May 4, 2010

Farewell Peter O'Donnell

Deeply sad news: Peter O'Donnell passed away yesterday at the age of 90.

Mr. O'Donnell had been in failing health for some time, but happily, he was able to receive birthday greetings from around the world in time for his 90th birthday in April.

Peter O'Donnell began writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip in for The Evening Standard in 1963. The strip was a success, and the following year, Peter was asked to write a screenplay. The film went into production, but with many rewrites (not by Peter O'Donnell!) to the screenplay. To tie in with the release of the film, Peter was asked to write a book version of the screenplay. Thus in 1965, the first book in the Modesty Blaise series was born.

 Work on the comic strip continued, and at the same time, Peter penned more books in the series. Peter O'Donnell continued to pen the book series through the 1970s and 1980s, with the last novel, Dead Man's Handle, published in 1985. There was then a rather long hiatus until Cobra Trap, a collection of Modesty Blaise short stories, was published in 1996. The comic strip continued until April 2001.  To coincide with the final strip, the Evening Standard ran an article, 'Farewell My Lovely', which you can read here.

Modesty Blaise was a worldwide phenomenon; here you can see a collection of some of the countries the books and comics were published in.  Modesty also inspired music, artwork, film, television, and other book authors.

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. Not just Modesty, but Willie Garvin, Tarrant, Fraser, Steve and Dinah... to name just a few.

And writer Manjula Padmanabhan sums up perfectly the impression that Modesty made on women, as a role model:
 "She was only a tiny, black-clad figure in a comic strip, but she imparted to me - and no doubt to millions of other confused youngsters like me around the world - important lessons about self-empowerment and self-reliance.
She was no steely-eyed vigilante, spy or detective. When she drew her sights upon wrong-doers it was because they had crossed paths with her and caused her to notice their moral deviance. She had strong loyalties and even stronger friendships. And though it may have been tempting to regard her as a standard-bearer for a certain kind of sixties' era feminism, in truth she was too much of an original to fit within the boundaries of any '-isms'."

Peter O'Donnell, you will be missed; but your stories, characters, and inspiration will live on.

Titan books continues to reprint the comic strips, and Souvenir Press has reprinted all of the books. 
You can read a story on the origins of the character of Modesty Blaise here.


Rafiq Raja said...

A classic tribute post for one of the greatest storyteller to have been blessed for classic comics fraternity.

Peter O Donnell will be missed, but his characters will live in our memory for long.

Hope Titan Books, have got the Foreword writeup of Donnell completed for all their planned releases in coming months and in future. Would be sad to not see another Titan Reprint without the master explaining the series and giving us a glimpse of his mindwork during the penning.

RGCorris said...

Sadly I suspect there will be no more POD forewords - the just-released Death in Slow Motion does not have them, so presumably POD was no longer well enough to write them.

Rafiq Raja said...

Thanks RG, for confirming. I had received my copy of DISN last week, but couldn't get time around to check that out. Now, it's going to be one gem less for sure.

Titan should have thought of this in advance, but looks they would have been paying him for those writeups, and wanted to be sure that they won't pay for somethings which wouldn't have been published (as in case of their former reprint series, which I doubt this time would happen again).

A sad loss, indeed.

Modesty Blaise said...

I'm sure Titan was aware that POD wouldn't be around forever... I must say, they've done a great job of giving us other fascinating material in the front pages of those books. There are certainly dozens of O'Donnell fans who would be happy to provide such articles - and have a wealth of material to work from!

And I should have some exciting news soon about another set of reprints from original artwork. Stay tuned!

Lothar said...

Very sad news indeed. I'm a big MB fan since the 70's when I first read the strips in "O Globo" newspaper here in Brazil. Been buying all the Titan reprints as soon as they are released.


Modesty Blaise said...

Are the Titan reprints available in Brazil?
I adore the Brazilian novel covers; if you have any others, I'd love to have scans of them!

Lothar said...

Nope. I buy them thru Amazon UK.

I don't have any brazilian novels. But you can buy them or see the covers in any of these sites:

Just type Modesty Blaise in the "buscar" (search) button.

Apart from the novels, three MB comic books were published in Brazil in 1972 ( But no covers either at this moment.

Modesty Blaise said...

Brilliant, thanks - if you ever come across those covers, please let me know!

Modesty Blaise said...

It's a pity I can't read Croatian, because one of the members of the MB group has written what looks to be a wonderful article about POD here:

It's worth a look for the choice of graphics - some nice images to compare the various MB illustrators. And I do love the Holdaway one at the very beginning!

Rafiq Raja said...

Why fear, when google is here :)

Here is the translated version of the page,

Modesty Blaise Article

and it's real awesome review, with a glimpse of few paragraphs. Should read that in leisure, thanks for sharing :)