Tuesday, May 04, 2010

His Virtue Was Modesty

Peter O’Donnell, the British-born creator of troubleshooter/action heroine Modesty Blaise, passed away yesterday, less than a month after celebrating his 90th birthday. He had long been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

As UK comics expert Steve Holland explains in his blog, Bear Alley:
Peter had a 75-year-long career as a writer, his first story appearing in the pages of Scout in 1936. He then joined the staff of the Amalgamated Press, working on Butterfly, Comic Cuts, and Illustrated Chips. He served with the Royal Signal Corps during the war. After being demobbed in 1946 he worked for a small publishing firm before taking up writing full time.

In 1952 he was asked to take over the ‘Belinda’ strip in the Daily Mirror while the regular author was ill; soon after he was invited to take over the writing of ‘Garth,’ which he went on to write for the next thirteen years. Other strips written by O’Donnell include ‘For Better or Worse,’ ‘Tug Transom,’ and ‘Romeo Brown,’ the latter teaming him up with Jim Holdaway for the first time.

In 1962 Kennedy Aitken asked him to create a new character for the Daily Express. O’Donnell, already writing stories featuring a macho male hero, decided on a female character who would have the confidence and combat skills of male comic strip stars without losing her femininity. The strip was snatched up by the Evening Standard and Modesty Blaise began appearing on 13 May 1963. The strip survived the death of artist Jim Holdaway in 1970 and continued to appear until O’Donnell’s retirement in 2001, with Enrique Romero (1970-79, 1986-2001), John M. Burns (1978-79), Pat Wright (1979-80) and Neville Colvin (1980-86) providing the artwork.
In addition to scripting the Modesty Blaise comic strip, O’Donnell penned 11 novels featuring the character. The first of those, simply titled Modesty Blaise, was published in 1965 as a tie-in with a comedic spy-fi film of the same name, released in 1966 and starring Italian actress Monica Vitti. (Watch the trailer here.) At least two books of Modesty Blaise short stories were also released over the years.

Nick Landau, the managing editor of Titan Books, which has recently been issuing collections of the Modesty Blaise comic strip in book form, had this to say in response to news of the author’s demise: “Peter O’Donnell was respected as one of the greatest writers in the comics medium today and had a devout following amongst comics professionals and fans alike.”

Somewhere, the usually resilient Modesty weeps.

READ MORE:Peter O’Donnell, Creator of the Comic Strip Heroine Modesty Blaise” (The Times); “Peter O’Donnell,1920-2010,” by Mike Gold (Comic Mix); “Madeleine Brent/Peter O’Donnell: An Appreciation,” by Elizabeth Foxwell (The Bunburyist); “Thank You, Peter O’Donnell, for Letting Me Be Part Modesty,” by Anna Toss (Anna Toss & Co.); “R.I.P., Peter O’Donnell, the Man Behind Modesty Blaise,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); “Modesty Blaise,” by David Foster (Permission to Kill).


Naomi Johnson said...

I'm saddened by Mr. O'Donnell's death. He was a class act.

K-E Lindkvist said...

If anyone here can read swedish, the editor of the comic book Agent X9 (where Modesty Blaise have been in print continuously since the early seventies)have made their upcoming tribute piece to O'Donnell available on their blog: http://agent-x9.blogspot.com/2010/05/vi-minns-peter-odonnell.html A longer version (with a lot more pictures) can be read on my blog: http://www.unigas.nu/Blog/post/Modesty-Blaises-skapare-dod.aspx

Anonymous said...

How exactly does a book "published in 196 as a tie-in" to a movie released in 1996 happen?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Whoops! Thanks for catching that typo, Anonymous. It has now been fixed.


Peter Rozovsky said...

Criminy, I had not heard the news. Thanks.

Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander has reminded some readers of Modesty Blaise.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"