Monday, August 19, 2013

Hugo Pratt: The Misinformation Continues (It Never Ends)

Juan Sasturain, Buscados Vivos, 2004.

Let's remember again which Ernie Pike stories Dominique Petitfaux and other European critics claim that Hugo Pratt wrote: "Un blando" ("On ne se refait pas...") Hora Cero # 11, March 1958; "Un buen susto" ("Une aventure dangereuse"), Hora Cero Extra! # 53, November 21, 1961; "Tarawa" ("Tarawa"), Hora Cero Extra! # 1 April 1958; "Untitled" ("Les Dix-sept de la sapinière"), Hora Cero # 13, May 1958; "Guardia nocturna" ("Garde nocturne"), Hora Cero Extra! # 39, April 6, 1961.

Why did I write the titles of the stories in Spanish (the original language of publication in Argentina) and French? Because the smoking gun of this affair comes from an interview with Hugo Pratt by Dominique Petitfaux published in De l'autre coté de Corto [a name invented by Oesterheld by the way]: Hugo Pratt - Entretiens avec Dominique Petitfaux (1990; from the other side of Corto: Hugo Pratt - interviews with Dominique Petitfaux). In this book Hugo Pratt said (45 of the 1996 edition; my translation):
[...] as a matter of fact I wrote myself some of these [Ernie Pike] stories: On ne se refait pas...,Une aventure dangereuse, Tarawa, Les Dix-sept de la sapinière, and Garde nocturne. [Sic for the italics.]
The problem with this is that in another interview published in the above Sasturain book, but conducted by him in 1982, Pratt said (37):
[...] in ERNIE PIKE there are one or two scripts that are entirely mine like the one with the pilot who falls in the jungle and stumbles across a patrol entirely composed of Fidji natives whom he doesn't recognize. There's in there a huge ironic component. I think that my contribution to comics, as far as the stories are concerned, is, precisely, the ironic touch. 
Also (54, 55):
[Juan Sasturain] - What are the [Ernie Pike] episodes that you remember with more fondness or you feel more identified with?  
[Hugo Pratt] - "Francotiradores" in the first place. The ending is very beautiful. There's the best Oesterheld in it: when the two rivals fall dead helping each other and "the same wind scattered their hair." I also remember "Un teniente alemán" as being great. 
[...] [Juan Sasturain] - What about "La patrulla"? It has the atmosphere of JUNGLEMEN.
[Hugo Pratt] - It is set in New Guinea, of course. But the drawings are different. Here I applied some new techniques like the direct inks, without pencils. There's also "Tarawa" that I like a lot because of the atmosphere. With all those palm trees inclined to one side... "Tarawa" is the end of the romantic war, with those individualized marine veterans. 
In the Argentinian interview Pratt would never dare say that he wrote "Tarawa," he just says that he likes it. On the other hand it's curious that he throws a vague "one or two scripts" that he wrote entirely, but just describes the one that he effectively wrote ("Un buen susto"). Unfortunately Sasturain didn't ask him about those other "or two" scripts. Finally Hugo Pratt himself gives us the key to unlock the problem. He clearly states that his trademark is the use of irony and we can't find a shred of irony in, at least, three of the other four stories. Besides, there are two details that are telling: 1) these stories are too wordy for Pratt (he even complained about Oesterheld being too wordy); 2) the main character (or one of the main characters) dies at the end. In "Un blando" lieutenant Leopardi is killed by the Danakil because he tried to save his British prisoner. In "Tarawa" soldier Melvin Levine died because, after being terribly afraid (he shit himself), he lost his mind wanting to avenge his fallen comrades. In the untitled story published in Hora Cero # 13 seventeen Brazilian soldiers are killed on a mad German captains's orders because, after being captured, they refused to talk. "Guardia nocturna" is the only story that I could believe was written by Hugo Pratt (it was published in 1961, it's a bit ironic - dark humor ironic, I mean... -, people die in it, but not in the usual way). The prose style is clearly Oesterheld's though.

If Hugo Pratt wanted to say that, in comics, drawings are the story too, it's fine...In that sense he wrote those stories, but, in that case, didn't he write all the stories that he co-created with Oesterheld? Why stop at five?

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