Hugo Pratt (1927-1995) is considered one of the greatest graphic novelists in the world. His strips, graphic works, and watercolors, have been exhibited in major museums, such as the Grand Palais and Pinacothèque in Paris, the Vittoriano in Rome, Ca ‘Pesaro in Venice, Santa Maria della Scala in Siena.
The term “drawn literature” (graphic novel) was coined to define his genre. He has been cited by authors and artists including Tim Burton, Frank Miller, Woody Allen, Umberto Eco, and Paolo Conte. He lived in Italy, Argentina, England, France, Switzerland, and he traveled the world over.
Hugo Pratt was born on 15th June 1927 in Rimini but he spent all his childhood in Venice in a very cosmopolitan family environment. His paternal grandfather Joseph was of English origin, while his maternal grandfather was a Marrano Jew and his grandmother was of Turkish origin. In this melting-pot of races, beliefs and cultures steady mixing one with the other, his mother Evelina Genero was a lover of esoteric sciences, from cabala to cartomancy, while his father Roland was a typical man of that time, a regular that in 1936 was transferred to the Italian colony in Abyssinia, which marked the beginning of Hugo Pratt’s youth in Africa. When he was just 14, he was forced by his father to join the colonial police, thus coming into contact with the military world of that time in Abyssinia, which included not only the Italian army but also the British, the Abyssinian, the Senegalese and the French army. The charm of all those different uniforms, crests, colours and faces would be steady present in all his life and works. However, at the same time he also made friends with his Abyssinian peers, which allowed him to learn the local language and integrate in a world that usually colonisers never knew. During that period he got interested in adventure novels, eagerly reading novels by James Oliver Curwood, Zane Gray and Kenneth Roberts. He also discovered the first American adventure comic strips and particularly “Terry and the Pirates” by Milton Caniff, which impressed him so much that he decided to become a cartoonist.
In 1943, after the death of his father, he returned to Italy and attended the military college in Città di Castello. Thanks to his excellent knowledge of English, in 1944 he became an interpreter for the allied army for which he worked until the end of the war. In 1945, Hugo Pratt took part in Venice together with some friends to the editing of the comics magazine Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades), which marked the official beginning of his career as cartoonist. Thanks to that magazine, the “Venice group” was contacted by an important Argentinian publishing house. In 1949 Hugo Pratt thus left for Buenos Aires where he then lived for about thirteen years.
In Argentina he met several cartoonists like Salinas and the Del Castillo brothers. Moreover, he often went to tango dance halls, made friends with the jazz player Dizzy Gillespie, learnt Spanish and discovered other Latin-American writers like Octavio Paz, Leopoldo Lugones, Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Arlt. As to his love life, three women where particularly important during this period of his life. The first one was Gucky Wogerer, a Yugoslavian woman that he married in Venice in 1953 and that gave him two children, Lucas and Marina. The second one was Gisela Dester, a woman of German origin that became first his assistant and then his partner. The last one was Anna Frogner, a woman of Belgian origin that, when she was a young girl, had inspired him the main character of “Jungle Drums & O’Hara of Africa”. They had two children, Silvina and Jonas.
In Argentina, Hugo Pratt drew a great number of comic strips and worked for the publisher Editorial Abril. He first published the series “Junglemen” and then, in 1953, he created for the weekly magazine Misterix the character of “Sgt. Kirk” based on the script by Héctor Oesterheld, who in 1957 set up Frontera, a publishing house of his own that launched the magazines Hora Cero and Frontera, on which Hugo Pratt published, respectively, “Ernie Pike” and “Ticonderoga”. At the same time, Hugo Pratt and Alberto Breccia taught drawing at the Esquela Panamericana de Arte and among their students there were also Walter Fahrer and José Muñoz. When some years later that art school opened a branch in Brazil, Pratt spent six months in Sao Paulo.