Corto Maltese In English

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea

People are excited about this book. I’m glad to read all the enthusiastic responses it has inspired so far. Some reviews have taken issue with aspects of the lettering and the qualities of the line art reproduction and page layout. I’d like to provide more information about the parts of the production of the Universe edition of Hugo Pratt‘s Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea that I can address, since I am the person who designed it:

• The lettering is a custom font created directly from scans of the lettering in the original Italian edition. The letter forms are blocky and idiosyncratic but connect to the artist’s original work as well as being compact and functional for the purpose of fitting in the often small word balloons. I have previously relettered an entire comic book translation for Universe, but this was the decision reached based on the limitations of this particular project.
• The artwork is reformatted from the original large page size to a smaller format page with altered page layouts, however this was done previously for the french language Casterman edition (or before that possibly). The art in this edition is from the same artwork files that are printed in the Casterman edition and were provided to Universe. The artwork and coloring were not altered for the Universe edition. For various reasons, the original sized pages were not an option nor were there higher quality files of this version available.
• The cover is a design that I created using my own scans of the black and white original Italian edition of the book.

That’s it, enjoy the book.

30 thoughts on “Corto Maltese In English”

  1. Hi Marlon, more specifically, the original sized pages were not an option for this particular arrangement between this publisher and the licensor as I understand things.

    I 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) for this project.

    Universe may have also preferred the smaller size and colorized pages for marketing and/or budget reasons (as opposed to a b/w original size book which is larger than normal these days). Sure the original b/w art could be reproduced from an earlier edition but I’m not sure a U.S. publisher would be as likely to have taken a risk on that version over a smaller sized, colored one that is already produced, printed elsewhere already and ready to go.

    The line art is not ideal. But when we saw that we could print the art slightly larger than the French and Italian editions without a discernible difference in the not-idealness, we went with that so the work could be larger on the page. As a whole we worked to make an attractive package for the work. Perhaps this book will find some success and be a gateway to future editions of even better reproduced Pratt books in English in the future.

  2. “As a whole we worked to make an attractive package for the work.”

    You’ve failed. Sorry.

    This edition is not cool.

    Which is a shame, since Corto Maltese is one of the best works in comics ever (IMO), but readers won’t be able to tell this by Rizolli’s edition.

  3. Leandro, I hear your general displeasure with the book but get nothing specific from your comment. However, I have read some other feedback recently online which gives me plenty of specifics…

    With this book we didn’t meet the expectations of many people who were anticipating this for months or waiting for someone to put out a new English edition for years for which I am sorry about.

    Although I derived it directly from the lettering in the original Italian edition, the feedback received so far on the font’s qualities (from “ugly” to “it’s OK”) would make me chose another solution for another edition. There is no consensus out there on what is the best approach, but at least a more standard looking hand-lettered font would draw less attention to itself.

    I asked for better quality art files and I asked to use the original format pages but I didn’t walk off the job in protest over the quality of the files that were provided to us as the only option and worked with them instead. The rationalization was that these are the official files that have been printed before by other publishers. Given another chance in the future I would not compromise on this even if it means no book is possible with the parties involved.

    Most of the loudest protest about the book has been about the reformatted pages. I would prefer the original pages myself too, but this aspect of the book was overseen and approved by Pratt and his estate while he was alive. It is a legitimate version of this book albeit not the one that Pratt purists want, which again, I understand.

    That is the main thing that should be separated out from the uproar out there over this book in comics circles. The reformatted pages are a legitimate version of this book, they weren’t hacked together for this Universe edition. I can take my lumps for my involvement in accepting the line art qualities for use or for the font which I thought did the job and was referencing the original. And I’d be happy to discuss the jacket design (which no one has mentioned out there… I think it looks pretty sharp)! But I am glad that Universe has released a letter that clarifies the history of this book and its different iterations (letter is below).

    I am sorry for disappointing so many people who cared the most about this book’s release. I was relieved to see my designer’s copies arrive the other day though, because after reading some of the feedback out there I began to believe that it was worse than it really is. I’m thinking there will be plenty of readers who will enjoy this book as it is, and I can assure you that my future efforts will allow no compromise on quality.

    Here is Rizzoli’s letter addressing the uproar over the reformatted pages:
    —————————————-

    Rizzoli and our Universe imprint have a history of republishing classic works that have long been out of print. Occasionally these books need to be updated or reworked, such as with our M. SasekThis Is… series where facts need to be changed, but we as a publisher always strive to remain true to the artist’s original work.

    Recently, Rizzoli was thrilled to retain the rights to republish Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea. To ready this new edition, Rizzoli worked closely with Patrizia Zanotti, Pratt’s longtime colorist and collaborator from 1978 until his death in 1995. Zanotti is now executor of the Hugo Pratt estate.

    Our edition of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea contains only changes that were made by Hugo Pratt himself or under the direction of the Pratt estate.

    Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea was originally printed in the Italian comics magazine Sgt. Kirk, in 1967, and later in the French magazine Pif gadget in the early 1970s. Hugo Pratt collected the strips, had them colored, and published them in an oversized volume in 1978. In 1985, the colors were revamped in collaboration with Patrizia Zanotti. In 1994, Hugo Pratt reworked the size of the strip to three rows of panels per page. This new, smaller, more manageable graphic novel format was done to appeal to new Corto fans in the Italian market.

    Universe/Rizzoli took the changes that Pratt himself made in the 1994 edition and reprinted this reworked format. We made no changes to Hugo Pratt’s 1994 version.

    There have been other English editions of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea, but the Pratt estate wanted a fresh translation from Pratt’s original Italian text. Harvill Press published an edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea in the oversized format and in the original black and white. The translation for that edition was made from a French translation of the original Italian text. The NBM edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea also contained a translation twice removed from the original Italian.

    We worked directly with Patrizia Zanotti and the Hugo Pratt estate on this project, they were fully involved, and we had their support and approval during every step of the process: from the much-improved direct translation from the original Italian; to using art that came from the Hugo Pratt estate via their European publisher; to reviewing multiple rounds of color proofs.
    Chris from the art/design collective Meathaus addresses his involvement and contributions here: http://meathaus.com/2012/03/08/corto-maltese-in-english/

    We hope that this explains the process and choices behind this new edition of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea. If anything, we are happy that there are Hugo Pratt fans still reading his work. We hope to introduce his stories to an entirely new generation of readers and, with our edition, hope they will enjoy Pratt’s reworking of his classic Corto story.

  4. Thoughtful responses but I guess casual readers in Europe who go for the reformatted version also have the option of getting one of the more deluxe editions if they wish. (A post or two on one of the many blog posts that have appeared about this rant through the variant editions that are out there for this book, from deluxe hardcovers with extras to badly coloured versions to this trimmed down revised version.). As this is the only edition of CORTO MALTESE now available to American/Oz/UK readers I can see why the deficiencies are making people wince. The above responses explain how and why this version of the book has been presented, but still don’t make me want to buy it.

    “This new, smaller, more manageable graphic novel format was done to appeal to new Corto fans in the Italian market.”

    I’d prefer to ‘manage’ the original untampered edition, actually.

  5. So this isn’t a completely negative post I’ll add the cover art isn’t bad. If a future Corto book is possible (an open question given the various negative responses I’ve read regarding this edition) it wouldn’t hurt to set up a Corto-specific page on the site here, and have a brief blog/diary stating “For this next edition we’re trying a new format/new font/ sharper scan etc etc” (whatever the differences might be) just to get people onside. Who knows if this could ever be possible, but if stuff like the new Milo Manara hardcovers and the Library of American Comics titles (+ dozens of Fantagraphics releases) can profitably tap into the archival collector’s market, I’m sure Corto could too if the series was put on track. With apologies though i can’t buy this current volume, even to express an interest in the title, given the noted qualities that seem more likely to frustrate me than anything else.

  6. Chris, I appreciate your frankness. It’s obvious that the QC issues and reformatting were beyond your control and I hope you won’t take personally the widespread criticism this book is receiving.

    That said, I hope that Univers/Rizzoli ARE reading all these comments and will not continue to fall back on the “but Pratt approved this…” defense. The bottom line here is that there are other publishers in this area (most notably Fantagraphics and IDW) who would have either gone the extra mile to produce the real, definitive, appropriate edition of this great work in English… or not done it at all. Look at how much time passed between Fantagraphics announcing THE COMPLETE POGO and their release of the first volume, because they spent years digging and working to print the highest quality reproductions. CORTO is long overdue for the kind of treatment these other publishers are giving this kind of book and if Rizzoli is not going to go that far, I really wish they’d let someone else do it. I certainly won’t be buying this release or any subsequent volumes if this is the quality of presentation they’re going to receive.

    Sorry for the length of this post–again, obviously these issues were beyond your control. Really just wanted to put these thoughts somewhere someone at Universe/Rizzoli might see them. Thanks for your frankness and thoughtful comments on this matter.

  7. Anthony although you have well reasoned posts above which I appreciate, you have quoted my comments above on Amazon reviews of this book and stated that this is our official blog implying that this blog is associated with the publisher Universe and it is not. This is a personal blog separate from the publisher entirely where I (a freelance designer hired by Universe on a variety of projects) am writing openly about the production of the book because so many were speculating incorrectly about how this book came to be.

    Additionally I don’t appreciate that you quoted me selectively to make it seem like I have disowned this book and am apologizing for it entirely and then posted it on several reviews. I do not mean to imply that. I am saying that I am sorry for disappointing people who were so eagerly awaiting a different edition then the one that was produced. I’m saying that personally I wouldn’t accept using files that aren’t up to today’s digital quality standards again, even if they are the official files supplied to me and I’m told they are the only option. I’m saying the font which I thought did a good job has not been received that way by many who care about such things, so as someone who learns and responds to outside stimuli, I indicated that I would use another solution if I were to do it again.

    This edition simply was not the deluxe original format black and white archival edition one that many Pratt enthusiasts wanted but is instead a decent edition for a casual reader, and a previously published and Pratt estate endorsed edition at that. I don’t appreciate that for trying to have an open discussion about the qualities of the book that my words get “reformatted” (haha *wink*!) to make it seem as as if I’m saying something else.

  8. Chris, fair enough and I’ve done a couple of things to those Amazon reviews. I’ve changed them so it’s clear that they were from your personal blog, not any official one, and I’ve added a comment and link at the end of each one that points towards this direct page so people can read your comments in full.

    That noted I’ve compared my cut-and-paste sections from your original response to the whole second paragraph you’ve written in post #12 here, and I don’t think I’ve misrepresented anything you’ve said. (Although I’ve obviously dwelled more on the negative than the positive). Recognising issues with the font, formatting and art files isn’t ‘disowning’ the entire book – you’ve actually been quite forthright about taking ownership about the choices you made – but the font, the format and the quality of the art scans are a lot of the book, obviously, and even if they work for some people (there are people on Amazon and at TCJ.com who are generally okay with the publication) there are clearly a bunch of others who have issues with them. I agree with revroth’s comment above and also want to give you kudos for maintaining an open discussion about all this.

    I gather that this is a Pratt estate endorsed edition, but I’m assuming the untampered version obviously had their approval as well wherever it’s appeared, and I question whether the current readers in the USA and other English-speaking territories who want to own or collect these Pratt books are really after a ‘casual’ version of works by an artist whose books have been out-of-print for years, or never published in English in the first place. I think that’s the key issue, and the other elements that have attracted criticism – the quality of the scans, and the choice of the font (which I still don’t like) – simply added fuel to the fire. All that said, this paperback has received a lot of commentary and attention in recent days, so it bodes well if Universe ever decides to pursue a reformat, or to rectify some of these issues in future Pratt books, (both big ‘If’s'…)

  9. Well I’ll say again you’ve been quite gracious about both offering your own observations and allowing critical commentary regarding the issue. Whoever’s in charge of these books should put you in charge (or moreso) so we can all get what we want!

  10. Chris, I can say for sure that I loved the cover you created for this edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea! I wish I could say I loved anything else about this edition, but I don’t. Your cover, in fact, compelled me to buy the book without looking inside; a mistake I sincerely wish I could take back. I bought the book the day it arrived at my local comic book shop, and I went home looking forward to reading Ballad of the Salt Sea again, in a new translation, and in color. But very quickly my elation turned to something quite apposite that feeling, as I began to see the inferior printing quality of the inside pages and as I started to discover the ways the panels had been repaginated, cropped, enlarged and cropped, and extended with awkward lines. Thanks to you and to Rizzoli, I see that indeed these degrading qualities come from the Italian publisher’s edition they sent. But it still seems odd, considering that the market for Corto Maltese in English can only be made up primarily of discerning fans of foreign comics, that more care was not exercised in the printing of the book. The poor quality reproduction is clear and obvious from any cursory examination of the material, and anyone who has read any Corto Maltese stories before and enjoyed them could quickly discern that this edition had been subjected to serious tampering.

    While this edition met with Pratt’s approval at the time, that approval was given while other editions of his work were readily available in the original size and layout Pratt had created for Ballad of the Salt Sea. Had he lived to this day, and seen, for instance, the excellent quality of Fantagraphics recent collections of his friend Milo Manara’s work, would he be pleased to see this “economy edition” of his book, created to reach a select readership that wouldn’t buy the book in its original layout, was the only edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea available and affordable for English-language readers? I think there has to be some doubt as to whether he would submit such approval in this situation, given its particulars.

    I appreciate all the information and perspective you’ve provided us here, as many of us are perplexed and saddened by how this book has been presented. But I’m afraid that, had I stopped in my excitement and flipped through this book before purchasing it, I would quickly have seen that it wasn’t the one I was waiting for. Getting past the cover the book turns out to be a huge letdown, as the edition within has severely warped Hugo Pratt’s delicate narrative flow from page to page, just as it crops, reframes and slices up Hugo Pratt’s lovely illustrations. I hope that Rizzoli can see from comments here and at many other places on the internet (hopefully they have also received e-mail comments as well) that fans and would-be supporters of new editions of Corto Maltese would gladly purchase well-printed editions of his books in the original layout in which they had been authored.

  11. Chris,

    As a longtime Hugo Pratt fan I was delighted to see a new edition of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea in print, if less than thrilled by the small format.

    I haven’t picked up a copy (yet) but I wanted to weigh in on the controversies about the new edition. I think that you’ve gone above and beyond in your explanation of the context of the re-formatted, colored pages, rightly pointing out that the pages were produced under Pratt’s guidance and published with his approval. If people want to bitch about the results let them take it up with Pratt’s ghost.

    The fact that you were apparently supplied with substandard art files is something I feel should be restated. I worked in publishing for almost ten years as a photo editor working hand in glove with the art departments. Publishing today is barely profitable as a business and production budgets and schedules are almost always far less than is desirable. As a result guys like you are often handed a dog’s breakfast and told to make a gourmet meal out of it. In your case I would guess that you were handed small 90′s-era scans, probably RGB jpegs, and were told that there was no room in the budget and schedule to have the original pages pulled and new scans made. A quickie low-budget repackaging for the English language market. I’m glad they let you produce a (very fine) new cover instead of repurposing one of the European covers.

    In any case you should be proud of the job that you did with the limited resources at hand. And critics should be aware of the circumstances that make a project like this different from the deluxe reprint editions being published by the boutique publishers like Fantagraphics. Here’s hoping that this edition will mark a new awareness of Pratt’s work here in the States. For helping in that you can be proud.

  12. Hello
    I loved the discussion about this book as much as the book itself.
    One thing that gets tossed around but never fully answered is the possibility of other Corto Maltese books. Is there a plan to publish more Corto Maltese? I have a few Italian editions, but don’t speak the language, and just judging by the passionate responses here there would be a market for them. So is there anybody who knows if there are more Hugo Pratt books in the works?
    Thank You.

  13. Hi Arpad,
    Good question, but since I’m not the editor or publisher, I don’t have any definitive info on that possibility…

  14. Just to offer a positive – I found this book at a shop in a Philly train station, recognized the name as having been highly recommended by contemporary artists I enjoy, and grabbed it on the strength of those opinions alone. I did notice some less than ideal image quality when I got up close, but was excited enough by the story and artwork that I wasn’t bothered by it and mostly didn’t notice it while reading.

    I had heard that there were difficulties getting Pratt’s work published here, so I was thrilled to happen upon this book. I wasn’t disappointed. To offer a new reader’s view – the strength of the material still shows through. Reading other comments now, I am a bit disappointed to hear that panels were reworked, but otherwise I am pleased with the purchase. Especially since it seems that Universe is reading and responding to concerns.

    Here’s hoping that this book opens the door to more great comics being published, with these concerns taken into account more adequately.

  15. “For various reasons, the original sized pages were not an option nor were there higher quality files of this version available.”

    It’s the dumbification of everything, including Art!…And with this, I’m not saying it’s your fault.

  16. I have just bought Ballad of the Salt Sea. I think you did a great job Chris. – It’s not your fault that the publishers were not as ambitious as they could have been. I hope there will be more Corto books in English soon

    Best wishes

  17. Do you know if this edition has been successful, are there plans to continue with the rest of the series.

    I think it’s great to make these long-standing European classics have an proper English translation.

  18. today i was looking for an english version of “sogno di un mattino di mezzo inverno” one of corto’s adventure. I wanted to give it as a present to a friend of mine, but i couldn’t find it. I can’t belive that “tha ballad” is the only one known to the english speaking public!

  19. Half a year later I can reflect on this more rationally and finally had time to add this to my portfolio which is where you can see my final thoughts on the subject.

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