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O'Donnell, Peter

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Comics.

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(1920-2010) UK Comics writer and author who entered the comics field in 1936, his work being usually nonfantastic, although he wrote a number of notable scripts from 1953 to 1966 for the Science Fantasy strip Garth. He is of particular sf interest for Modesty Blaise, a newspaper strip which ran in the London Evening Standard from 13 May 1963 until 11 April 2001, when he retired; this was drawn by various artists including Jim Holdaway (from the outset until his death in 1970) and Enrique Romero (1970-1979, 1986-2001). There have been many reprints in Graphic Novel format; the first to feature satisfactory reproduction of the artwork is the eight-volume Titan Books sequence covering the period 1963-1974 and beginning with Modesty Blaise Book One: The Gabriel Set-Up (graph coll 1984) with Jim Holdaway.

The Modesty Blaise sequence of novels seems to have been initiated in conjunction with the making of the film Modesty Blaise (1966) directed by Joseph Losey and with Monica Vitti in the title role, though any resemblance between that camp comedy-adventure film and the first volume of the sequence, Modesty Blaise (1965), seems almost accidental; O'Donnell's film screenplay was largely ignored in production but formed the basis for the novel. Blaise is a female Hero whose agility and supple strength are sufficiently exceptional for her to be understood as a Superhero, though she is not quite superhuman; her platonic companion Willie Garvin is also vastly resourceful. As with the James Bond stories by Ian Fleming, the Modesty Blaise tales often feature new Inventions and complications of world Politics that would demand Near Future settings to make them plausible; but though they are consistently witty and knowing, they are not plausible, nor are they intended to be. Novels most conspicuously verging on full sf outcomes include I, Lucifer (1967), whose plot relies on Precognition, and A Taste for Death (1969). Later and more serious film adaptations are Modesty Blaise (1982), an hour-long pilot episode for an unmade US television series, and My Name Is Modesty (2002), exploring Modesty's earlier, pre-Garvin history. Apart from Merlin's Keep (1997), the author's Gothic romances as by Madeleine Brent have no fantastic content.

Charles Stross has homaged the character in his Laundry occult-thriller sequence as Persephone Hazard (with the knowing codename BASHFUL INCENDIARY); she first appears in his The Apocalypse Codex (2012). [JC/DRL]

Peter O'Donnell

born London: 11 April 1920

died Brighton, East Sussex: 3 May 2010

works (selected)


Modesty Blaise

  • Modesty Blaise (London: Souvenir Press, 1965) [Modesty Blaise: hb/uncredited]
  • Sabre-Tooth (London: Souvenir Press, 1966) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Jim Holdaway]
  • I, Lucifer (London: Souvenir Press, 1967) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Jim Holdaway]
  • A Taste for Death (London: Souvenir Press, 1969) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Jim Holdaway]
  • The Impossible Virgin (London: Souvenir Press, 1971) [Modesty Blaise: pb/S R Boldero]
  • Pieces of Modesty (London: Pan Books, 1972) [coll: Modesty Blaise: pb/uncredited]
  • The Silver Mistress (London: Souvenir Press, 1973) [Modesty Blaise: hb/uncredited]
  • Last Day in Limbo (London: Souvenir Press, 1976) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Mike Codd]
  • Dragon's Claw (London: Souvenir Press, 1978) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Mike Codd]
  • The Xanadu Talisman (London: Souvenir Press, 1981) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Mike Codd]
  • The Night of Morningstar (London: Souvenir Press, 1982) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Mike Codd]
  • Dead Man's Handle (London: Souvenir Press, 1985) [Modesty Blaise: hb/Mike Codd]
  • Cobra Trap (London: Souvenir Press, 1996) [coll: Modesty Blaise: hb/Jim Holdaway]

comic strip collections

individual titles

  • Merlin's Keep (London: Souvenir Press, 1977) as by Madeleine Brent [hb/]


previous versions of this entry

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