He was born in Rimini, Italy but he spent most of his childhood in Venice in a very cosmopolitan enviroment. In 1937, Hugo Pratt moved with his mother to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), joining his father who was working there following the conquest of that country by Benito Mussolini's Italy. Pratt's father, a professional Italian soldier, was captured in 1941 by British troops and in late 1942, died from disease as a prisoner of war. The same year, Hugo Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp at Dirédaoua where he would buy comics from guards and later was sent back to Italy by the Red Cross. In 1944, he was at risk of being executed as SS troops had mistaken him for a South African spy.
After the war he moved to Venice where he started the 'Venice Group' with other Italian cartoonists and launched the magazine called 'Asso di Picche' in 1945.That magazine mostly had adventure comics. His character Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades) was really popular especially in Argentina where he was invited during 1949.
The creation of Corto Maltese
From the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960 he lived in London where he illustrated a couple of comic books with some local scriptwriters.Then he moved back to Argentina even though the bad economy but in 1962 he returned to Italy.He started a collaboration with the kids magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli.
In 1967, Pratt met Florenzo Ivaldi, and with him created a comics magazine named after his character, Sgt. Kirk, the hero first written by Héctor Oesterheld. In the first issue, Pratt's most famous story was published: Una ballata del mare salato (A Ballad of the Salt Sea), which introduced his best known character, Corto Maltese.
Corto's series continued three years in the French magazine Pif. Most of Pratt's stories were placed in real historical eras and were actual historical events. For making the stories perfect, Pratt did a lot of research over the things he was writing about because he wanted them to be as most similiar to the real thing as possible.
Pratt's main series in the second part of his career include Gli scorpioni del deserto (five stories) and Jesuit Joe. He also wrote stories for his friend and pupil Milo Manara for Tutto ricominciò con un'estate indiana and El Gaucho.
From 1970 to 1984 Pratt lived in France where Corto Maltese was really popular. His comic book was published by the local publisher Pif Gadget and later it was translated in fifteen different languages.
From 1984 to 1995 Pratt lived in Switzerland where the international success that Corto Maltese sparked continued to grow. In France, most of his pre-Corto Maltese works were published in several album editions by publishers such as Casterman, Dargaud, and Humanoides Associés. A wanderer by nature, Hugo Pratt continued to travel from Canada to Patagonia, from Africa to the Pacific area. He died of bowel cancer on 20 August 1995.
On Friday, July 15, 2005, at San Diego Comic-Con's 17th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, he was one of four professionals that year inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame.