Corto Maltese was born in Malta, on July 10th, 1887, the son of a Gibraltan gypsy and a Cornish sailor.
From his mother he inherits his Mediterranean features and passion, from his father a longing for voyage, and from both a love of mystery and the talent of seeing beneath the surface of things.
Corto attends a Shul in Malta, and becomes familiar with the Kabala. As a young man, his immersion in the life of the ports of this sea island between Europe and Africa brings him face to face with a bracing and seemingly unlimited diversity of men and philosophies.
As his character unfolds, we see that Corto is just worldly enough to keep from being disillusioned with human nature, but never quite loses his inner compass, and is always ready to fight to affirm the principles of liberty and independence.
Early in his life, we get a glimpse of the quintessential Corto. One day in Cordoba, a friend of his mother’s takes hold of the boy’s left hand and begins telling his fortune. She is horrified to find that he has no life line. Corto is barely ten, but without hesitation he grabs one of his father’s straight razors and gouges one into his hand.
Joining the likes of Ulysses, Corto takes his place amongst the great wayfarers of history, yearning to stand before magic and mystery in distant lands. He takes his place amongst men and women who know that body and spirit are renewed through risk and adventure.
As each episode of his life is unveiled, Corto seems to be moved by clearly recognizable desires. A journey may begin with the hunt for treasure, for a magic ring, or by attempting to decode an ancient map. We soon learn that he is less interested in the goal at hand than in the sensual rush of new experiences. All the while, he never loses his innate appreciation for true friendship or genuine respect for the individuals who come across his path.
It is impossible to pin down Corto’s politics or his social ideals. The tales of his exploits take us to places as far flung as Manchuria, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Ireland, Patagonia, New Guinea, and Polynesia, and span approximately the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Yet, his spirit and his language are utterly modern.
The world of Corto Maltese is a kaleidoscope of cultural meeting points, and of the possibilities within human nature when we are placed in vastly different environments, or faced with daunting and larger than life personalities. The range and intensity of these interfaces produce states of mind that are somewhere between reality and the imagination.
Corto’s interactions with women are based on mutual respect. The women in these tales are not just complex characters – they also act as cunning guides to the unknown. The world of Caribbean mysticism, including voodoo, casts its spell on us via the Brazilian sorceress Bocca Dorata. The ineluctable social and political logic of the Chinese Revolution is brought to life with the determined and resourceful rebel Shanghai Lil. The mythic legends of the Celtic world, and the fables of Viviana and of Merlin are evoked the melancholy Irish mystic Banshee. The culture and philosophy of Greece are sculpted in our minds with the words of the mysterious Ipazia, the reincarnation of a female caretaker and sage at the ill-fated library of Alexandria.