Emilio Cortinas was an early Uruguayan comic book artist, best-known for his historical comic stories which were mostly published in Argentina. He is considered one of the first grandmasters of Uruguayan comics, who was followed by José Rivera and Eduardo Barreto.
Born in the small town of Villa Rodriguez in the San José department of Uruguay, he spent most of his childhood in the nearby city Santa Lucía, Canelones. Cortinas studied to become a teacher, but had no intention to pursue a career in this profession. Growing up in his semi-rural environment, Cortinas had learned himself how to draw, mimicking the cartoons, caricatures and illustrations that appeared in newspapers and magazines. He spent his teenage years dedicated to drawing and molding clay. In the mid 1930s, he headed for Montevideo to present his work to the capital's newspapers and magazines. He made his debut in 1935 in the daily newspaper El País, where he was assigned to illustrate news articles. At the age of 21, he published first comic, 'Tribulaciones de un Chino en China', an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel 'Tribulations of a Chinaman in China'. His second strip, 'Hazañas de Loss', was left unfinished after a couple of weeks.
In these days, American newspaper comics like 'Prince Valiant' and 'Tarzan' by Hal Foster, 'Flash Gordon' by Alex Raymond and 'Dick Tracy' by Chester Gould started appearing in the Uruguayan press. The popularity of these features prompted papers to introduce comic strips by local artists as well. El Plata, which has merged with El País, was one of those papers. The editors hired Cortinas in 1938 to illustrate comic strip adaptations of literary classics. For the next four years, the artist made 97 of these adaptations, including classic stories like 'El Cid', the Greek myth 'Jason and the Golden Fleece', 'War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells, 'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling, 'King Solomon's Mines' by Sir H. Rider Haggard, and Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'. Cortinas made these strips in the tradition of 'Prince Valiant', with text captions instead of balloons.
However, his career really took of when he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he lived from 1939 to 1946. One of his first published works in Argentina was the prehistoric adventure comic 'Chil, el ingenioso'. He worked for many papers and publishing houses of the Buenos Aires area, and also for advertising agencies. For the daily Noticias Gráficas, he created the comic strip 'El Unitario', which was set in the time period of 19th century military leader Juan Manuel de Rosas. He was also present in the magazine Figuritas, with 'El Libro de las Tierras Vírgenes', and he made more Foster-styled adaptations, such as 'Mowgli' and 'Captain Blood'. He worked under several pseudonyms on science fiction and fantasy stories for the magazine Bicho Feo, which he edited with Argentine artist Hector Torino in 1944 and 1945. Among his work for this magazine was 'Reymar, el dominador del Océano', and humorous work which he signed "Pipo". He continued to use this signature for his more comical work, such as the cartoon feature 'Estampas Populares'.
Cortinas delivered his most notable work in Dante Quinterno's Patoruzito magazine. Starting in 1945, he created the light-hearted detective 'Vito Nervio' with Italian scriptwriter Mirco Repetto. Cortinas dropped the textblocks and started using a more modern narrative, with balloon dialogues and action sequences. The detective had his first adventures in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, but soon faced intrigues across the planet. Cortinas was eventually succeeded by a young artist called Alberto Breccia.
Another work for Patoruzito was 'A la conquista de Jastinapur', a story written by prolific Argentine writer Leonardo Wadel and illustrated in a more classic text and illustration style by Cortinas. It was an adaptation of two epic poems from India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Other notable serials were 'El Demonio de los Bosques' and 'Vida de Grandes Hombres'.
Cortinas never felt comfortable in Buenos Aires, and by 1946, the family returned to Uruguay. This was coincidentally around the same time that he had apparently angered political leader Juan Péron with a caricature. He bought a house in Colón in the Lavalleja department, where he resumed his activities for the Uruguayan press, including publications like El País and La Página de los Lunes. He also became partner in an advertising agency, which was soon revamped to Publicidad Oriental. In 1946, he founded a School of Applied Arts with Walter Pérez, where he educated a later generation of artists, including caricaturist Hermenegildo Sabat and comic artist José Rivera. Teachers at the school were, besides Cortinas, Julio Emilio Suarez, Ricardo Scagliola, Sergio Boffano, Nardini, Harry Klein and Curto.
He also wrote quatrains with the adventures of a countryman in Montevideo under the pen name "Martín Hojalata". For the supplement El Escolar, he drew 'Homero, El Muchacho Viajero', a comic feature about a boy traveling to different eras in history when reading from a magical book. The story remained unfinished due to the untimely death of the author. Cortinas was thirty-nine years old when he fell ill with cancer. Comic artist, teacher, businessman, writer, commentator, illustrator, cartoonist and caricaturist Emilio Cortinas died as a result from this disease on 20 December 1955.
A collection of classic stories by Emilio Cortinas, called 'Cortinas - Hazañas de un viajero del tiempo', was published at the Montevideo Comics Festival in 2015. The book was edited by Matías Castro with digital restaurations by Diego Jourdan.