The early years (1981)

Texts and drawings by Hugo Pratt
(collaboration on artwork of the ship and harbor in the final pages by Guido Fuga)

This single story comprising 65 comic pages appeared 
in the French daily newspaper “Le Matin de Paris” with a strip published every day from 6 August, 1981.

In this return to “the early years” this episode tells the story of Corto Maltese’s youth when he arrived in Manchuria at the end of 1905 at the time of the Russo-Japanese War. He has just turned 18 years old and the story focuses on his first meeting with Rasputin, a deserter from a Siberian rifle regiment. This meeting confirms the fact that the two had known each other long before the Ballad of the Salt Sea. Actually, the protagonist of this adventure is not Corto Maltese, who only appears towards the end, but Rasputin and the writer Jack London, who was a war correspondent in the region at that time. London, it would seem, has already met Corto before and he speaks about him to other characters as though he were an old friend. Pratt's main aim here is to outline the aspects of the personalities of Rasputin and Jack London with focused and effective portraits. From this emerges the negative and complex overall personality of Rasputin, who is portrayed as a man who lacked ideals, honor or loyalty even in his youth. He kills with disconcerting ease and is ready to lie and betray without hesitation. Nevertheless Corto Maltese demonstrates how certain feelings may arise in a mysterious and inexplicable way, by paths we cannot comprehend, just as his own feelings of friendship for Rasputin seem inexplicable. As regards the figure of Jack London who is given considerable importance here, Pratt exploits his profound knowledge of the subject to dispel certain widely held beliefs that the future writer held socialist ideals. In this story, London is shown to be much more interested in issues of race than in social issues. In fact, in this war London was very much on the side of the Russians, not because of his socialist ideals but solely for reasons of race.