Corto Maltese in Siberia (1974)

Texts and drawings by Hugo Pratt
(collaboration on artwork of trains, airplanes and bridges by Guido Fuga)

This single story (Corto Maltese in Siberia) comprises 99 comic pages and came out on the magazine “Linus” from issue 1 (January, 1974). The story was broken 
up over many issues of the same magazine and concluded in issue 7 (July, 1977).

In this story Pratt introduced a new way of narrating the adventures of Corto Maltese: stories that cover a breadth of issues and allow him to investigate his themes and characters more deeply. There is a wealth of characters, including the return of Rasputin. The court referred to in the italian title (N.T. Corte Sconta detta arcana) where the term “sconta” in Corte Sconta actually means “hidden”, hence the “Hidden Court” recalls Venice as Pratt knew it in his youth and serves as the opening setting for events that will then move immediately to Hong Kong where the thoughts of Corto, while leaning against the balustrade of the balcony of his house in the East, go to a certain woman (perhaps Pandora?) who is there, in that city, but where? These preoccupations are soon forgotten when he is charged by the “Red Lanterns”, a Chinese secret society made up entirely of women, to find an armored train laden with gold that belonged to the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The scenarios of the adventure thus shift from China to the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia and Siberia in a period of time between 1919 and 1920. Many others apart from Corto Maltese are looking for this train: regular and irregular armies, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries that are mixed with a number of historical figures, especially Baron Roman Ungern-Sternberg, a Russian general who commands the Asian Cavalry Division and who proposes that Corto should fight alongside him to conquer the whole of Mongolia, a proposal that Corto rejects immediately. Two important female characters emerge in this story, the cold and icy Duchess Marina Seminova (a representative of an aristocracy on the verge of extinction) and the unconventional Shanghai-Lil (a warrior-member of the Red Lanterns who saves Corto’s life). Corto is attracted by her and at the end of the story goes to find her in the village to which she has returned, only to discover that she has since married Ling, a local farmer. Note: One of the many publications of this story that appeared after “Linus” that should be mentioned is the quality oblong hardback edition brought out by Milano Libri in December 1977. This was a limited edition with only 5,000 copies and is much sought after by collectors, partly as it is the first book to contain the story.