In her article ‘L’héritier des maîtres de l’aquarelle’, Emmanuelle Lequeux (2011) wrote that Hugo Pratt evoked the history of abstract art in his work Corto Maltese. And indeed, from the three-panel-detail she presented alongside her article one might get the impression that Pratt ventured into the abstract in his comics. However, it raises the questions of whether Pratt did stretch the medium’s boundaries to include abstraction into his narration or whether this is only due to the detail she chose and if comic panels can actually be analyzed without taking at least the scene as a whole into account.
Corto Maltese was bursting with innovations when its first story ‘Ballad of the Salt Sea’ appeared in installments in 1967. Firstly, it was astonishing in its clear design and unusual length of 165 pages. The multitude and complexity of its characters, the morally dubious anti-heroes, the landscape that itself became an active character in the narration as well as the extensive research Pratt conducted for his stories were groundbreaking. And without a doubt ‘The Ballad of the Salt Sea’ already shows tendencies to reduce the pictorial content to a minimum, something that went on to be considered typical of Pratt’s work. In an interview conducted in the early 1970s, he stated: ‘Vorrei arrivare a dire tutto con una linea’ (Trevisani 2010) – I want to arrive at telling everything with one line. At that time his style was changing significantly, moving away from his Milton Caniff inspired chiaroscuro and becoming increasingly clean, reduced and daringly simplified in its language.
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