I've been sitting on this book for quite some time for quite a few reasons. Well, three really: New job, the book is in French and I had the flu. Add to that, other outside time commitments and the Ottawa Senators sucking in the lead up to the NHL playoffs my mind wasn't exactly in a frame to read something in my second language.
Well, I've persevered and I'm always glad I did whenever I read some Bandes Designes. I'm such a genre whore when it comes to comic books that whenever I read something non-North American it feels like a revelation because it isn't about superheroes. Not that that's all I read, but it's a fairly substantial amount. Heck these days it's mostly just Ultimate Spiderman trades at that. Anyway, having a straight up adventure serial to read is gloriously refreshing from the over-exuberance of superheroics. This is like the cultured European cousin that just inherently has more style, knows it, and is quietly confident in what s/he is. There is a bigger size format to the thing which sort of announces to the world what you are reading, but it's artistic enough content wise that you don't look like you're reading about super-boobies.
Ever since my first random Corto Maltese purchase during my lean years living in South London I've felt that Hugo Pratt has created the comic book equivalent of the Indiana Jones movies. He's a scruffily handsome man that can take care of himself and moves around the world with a swagger and confidence that verges on cockiness but is never so blatant that people are put off by him. Yes, the major differences are that Corto is a sailor and Indy is a treasure hunting archeologist but the core characteristics are quite similar.
I guess the two sentence movie pitch is that Corto Maltese is Tintin as an adult (without the dog and with Cpt. Haddock's job). He's entirely more laconic than Tintin but just as able to give and take a punch when the need arises. Also, Hugo Pratt was Italian so there are lots of lovely women characters as well. In that respect I'm reminded a bit of Eisner's Spirit work with lots of strong, sexy women who aren't all the same character in different costumes.
As for this volume in particular, I kind of just picked it up at random because I was at the library one day and the idea of reading more Corto Maltese books popped into my head and well, there was this one and another one I'm now reading. I really should have read them in the opposite order because Tango is one of the last collections. Heck, some of the characters that Corto visits in this book are introduced for the first time in the collection I'm reading at the moment, so that's slightly annoying when trying to make sense of what's what. Also, the French doesn't help.
What drew me in initially was the massive text introductions. They're all about the history of prostitution in Argentina, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As for the story itself, I was mostly lost I'll admit, because shockingly it's not just super hero comics that require a slight continuity obsession to keep everything straight. The story here is about Corto trying to find a long lost friend who was kidnapped (I believe) by a prostitution ring. In his searches for her he runs into a bunch of characters from his older adventures which you don't really need to have read to understand this story but it did feel confusing. Almost like you were invited out with someone you knew from work who proceeds to only make in-jokes with his or her friends all night long. Universal themes will come through but you'll be lost on the details.
And I think it's the timing of when this book was created that speaks a lot towards how I felt towards most aspects. It was later in Pratt's career and it felt a bit like he was taking a few things for granted, almost cutting corners. The art is, for the most part beautiful as I've come to expect, but the action in the panels is not as dynamic as other Corto Maltese stories. There are only a few poses and expressions used, and while there may be some unbelievable artwork when he's drawing a car chase sequence the inking process seems to be a bit thick, almost as if an edged marker was used in places (mostly on noses too, which is just odd looking). It all makes the action seem somewhat less dynamic than it should be, and with a story that isn't exactly action packed that is somewhat unfortunate.
I still think Pratt's style is one of the best but in comparison to his other work this one just isn't as good, in my opinion. There is a lot of research text prefacing this book, and a lot of potential (and while I'm sure I missed a lot because of my language barrier) so it was disappointing to have the story and art let me down.
This is a story of corruption on multiple levels in a location that I know next to nothing about and really, if I can stay engaged in a story written in a foreign language I can mostly read then it's doing something right. It was an unfortunate choice of texts to get back into Corto Maltese with, but it's out of the way and I'm reading an earlier volume that is making up all the ground this book let down on.