to South America, where he lived for almost 20 years, and beyond. Corto Maltese is an adventurer, a wanderer, a treasure hunter, and more. He’s a sea captain, but the stories aren’t about the sea; they are about the human condition, about the struggle for self-determination, about greed and oppression, about friendship and loyalty, with a heavy dose of mysticism and magic realism. There’s nothing simple about Pratt’s stories. Corto has much more in common with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe than a sea captain in a Robert Louis Stevenson novel.
Westfield: What can you tell us about the stories that are collected in the first volume?
Mullaney: Corto Maltese was introduced in 1967 in the graphic novel The Ballad of the Salty Sea. Two years later, a French publisher invited Pratt to work in France, which was emerging as the center for serious, mature comics. Pratt revived Corto in a series of 20-page stories, broken down into four “cycles.” Our first book—Under the Sign of Capricorn—collects the first six inter-connected short stories. These are the stories that brought Pratt the superstar fame and following that he retained for the rest of his life. Each one is a gem of tight-plotting and characterization, with absolutely incredible drawing.
Westfield: You mentioned to me that translating the stories was both very difficult and very rewarding. How so?
Mullaney: It’s difficult because Pratt constructs complicated narratives. He adds layers of meanings to even the most straight-forward adventure. I spent a half an hour on a single panel, trying to figure out what he was getting at, when it hit me — he was making an oblique reference to Malraux’s Voices of Silence. He also did extensive research for each story; the tattoos worn by indigenous people in the Amazon are completely accurate. It’s up to us to understand that research and insure that it remains in the script as well as the art.
Simone Castaldi took Pratt’s original Italian scripts and created a literal translation, while making notes to me about idiomatic usage. Simone grew up in Italy and read these stories when they were first published! He’s now an Associate Professor at Hofstra in New York.
It was important for me to have a literal translation, regardless of how awkwardly it read in English. The goal is to be faithful but not literal, poetic but true to Pratt’s dialogue. I’m not here to show how clever I can be. My job is to make it read in English as if Pratt himself had written the script. It took about 40 or 50 pages to get into rhythm of his dialogue. Pratt has a dry sense of humor that could easily have been lost. When I finished the entire book I went back and reworked the beginning.
As challenging as the process is, it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences in my career, knowing that we’ve nailed it and have done right by Hugo Pratt.
Westfield: Will there be any extras in the collection like you have in your Library of American Comics books?
Mullaney: The series will be published in two formats: twelve trade paperbacks on a wonderfully heavy paper stock (thicker even than LOAC books!). We’ll also release the complete stories in a series of six 12“ x 16” (almost original art size) hardcovers, each including two of the trade paperbacks. These limited edition hardcovers will have a lot of background material, historical facts, and extras. Hugo Pratt was a fascinating personality, who drew on his own life’s adventure and experiences to create Corto’s adventures.
Westfield: Do you plan to have more EuroComics titles aside from Corto Maltese?
Mullaney: Absolutely, although our immediate goal is to launch Corto and make it a success in North America. We’ll announce other titles for the EuroComics imprint right after the first of the year.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Mullaney: Anyone who loves Caniff, Sickles, and Toth…not to mention high adventure, historical fiction, and damned good storytelling has a treat in store when they read Hugo Pratt. I hope that by finally giving Corto Maltese the first-rate English edition it deserves, Pratt will be recognized in the same way that he’s revered in the rest of the world.
You can learn more about EuroComics here.