Modesty Blaise  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Modesty Blaise (1966 film), heroine

Modesty Blaise is a comic strip featuring a fictional character of the same name, created by Peter O'Donnell (writer) and Jim Holdaway (art) in 1963. The strip follows the adventures of Modesty Blaise, an exceptional young woman with many talents and a criminal past, and her trusty sidekick Willie Garvin. It was adapted into films made in 1966, 1982, and 2003 and a series of thirteen novels and short story collections beginning in 1965.

Many critics see the early years of the strip as a classic of adventure comic strips. The novels are regarded by some as being among the classics of adventure fiction.




After the initial popularity of the comic strip British Lion Films announced a Modesty Blaise film to be written by Sidney Gilliat that was never made.

A movie entitled Modesty Blaise, loosely based on the comic strip, was filmed in 1966 as a comedy thriller. It was directed by Joseph Losey and starred Monica Vitti as Modesty, Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin, and Dirk Bogarde as Gabriel. While Peter O'Donnell wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the movie, the script was heavily revised by others before shooting began, and the finished movie bore very little resemblance to O'Donnell's vision in tone, theme, or characterization. There is some indication that Willie and Modesty are on the verge of consummating their relationship which, as O'Donnell had always made clear, was strictly platonic even though they are devoted to each other. The film was unsuccessful.

In 1982, a one-hour pilot was made for a proposed Modesty Blaise television series, starring Ann Turkel as Modesty Blaise and Lewis Van Bergen as Willie Garvin. The film aired on the ABC Network to positive reviews, but no series resulted. This was a slightly more serious version of the stories than the campy 1966 comedy version. In this pilot the setting is moved from London to Hollywood, and both Willie and Tarrant are portrayed as Americans.

In 2002, Miramax, the current holders of the Modesty Blaise film rights, made a film called My Name Is Modesty, with British actress Alexandra Staden as Modesty Blaise, based on a story from Modesty's life before "The Network" days, plus flashbacks to her childhood.

The film, made primarily to retain the film rights, did not receive theatrical release, being released straight to DVD in Europe in October 2003; it didn't receive DVD release in North America until September 2004, more than two years after it was produced. Critical reception appears to depend upon the critic's familiarity with the comic strip. Those aware of Modesty's history seem to be far more receptive to the film than those expecting an action film or another comedy. Still, fans were disappointed that the character of Willie Garvin was not featured and by the poor plot and discrepancies regarding Lob.

Staden's performance was generally praised, although she was seen by some as too frail-looking to play Modesty convincingly. The consensus, however, is that this version is at least better than the 1966 spoof.

Quentin Tarantino has been interested in directing a Modesty Blaise movie for many years, and at one point Neil Gaiman even wrote a script treatment based upon O'Donnell's novel, I, Lucifer. So far, nothing has come of these plans. Tarantino "sponsored" the release of My Name Is Modesty by allowing it to be released under the label "Quentin Tarantino presents ..." Curiously, in the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is seen reading a copy of Modesty Blaise.

Nicole Kidman has also gone on record as being interested in making a Modesty Blaise movie, and Jennifer Lopez was reported to be pitching for the part in 2003.


Peter O'Donnell was invited to write a novel to tie in with the film. The novel, called simply Modesty Blaise and based on his original screenplay for the movie, fared considerably better than the movie itself did. (It was also released a year before the movie.) During the following decades he would write a total of eleven Modesty Blaise novels and two collections of short stories. Several of the short stories either adapt comic strip stories, or would later be adapted as comic strips themselves, and there was frequent crossover of characters between the two genres. All the books, with the exception of "Pieces of Modesty", were originally issued in hardback and have since gone through numerous paperback editions.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Souvenir Press began a series of paperback reprints of the Modesty Blaise book series, using the first edition hardback covers, and originally concluding with a reprint of Cobra Trap in 2006. Souvenir subsequently gained the rights to the short story collection Pieces of Modesty and issued their reprint of that book in March 2010, with a new cover design based on the original hardback cover from the first Modesty novel.

In 2008, Penguin Books of India reprinted the full series.

O'Donnell's final book, Cobra Trap, is his most controversial, as the title story which ended the book concluded with Modesty's and Willie's deaths (and a hint of an afterlife), although the comic strip would last for several more years before it was retired; many longtime fans of the series refuse to read Cobra Trap in response. By contrast, O'Donnell ended the comic strip on a more hopeful note.


In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the strip has been in continuous distribution since 1969 in a monthly comic adventure magazine called Agent X9 (after the existing Modesty comic magazine Agent was merged with the X9 magazine). Many of O'Donnell's stories actually premiered here (translated into Swedish), and the magazine continues to run a Modesty Blaise story every month, from the archives. Sweden is also an ongoing source for in-print graphic-novel-style collections of Modesty Blaise "capers" (including hardcovers), though they're also in Swedish. When the daily strip was discontinued, artist Romero was given permission by O'Donnell to do a final Modesty Blaise story directly for the Swedish Agent X9 magazine. The two-parter was published in 2002 and based on an unused script by O'Donnell entitled The Dark Angels. Romero has for the past years also contributed with original painted covers for the Agent X9 magazine.

In India, Lion Comics releases Modesty Blaise comics in Tamil Language. The images are edited (bikinis are made into single piece swimsuits..., etc to make her more modest)

The American magazine Comics Revue also continues to reprint the strip, and remains to date the only publisher to have released an English-language version of The Dark Angels.

In 1994, DC Comics released a graphic novel adaptation of Modesty Blaise (the novel), with art by Dick Giordano (ISBN 1-56389-178-6).

Other adaptations

One of the Modesty Blaise novels, "Last Day in Limbo", was adapted as a BBC World Service six-part radio drama in 1978 with Barbara Kellerman as Modesty, James Bolam as Willie and Richard Vernon as Tarrant.

In the early 1980s, an audio tape reading of the short story, "I Had a Date with Lady Janet" (from Pieces of Modesty), was released featuring John Thaw (the story was a first-person tale told from Willie Garvin's point of view).

Modesty Blaise has been the inspiration for a number of similar (but usually inferior) book series, most notably the ultraviolent mid-1970s series The Baroness by Paul Kenyon.

The 1993 American television series South Beach was also inspired by Modesty Blaise.

Fans of the character also see more than a few similarities between Modesty Blaise and video game heroines Cate Archer and Lara Croft.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Modesty Blaise" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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