Modesty Blaise: Deadly and Delicious
I fell in love with a feisty, ass-kicking, intelligent, sexy, honourable, fearless woman when I was eleven.
She’s got her own thing. She is Miss Independent. She is loyal to her friends and would give her life for them. She knows a trick or two when it comes to crime, having run a successful criminal organisation called ‘ The Network’ herself. It operated across continents, was very organised and successful. When she did stop her activities, she made sure the band were all well looked after. She was an honourable thief. Never took from the needy. Never dealt in drugs or vice. She did like diamonds, but then which girl doesn’t.
She can Out- bond James Bond
She is drop dead gorgeous, with dark dusky looks, a mane of thick black hair. It is hard to place her nationality – what with her dark almost almond eyes, her physique and that hair. And that name, where does she get that name from?
She looks equally great in a black cocktail dress, in combat fatigues, or just with a towel wrapped around her. She speaks several languages like a native. She can ride surf, swim, climb, dive, fight, fence, shoot an arrow but she is not fond of guns. She is much better at unarmed close quarters combat as she has been fighting since she was a little girl. She learnt her craft in the back alleys and dusty streets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She is fit, boy she is fit. She can fight like a tigress. She can knock a man dead at 50 paces. She can out-Croft Lara anytime.
She has no known relatives. She cannot remember her parents. She remembers Lob, her Hungarian mentor, who taught her many things. Survival skills, culture, etiquette , honour and languages. He died in the deserts of Africa, where she buried him. But she never mopes. She is as cold and flinty as the epee she sometimes wields while fencing. She carries a strange stick called the kongo or the yawara stick hidden in her bouffant hairdo. It looks like a miniature dumbell and it is just small enough to be held in the grip of a hand and deadly enough to paralyse nerve centres. So be careful if you try to get close and fresh.
She has properties in London, Tangier, Paris, and in rural Wiltishire apart from other places. She has got some money stashed away from her past, for a rainy day. She has immunity from British Government for she sometimes helps them deal with messy situations on the quiet, where official channels are powerless. And she always delivers.
I fell in love with her when I was eleven and I have never stopped loving her.
Her name, My friends, is Modesty Blaise.
I get jealous of the blond Casanova who hangs with her most times. Willie Garvin. She assures me their relationship is platonic and he is her closest friend and confidante. He keeps calling her ‘Princess’ and she calls him ‘Willie’. ( Everyone else seems to call her Mam’selle –from her Network days) He is as cockney as they come but I have heard him change his accent to suit the place, sounding as posh or as rough as they come to suit one of his many disguises. He can throw a knife like a circus act and can make any girl swoon at 50 paces.
He says she saved his life and his soul. He will give his life for her. Sometimes she spends time in the country pub he runs, called ‘ The Treadmill’. They work out and train together, pushing themselves to limits of endurance.
He is always quoting psalms, that Willie. At most inappropriate moments. It seems the only book he had when he did time in some a jail in Calcutta ( among his many jailterms in the past) was a Psalter! He says the ‘Princess’ rescued him from a prison in Saigon and although he is 8 years older then him, he treats her with such reverence and enormous gratitude.
And then there is that elderly gent with a trilby and a black umbrella who comes to her flat in London. His visit always means that someone somewhere is in trouble or something’s amiss. She ends up leaving town soon after, off with her friend Willie, off on a mission. I think I have seen his pictures in paper, he is called Sir Gerald Tarrant.
He is always accompanied by that bumbling fellow called Fraser, who seems like a mild mannered civil servant. But behind his thick glasses I have noticed keen intelligence, a sharp mind and years of experience in the field. He doesn’t fool me with his bumbling routine.
And what about that Indo-chinese houseboy Weng? He does the chores but I know he has done three years at a University in Hong Kong and plays bridge 3 times a week. He often gets involved at some level in the capers of Modesty and Willie. He is very loyal to Modesty and will do anything for her.
But then so would I. She is that kind of a gal.
The Author : Peter O'Donnell
Modesty Blaise debuted as a comic strip in the London Evening Standard in 1963. She was created by the British Writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Jim Holdaway. She was an instant hit with the readers and as indicated widely across the world, including Germany, Sweden, Africa , Australia and India.
Peter O’Donnell has had previous success as a writer of strips such as Romeo Brown and Garth. His stories were classic espionage adventures, always gripping . They were ahead of their time, portraying a feisty femme fatale who battles for the good guys. The art was exquisite, each panel rendered with such panache and freshness. Modesty herself was drawn as a chic, sexy pen and ink incarnation often wearing high fashion and sometimes nothing much – the latter aspect resulted in the strip being heavily censored in some sections of the world and resulted in the erratic distribution and syndication in the US.The ‘capers’ were full of twists and turns and launched Peter O’Donnell as a writer par excellence.
The Modesty Blaise character and the comic strips have the unique feature that every one of the stories have been written by the same author over nearly a 40 year period. this is an unique achievement and has kept consistently good quality of gripping narrative. Peter O'Donnell sadly died in 2010 at the age of 90 and it remains to be seen whether the growing popularity will result in any new stories being commissioned by his estate.
Peter's unique ability to craft gripping narratives and tightly woven plots will be hard to replicate.
The Artists : Jim Holdaway
Jim Holdaway was born in 1927 and joined the Kingston School of art when he was only 14 on a scholarship. He was called for National Service and served in Italy, Austria and Greece before returning to art school. Originally working as a rubber engraver making dies for for printing on cartons. He then worked as an artist for book jackets, advertisements and various comic strips such as Captain Vigour, The Football comic, Tit-Bits and Junior Express.
Jim Holdaway's association with Peter O' Donnell started when he was commissioned to draw Romeo Brown. That strip ran for six years before being cancelled. when Peter was commissioned to create a new strip for Beaverbrook Newspapers Strip cartoon editor in 1962, he called upon Jim as his perfect co-creator to draw Modesty Blaise. The strip was na isntant success on its launch in 1963.
Jim and Peter were a perfect match and collaborated from 1963 to 1970 on Modesty Blaise. A huge hit on syndication. Sadly Jim Holdaway died in 1970 due to a heart attack midway through illustrating the Modesty Blaise story ' The Warlords of Phoenix'.
Jim Holdaway very much defined the looks of all the characters and complemented Peter's narrative with his action packed artwork. Every panel was perfectly inked and the strip gave a sense of a constantly moving story full of adventure and intrigue.
Holdaways' painting of Modesty Blaise was used as the cover art for the last Modesty Blaise collection, the Cobra Trap.
The Artists: Enrique Badia Romero
When Jim Holdaway died suddenly in 1970 midway through drawing the 'Warlords of Phoenix' there was a search for a suitable artist to take over and complete the strip.
Enter Enrique Badia Romero, a flamboyant Spanish artist of some repute. Born in Barcelona in1930, Romero was a bit of a prodigy. He had began drawing at a tender age and despite his parents protests joined as an apprentice under the famous artist Enrique Freixas. By the age of twenty Romero was drawing and editing his own comic magazines and was also supplying art across the European magazine circuit.
He took over the Modesty Blaise strip and brought in a more flamboyant style in contrast to Jim' s realism. Romero liked to draw beautiful women and he added a sense of romanticism and sensuality to the strip. He continued to work for eight years and then left to pursue his own projects. He also co-created the famous comic Axa.
From 1978 the strips were variously drawn by Jim Burns and Patrick Wright briefly, followed by Neville Colvin who drew Modesty until 1986.
Romero eventually returned in 1986 to take over the artistic duties and he continued to draw Modesty until the strip was concluded in 2001.
He continued the spirit of Modesty with Peter’s writing skills and was very successful. Romero quit after 8 years to pursue his own projects and the strips were variously drawn by Jim Burns and Patrick Wright briefly, followed by Neville Colvin who drew Modesty until 1986.
Romero then returned to take over artist duties in 1986 and continued until its conclusion in 2001. As a special commission to him, O’Donnell let him adapt one of the print short stories ( the Dark Angels) for a Scandinavian publication as a one off in 2002. There have been a total of around 96 story lines and they have been reprinted in graphic novel format many times in many versions and have remained highly collectible.
The International Reprints
Due to enormous popularity of Modesty Blaise the strips from Evening Standard have been reprinted by several publishers over the years to varying quality and quantity across the world.
Ken Pierce Inc. from America reprinted several strips from the early years and from the 80s as 'First Amercian Edition' series in 8 volumes between 1981 and 1986. They were received well but did suffer from readability issues due to lighter printing and making some panels hard to read.
Titan books from UK published eight volumes between 1984 and 1988 covering the strips from 1963 to 1974 ( the Holdaway and Romero years) in good quality large format paperbacks. Titan has since returned to publishing a whole series of Modesty strips chronologically since 2004. These are handsomely mounted and available from online and print book stores.
Manuscript press has published and serialised Modesty stories through its Comics Revue magazine.
DC published an adaptation of the first novel, Modesty Blaise, with art by Dick Giordano.
Elsewhere in Sweden and Norway Modesty has enjoyed popularity in the form of a monthly Magazine (Agent X-9) continuously since 1969 after merging an existing magazine Agent that had featured Modesty since 1967 with another comics mag X-9
In South India, Modesty first surfaced in 1975 (Muthu comics) and then revived in the 80s by Lion Comics and Rani Comics that had continued to publish several strips much to the delight of the local comics fans.
The Art of Modesty
Modesty Blaise has inspired and is inspiring many fashion revivals and many artists have wanted to draw her unique looks. Although there are several examples of fan art ( mostly featuring nudes of Modesty, I must add!) , my favourites remain artist Robert McGinnis's interpretation of the character.
McGinnis is a hugely popular and collectible artist who was enormously talented. He did the covers for over 1200 paperbacks in the US including Carter Brown, Matt Helm, Perry Mason.
Both Jim Holdaway and Enrique Romero have drawn and painted some collectible prints of Modesty.
Peter O’ Donnell penned a novel to accompany a film version in 1965. The book ( Modesty Blaise) was far more successful than the film and launched Peter as a thriller writer. In the subsequent years Peter would deliver 11 novels and two collections of short stories that the public would devour with enthusiasm and garnered plenty of accolades.
They were slick well crafted thrillers, spanning the globe, featuring exciting set-pieces, full of verve and humour. The novels enjoyed reprints all over the world and were translated into many languages.
Modesty Blaise Novels
1. Modesty Blaise
2. Sabre Tooth
3. I, Lucifer
4. A Taste For Death
5. The Impossible Virgin
6. Pieces of Modesty (short stories)
7. The Silver Mistress
8. Last Day in Limbo
9. Dragon's Claw
10. The Xanadu Talisman
11. The Night of the Morningstar
12. Dead Man's Handle
13. Cobra Trap ( short stories)
The Special Intelligence section of the British government headed by Sir Gerald Tarrant know all about Modesty’s past. They also know that her second n command during the network days and confidante, Willie Garvin, is languishing in prison ( he has a habit of doing this). Sir Tarrant has information that will help Modesty find Willie. But he also has another delicate matter of a shipment of diamonds that could really do with the talented pairing of Willie and Garvin to scope the scenario and protect the shipment. They know all about how one could plan the heist, as they have done a few of these themselves, in the past of course.
Little do they know their adventure will cross paths with the diabolical Gabriel who is hell bent on snatching the diamonds and wouldn’t mind killing for them. An action packed adventure that takes you to France, Egypt and finally to a small Meditteranean island hideout where Modesty and Willie have to fight for the lives and save the diamonds if they can. A stunning debut.
Long before the real invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, the perceptive Peter O’Donnell has a deadly military dictator Karz, amassing weaponry and an army of mercenaries in a Hindu Kush mountain lair to execute his ultimate plan - the invasion of oil rich Kuwait. The coincidence doesn’t stop there as his planned attack date is September 11th! This book was published in 1966.
Karz needs two capable lieutenants to command his mercenary army, someone who is capable of handling a motley crew and making a success of it. The only two people he could recall from the past, capable of such feat, are Modesty and Willie Garvin. Meanwhile in London, Sir Gerald Tarrant of the Special Intelligence notices a large number of known mercenaries quietly disappearing across the Globe without a trace. He asks Modesty and Willie to investigate.
Unbeknownst to each party they are both tracking each other. Karz kidnaps a little girl known to Modesty and threatens to kill her if Willie and her don’t report to duty to the Hindu Kush. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, the pair has to rescue the girl, stop the invasion and escape with their lives intact. Pulse pounding entertainment.
All over the world , important people of receiving death threats from some people who claim they could accurately predict their deaths. When the threatened don’t pay up, they do end up dead. Strangely all these deaths appear due to natural causes.
The Head of the French Intelligence, René Vaubois, wants Modesty to investigate and in his own inimitable French fashion wines and dines her to persuade her to take the job.
Soon Willie and Modesty encounter the strange case of Lucifer who could predict death, Steve Collier who is a professional para-psychologist and the villainous Seth and Regina who have master-minded the devilishly cunning plan. In a race against time, with a bunch of ruthless henchmen on their tail, the pair's adventure culminates in a remote island near Indonesia .
With a cyanide pellet surgically implanted under her skin, Modesty has to work with Willie to destroy the evildoers before time runs out, once and for all.
A Taste For Death
Beautiful, blind, Dinah Pilgrim is a psychic. She can tell you how to find lost items and makes a living doing this for small change along with her sister Judy. Her abilities don’t give her the the deadly premonition of what is about to happen. Attacked on a lonely beach, Judy is brutally murdered and Dinah is about ot get kidnapped. Willie Garvin happens upon the scene and manages to rescue her, killing the kidnappers and her sister’s murderers in a deadly fight.
Willie knows others aren't far behind and someone wants Dinah and her abilities desperate enough to kill for it. Willie goes into hiding with Dinah and knows of only one person who he can trust and will be able to help rescue them. Modesty Blaise.
The pair re-encounter the villain of their first novel, Gabriel, again. This time he wants to find a treasure of amazing value. With set pieces in a Panamian jungle and in an abandoned fort where Modesty has to fence for her life and Willie has to encounter a man mountain, this book delivers in spades.
The Impossible Virgin
Giles Pennyfeather works in a field hospital in remote Africa and is tending to a mysterious Russian in his deathbed. It is obvious that the patient has been tortured to reveal some information and Gile is soon party to information about untold riches. The man who tortured the Russian is Brunel , a vicious killer crime lord with equally vicious henchmen.
Giles comes across Modesty and the pair soon evade danger upon danger as Brunel pursues Pennyfeather for vital information. Willie gets in on the act as Modesty and Giles get captured and slowly brainwashed. In a series of brilliant plot twists and breathtaking set pieces Modesty and Willie have to outwit yet another nasty criminal while keeping their senses intact. The unique fight scenes that pepper each novel are taken to a new level with an encounter with a mountain gorilla and a fight scene involving quarterstaff.
Pieces of Modesty
Pieces of Modesty
A collection of highly entertaining short stories including the first and only one told in first person by Willie Garvin ( I had a date with..)
1. A Better Day to Die"
2. "The Giggle-Wrecker"
3. "I Had a Date with Lady Janet"
4. "A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck"
5. "Salamander Four"
6. "The Soo Girl Charity
The Silver Mistress
In the remote foothills of the Pyrenees in the South of France, Sir Gerald Tarrant , head of the Special Intelligence force, is held captive by a homicidal maniac, Mr Sexton. The latter has plans to torture Sir Gerald and extract vital information regarding intelligence operatives all over the world.
No one knows that Sir Gerald has been taken captive as they all believe he had perished in a car accident. Modesty and Willie stumble upon information on their good friend and they set out to rescue him from the French chateau full of the Mr Sexton’s henchmen.
In a delightful twist to the norm, we get to see the action through Sir Gerald’s eyes, as he witnesses Modesty and Willie in their ruthless best, efficient, cold yet strangely humane when it comes to protecting innocents. There are plot twists a plenty, combat scenes to make your eyes water and delicious banter between the protagonists. High class entertainment.
Last Day in Limbo
In a remote jungle camp in Guatemala, a crazy bunch of villains are running a unique slave camp. All the occupants are rich westerners who have been kidnapped and put to work until death. Paxero, the evil maniac, has worse plans for Camp Limbo as he affectionately calls it. While looking into the case of Maude Tiller, who works for Sir Tarrant, and her treatment in the hands of Paxero in an unrelated matter, Modesty and Willie stumble upon evidence that one of their rich friends( who allegedly had died in a yachting accident) may still be alive.
Modesty lets herself be captured to enter Limbo and soon in up to her neck in murderous mayhem. As desperate Willie hacks through the surrounding jungle in a bid to rescue Modesty, she will have to lead the rich, despairing, clueless slaves in a revolt against the guards, as Paxero has ordered them all to be killed. Edge of seat action with great panache.
A famous artist is found drifting in the Tasman sea by Modesty while sailing single handedly from Australia to New Zealand. Trouble is he was last known to be sailing the meditteranean and disappeared two months ago. Soon they realise he is not the only artist to have disappeared.
A murder soon sets Modesty and Willie on trail of a deadly gang of criminals who inhabit the Dragon Claw island and who have plans for more disappearing artists. Modesty encounters the psychotic gun toting vicar Uriah Crisp and also the camp but deadly Beauregard Browne in their ninth adventure
The Xanadu Talisman
Modesty disbanded her criminal organisation in Tangier many years ago and others have tried to replicate her success. The latest one of these surfacing teams is El Mico and they pull of their greatest heist to steal an object of great importance only to have it stolen by their second in command.
But Nanny Prendergast, the head of the organisation and the Silk siblings don’t take no prisoners. They kill the said double crosser and kidnap his wife to lock her up in Xanadu a strange place in Atlas mountains. Soon Modesty and Willie join in on the cat and mouse games, attempting to rescue the poor wife after tracking down the ‘object’.
Modesty thought she had seen and fought it all, but soon she is facing Collissuem style duels and a daredevil escape through mountain roads while pursued by helicopters. Stirring action.
Night of the Morningstar
A hapless but talented rookie wants to join the Network in its heyday and he is not accepted. He nurtures the grudge for several years and wants to prove his mettle by taking revenge on the first and second in command of the Network, Modesty and Willie.
Starting with a deliciously nostalgic flashback that gives us more insight into the Network days, this thrilling caper twists and turns around the criminal organisation called the ‘Watchmen’ who are hell-bent on a series of nasty terrorist attacks at embassies, landmarks and assassination attempts at key political figures.
Their next target is the Golden Gate Bridge. Modesty and Willie not only have to stop their evil pans but have to contend with the personal vendetta from the mysterious ‘moringstar’. A must for Modesty fans.
Dead Man's Handle
In this eleventh and final novel, Willie is kidnapped and brainwashed by the dastardly Thaddeus Pilgrim and is imprisoned in the remote Greek island of Kalivari in the ‘Hostel of Righteousness’.
Modesty is meant to pick up his trail and follows him there only to confront her second in command and lifelong friend programmed to kill her the instant he sets his eyes on her. The duo have to endure mind altering drugs, the crazed assassins Sibyl and Khazim and fight to save their lives and sanity. They then have to vanquish the criminal psychotic Dr Thaddeus Pilgrim.
It has the solid formula of plot twists, crazed villains daredevil escapes and thrilling fight sequences.
This very final book about Modesty and Willie written by Peter O’Donnel l Features five short stories including the one any self respecting Modesty fan refuses to read, the Cobra Trap. It has Modesty through the ages starting at 20 and culminating at 52. In a crazy set up O’Donnell has Willie and Modesty killed in this story. After much furore he finished his final comic strip in 2001 in a much upbeat note, with the duo alive and well, and planning to return for more adventures.
The Dark Angels
The Girl With the Black Balloon
The 1966 movie featured Monica Vitti as the eponymous heroine and Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin. The plot skewed so much from Peter O'Donnell's screenplay that it was unrecognisable much to the disgust of the fans of the strip. It fared less well and was received as a cult camp classic. Sadly not in the true spirit of Modesty, failing to deliver the thrills but instead concentrating on a flurry of sexy pastel production design and high fashion!
There was a TV pilot made for ABC in 1982 featuring Ann Turkel as Blaise. Although this version was more true to the tone of the books it failed to become a series.
In 2004 Miramax, who still hold the rights to the character, made a film ‘ My name is Modesty’ featuring Alexandra Staden as young Modesty. This went straight to DVD and was felt by many as an attempt to regain the rights rather than a serious try to launch the character.
Quentin Tarantino who had convinced Miramax to buy the rights to the character was very interested in making a Modesty Blaise film and lent his name above the marquee to this version but hasn’t yet capitalised on the opportunity.He did have Vincent Vega, the John Travolta character in pulp fiction reading Modesty Blaise in three different scenes, hinting at a possible future film that has never materialised.
One just hopes that the property gets into some safe pair of hands and a film materialises. Modesty Blaise stories have so much material to mine, one can make a truly satisfying series of films that can deliver.
Fall in love with Modesty!
The genius of Peter O'Donnell and the stunning talents of Holdaway, Romero, Colvin and others have produced a canon of comic strips that are a delight to read by any gender at any age. These are adoringly crafted stories with artwork to die for.
So come discover the world of Modesty. She won't disappoint you. I promise.
She may be a bewitching blend of pen, ink and words. But she will captivate you with her charm, her guts and her unique personality. There have been others who have tried to steal her throne to rival 007. But if there was ever anyone who is a true contender to James Bond's mantle , it is Modesty Blaise.
And don't blame me if you fall in love with this dark haired temptress.
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