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Corto Maltese Tarot Review

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on March 16, 2009
posted under

The famous artwork of comic book luminary Hugo Pratt provides magnificent impressionistic watercolors. As an art deck it is a wonderful collection yielding feelings of travel, adventure, and romance in distant lands a century ago. The Little White Booklet has a wonderful reading method that you’ll want to use with other decks, as well. This deck is for those who love Pratt’s art or are Tarot collectors.


Corto Maltese was a character created by Hugo Pratt for a successful series of comic book stories that combined fantasy with real events taking place worldwide during the period running from about 1900 through the 1920s. You could picture him as the Han Solo or his day. Instead of piloting a space ship he captained a sailing vessel. He seems to be neutral and after his own interests, but always ends up supporting underdogs and what is ethically correct. Although surrounded by historical people and events, he wants to control his own life. When he realizes he doesn’t have a fate line on his palm, he uses a straight razor to cut his own, indicating that his fate is his his to make.

Pratt used watercolor to create his famous character, resulting in a dreamy, impressionistic feeling to his drawings, even when they used settings and backgrounds from real life.

There are a few basic concepts that drive the people who design Tarot decks. Some people simply re-do the Rider-Waite-Smith in their own particular style. Some look at the meanings of the cards (often based on the RWS model) and create their own symbolic representation of the meanings. Some look at the names of the cards and try to come up with images based on the names. Some, attracted to the art of others, attempt to mix pieces from those artists that are not designed for the Tarot, but are taken from other pieces, and try to make them fit the Tarot model. Sometimes, this works exceptionally well. Sometimes it looks like a questionable pastiche.

The Corto Maltese Tarot uses a pastiche of Hugo Pratt’s justifiably famous watercolor comic art and tries to make it fit in with the names given to the Tarot cards. The Fool is simply a jester. The Magician is Corto Maltese standing in front of a decorated door. The High Priestess is a woman sitting on a cushion giving a Tarot reading. The Empress is an elegant woman fanning herself. The Emperor is Maltese sitting in a chair. The Hierophant appears to be a Rabbi teaching a young boy. The Chariot has a man rowing a canoe. The Hanged Man is a soldier carrying a severed head.

Hmmmm. If these images don’t make sense to you, they’ve tried to remedy the problem by putting four tiny images from the Besançon or Marseille woodcut Tarot deck in the the corners of each cards. To me, that’s sort of like saying, "Here’s the image we found, and if you don’t like it, here’s the traditional image you can use."

So, how does it work as a Tarot deck. Well first, I have to give a full disclosure: I’m a bit of a comic book geek. I used to have lots of comics, my favorite being some of the bizarre and surrealistic art found in Dr. Strange comics thanks to artists such as Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and Frank Brunner. I really like graphic art.

So, try as I could to use this deck, I kept finding myself fascinated by the evocative impressionistic watercolors of Pratt. The art chosen for this deck swept me away to India, Tibet and Africa. It’s filled with the spirit of Corto Maltese even though he rarely appears in the cards. There are parading soldiers and African warriors; temple dancers and proud harlots, Aztec temples and South Sea islanders. This deck is artistic and brings to mind the adventures of a traveler. But as a Tarot…sorry, I just can’t get into it.

Included with the deck is a typical LWB with 14 scant pages in English, giving brief information on Corto Maltese and the meanings of the cards. Like most of the Lo Scarabeo decks, I would love to see a real book that would accompany this deck. However, I do want to bring kudos to a wonderful Tarot spread that is included in the booklet. It uses 24 cards and involves keeping the Major and Minor Arcana separate during shuffling and cutting. They are only blended in the actual layout called "The Lagoon of Destiny." I’ve tried this spread with other decks and found it quite valuable and useful.

Name of deck:Corto Maltese Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0-7387-1253-1
Artist’s names: Hugo Pratt
Brief biography of artists: Pratt (1927–1995) was a world famous comic book artist inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2005. He incorporated his personal background, including mysticism and secret societies, as well as intensive historical research into his art. His most famous creation was Corto Maltese.
Name of accompanying booklet:Corto Maltese Tarot
Number of pages of book/booklet: 64 (14 in English)
Authors of booklet: Bepi Vigna
Brief biography of authors: Vigna is an author and film director, also having worked in television and advertising. He practiced law for five years before his love of comic books led him to being writing them in 1982.
Available in a boxed kit?: No
Reading Uses: General
Artistic Style: Impressionistic to realistic
Original Medium: Watercolor.
Theme: World travel and adventure
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: Just the standard Lo Scarabeo differences: The Star becomes The Stars and The Wheel of Fortune becomes The Wheel.
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
Why was deck created?: "The Corto Maltese Tarot is inspired by the characters and adventurous world created by Hugo Pratt, a series of fascinating images that can suggest new interpretive points of view for the traditional symbols of the Major and Minor Arcana."

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