Popdose at Kirkus Reviews: Setting Sail with Corto Maltese

Written by Books, Kirkus Reviews

For more than 75 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose has joined the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network, taking to the virtual pages of Kirkus Reviews Online to dish on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.

This week, the Ninth Art crosses the Seven Seas, as a Eurocomics favorite tries to conquer America…

There’s a mixed blessing to being a pop-culture maven based in the United States. The same vibrancy and volume we celebrate in our homegrown product make the American market extraordinarily resistant to penetration by foreign properties. It’s a little embarrassing that American films can rule the overseas box office from Milan to Yucatán, but that Doctor Who is only now — fifty years after its debut — starting to garner some brand recognition in the States.

For every Pokémon or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that pushes through to a US audience, there are a half-dozen iconic franchises that never make the jump. Asterix. Modesty Blaise. Diabolik. Zatoichi. Lieutenant Blueberry. Dylan Dog. Even the muscle of a US media conglomerate may not be enough to break a property here; despite the participation of Hollywood’s best-loved and most marketable director, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin did disappointing business in the States — although it was (perhaps predictably) a huge hit just about everywhere else.

Now the US publisher Universe is taking a crack at bringing a classic character of European comics to Anglophone audiences with a new translation of Ballad of the Salt Sea, the first adventure of Corto Maltese, the seafaring rogue created by Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt (1927-1995) — and it’s kind of a big deal. Corto Maltese, sometimes described as “Tintin for grown-ups,” has always had an enthusiastic fanbase among the intelligentsia; Umberto Eco even provides a blurb. But the adventures — originally published between 1967 and 1988 — fall squarely into PG-13 territory, so there’s a huge YA crossover market.

The previous English edition of Ballad has been out print for 15 years, and most of the Corto Maltese books have never been translated at all. With its slick, heavy paperstock and gorgeous packaging, the Universe book is built to last; the publisher is obviously hoping that Pratt’s daring sailor-man has some (sea-) legs. But will Corto Maltese find smooth sailing in the US market?

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