We’re very sorry to report the death of Modesty Blaise creator Peter O’Donnell, who died over the Bank Holiday weekend at the age of 90.
Peter, who lived in Brighton, celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this month, had been ill for some time, suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
He began writing professionally at the age of 16, and, while writing several popular newspaper strips down the years, including ‘Garth’ and ‘Romeo Brown’, is best known as the creator of female action hero Modesty Blaise, first published as a comic strip 1963, but who also featured in several novels from 1965 onwards and also made it to the silver screen on more than one occasion.
The books (all written by O’Donnell) ran concurrently with the comic strip until 1996 and the comic strip ran until 2001, running to over 10,000 strips.
‘Modesty Blaise’ ran daily in the Evening Standard newspaper during the 1960s. O’Donnell retired from writing in 2001, but had continued to oversee Titan Books release of more than a dozen Modesty Blaise collections, contributing introductions and commentaries to his classic stories.
His work was highly regarded: O’Donnell counted author Kingsley Amis among Modesty’s fans and won the Haxtur Award in the category Best Script for the Modesty Blaise strip story Bad Suki in 2006 at the Asturias Internation Comic Convention in Spain, Peter.
“Peter had a 75-year-long career as a writer,” notes comics expert Steve Holland in his online tribute to O’Donnell, “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.
“…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.”
“I had the privilege of editing Peter on his graphic novel adaptation of the first Modesty Blaise story, drawn by the late Dick Giordano,” recalls Mike Gold for Comic Mix of Modesty’s US comic editions.
“It was something of an intimidating experience for me, having to discuss how to translate his own characters into the comic book medium. But Peter was eager to learn and immediately understood the differences between the comic strip and comic book media and how to best exploit the advantages of the latter; he quickly put me at ease. We stayed in touch ever since; I’ll miss his annual Christmas card.”
Despite retiring, he kept in contact with fans via the Modesty Blaise Ltd. web site and elsewhere.
Such was the popularity of his heroine that a film was made and released in 1966, widely regarded as a missed opportunity; O’Donnell himself was disappointed by the casting and the film, which starred Italian actress Monica Vitti as Modesty. To avoid any reoccurrence, he purchased all the rights and so gained full control.
In the 1970s he was approached by Diana Rigg, who wanted to bring the character to the small screen with herself playing Modesty Blaise. He was initially enthusiastic but the choice of leading man, Adam Faith, later became a stumbling block.
As well as writing the adventures of Modesty Blaise, O’Donnell also scripted the comic strip adaptations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel Doctor No, wrote the 1968 Hammer movie Vengeance of She and wrote a series of swashbuckling romance novels under the pen name of Madeleine Brent.
“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”, says Titan’s Managing Director, Nick Landau.
“I am honoured to have known him – and published his greatest creations, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin – for almost 40 years.”
“What seems to have made the deepest impression on Modesty fans was not the storylines or adventures themselves, but the depth of Peter O’Donnell’s characters,” argues the Modesty Blaise Books web site’s anonymous owner, a huge resource for Modesty fans. “Not just Modesty, but Willie Garvin, Tarrant, Fraser, Steve and Dinah… to name just a few.
Paying tribute to him on the London Evening Standard web site, avid fan Paul Woods sums up what so many admirers of O’Donnell’s work feel. “I loved ‘Modesty Blaise’ since it first appeared in the Standard, which my mother always brought home from work,” he recalls. “When I went off to university I made her clip out the strips and save them for me, and she had to describe the latest plot developments in her weekly letters to me!
“Later I collected all the Modesty novels and short story collections, and have re-read them many times. Mr O’Donnell was a fine storyteller, mixing suspense and humour most adeptly, and the relationship between his two lead characters, Modesty and Willie Garvin was superbly developed. There truly has never been a newspaper cartoon strip to rival Modesty Blaise – were there one it would certainly make me a devotee of that newspaper!”
Peter O’Donnell, born 11th April 1920, died on 3rd May, 2010. Survived by his wife, Constance, and their two daughters, Jill and Janet.
Obituaries and Tributes
• College English: RIP Madeline Brent
“Although he is ‘best known’ as the author of Modesty Blaise, I personally knew him best for that series of unusually strong romance novels,” writes Debbie Gascoyne. “I don’t think I would have ever guessed that they were written by a man; I liked them for their plucky and relatively believable heroines, romantic and adventurous plots, and for the glimpses they gave me of places like China, Venice and Cornwall, all of which I have now visited myself.”
• Comic Artist Steve Epting: Good News, Terrible News
“If you’ve never read Modesty Blaise, I highly recommend it, particularly the first seven years or so of the strip which were drawn by the incomparable Jim Holdaway. I place these as my all time favorite adventure strip, even edging out Prince Valiant and Terry and the Pirates. In the words of Chuck Dixon – ‘O’Donnell is in a very, very small club of writers who were masters of writing clear, concise, compelling action.'”
• Make Mine Mystery: A tribute by by crime writer Mark Troy
“O’Donnell showed me that it is possible to write a strong female protagonist in an adventure series without sinking to the misogynistic burlesque of Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz and others of that era. O’Donnell treated his protagonist with love and respect. His portrayal of the relationship based on respect, not sex, between Modesty and Willie was another powerful influence on me. and the model for the relationship between Ava and Moon in my stories.”
• World of Hurt: In Memoriam – Peter O’Donnell
“I cannot overstate what an tremendous influence Modesty Blaise was on World of Hurt,” writes Jay Potts, creator and artist on the mature readers recommended World of Hurt comic. “Once I decided to create a black and white adventure strip, I engaged in a crash course on the best examples of the genre. Although, artistically I found my primary inspiration in the work of Alex Raymond and Al Williamson, from a writing standpoint Peter O’Donnell was my greatest influence.”
• Modesty Blaise Ltd: www.modestyblaiseltd.com
Official Modesty Blaise website, sanctioned by Peter O’Donnell
• Modesty Blaise Books: www.modestyblaisebooks.com
Information on the Modesty Blaise books, their cover artwork, and related media
• Modesty Blaise News: Blaise Blog
Modesty Blaise Books-related blog
• Enrique Badia Romero
Modesty Blaise artist
• Modesty Blaise Homepage
Includes an exclusive interview with Peter O’Donnell
• a href=”http://www3.sympatico.ca/jim.pattison/modesty/index.htm” target=”_blank”>The Modesty Blaise Dossier by Jim Pattison