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O'Donnell, Peter

(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

comic strip collections

individual titles


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight.
Accessed 05:08 am on 4 December 2021.