The ballad of the salt sea (1967)

Texts and drawings by Hugo Pratt

This long story appeared on its own in the “Sgt Kirk” comic book from issue 1 (July, 1967), Florenzo Ivaldi editore.

This Ballad of the Salt Sea is Pratt’s universally acknowledged masterpiece. The story contains and develops many other stories that are woven together with characters that have become unforgettable. The young and beautiful Pandora (who is passing from childhood to adolescence), the mysterious Monk (whose face is always hidden by the hood of his habit), Rasputin (a grim and ferocious pirate), Cain (Pandora's brother), Lieutenant Slutter of the German Navy, the natives Skull and Tarao, and finally Corto Maltese, the errant sailor. Although it is widely remembered that Corto Maltese made his first appearance in this adventure he is not the main protagonist of the story, but only a minor character. Indeed Pratt always indicated Pandora as the central character of the Ballad. The work is the first example of the literary comic strip, inspired by Conrad, Stevenson and London but even more directly by Henry de Vere Stacpoole and his Blue Lagoon, from which the author got the idea of a small island in the Pacific to which he then gave the name “Escondida”. The pace of the narrative is very modern, the drawings are of sublime beauty and the atmosphere of the great outdoors is extraordinary. The action begins in November 1913 in the South Seas (Melanesia, Papua New Guinea) at a time when it could already be felt that the Great War was looming but the romantic ideals of the nineteenth century were still alive. The story captures the imagination of the reader from the opening pages with a tight, compelling storyline that can be interpreted at different levels. The period costumes, the uniforms, the aboriginal cultures and the wide open spaces are exceptionally conjured up with a few broken lines.