In 1945 a nameless girl escaped from a displaced person (DP) camp in Karylos, Greece. She did not remember anything from her short past. She wandered through post-WW2 Mediterranean and Arabia. During these years she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Hungarian scholar named
Lob who gave her an education and a name: Modesty Blaise. Eventually she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier and expanded it to international status as "The Network".
During these years she met Willie Garvin. Despite the desperate life he was living, she saw his potential and offered him
a job. Inspired by her belief in him, he pulled through as her right-hand man in The Network and became Modesty Blaise's most
trusted friend. Their relationship is based on mutual respect and shared interests, but they have never gone to bed with each
other, fearing that would ruin their special bond. He has always called her "Princess", a form of address only he is allowed
When she felt she'd made enough money, she retired and moved to England; Willie Garvin followed suit. Bored by their new
lives among the idle rich, they accepted a request for assistance from Sir Gerald Tarrant, a high-ranking official of the
British secret service — and this is where the story really begins.
Many of her adventures are based on "capers" she and Willie Garvin become involved in as a result of their association
with Tarrant. However, they may also help perfect strangers or fight various eccentric villains in exotic locations of their
own volition if the cause fits their values; "ghosts" from their Network past also emerge to haunt them from time to time.
Although Modesty and Willie will not hesitate to kill if necessary — and have, on occasion, taken on the roles
of judge, jury, and executioner when dealing with particularly unsavory types — they avoid deadly force whenever
possible, often relying upon their extraordinary physical and weapons skills to change a killing blow into a knock-out. Willie
often confirms with Modesty beforehand whether a mission is to be, as the duo puts it, for "sleeps" or for "keeps".
In keeping with the spirit of other long-running comic strip and literary characters, Modesty and Willie generally do not
age over the decades, with Modesty always being depicted as being in her late 20s, with Willie being eight years older. The
only exception to this rule occurs in the 1996 short story "Cobra Trap" (see "The Books", below) — the final Modesty
Blaise adventure — which takes place in an unspecified future year in which Modesty is in her late 40s and Willie
is in his 50s.
The comic strip
Modesty Blaise debuted in the London Evening Standard on May 13, 1963. The strip was syndicated among a large number of newspapers ranging from the Johannesburg Star to the Detroit Free Press, the Bombay Samachar, The Telegraph, (Calcutta, India), The West Australian (Perth, Australia) and The Evening Citizen, (Glasgow, Scotland).
After Jim Holdaway's death in 1970, the art of the strip was provided by the Spanish artist Romero. Eight years later, Romero quit to make time for his own comics projects, and after short attempts by John Burns and Patrick Wright, Neville Colvin drew the strip until 1986. Then Romero returned to the job and continued until the end of the strip.
The strip's circulation in the United States was erratic, in part because of the occasional nude scenes, which were much
less acceptable in the US than elsewhere (a censored version of the strip was circulated as a result). Modesty was fond of
a tactic that she called the "Nailer," in which she would appear topless and Willie would incapacitate their foes while they
were distracted by her bare breasts.
The final Modesty Blaise strip ran in the Evening Standard on April 11, 2001. Some of the newspapers that carried the series, feeling that it had become a tradition for their readers, began running
it again from the beginning. O'Donnell, in order to give Romero some additional work, gave the artist permission to adapt
one of his short stories ("The Dark Angels") as one final comic strip that was published in Scandinavia in 2002, later being
reprinted in the US in Comics Revue.
Many reprint editions of the comic strip have appeared over the years, of varying quality. Most focus upon the earliest
strips, with strips from the 1980s and 1990s being the least-often reprinted.
One of the earliest reprints in book form occurred in 1978 when Star Books, an imprint of WH Allen Limited, published a paperback-sized compilation of the Holdaway-era stories "The Black Pearl" and "The Vikings". This reprint suffered from poor reproduction
that rendered many panels unintelligible.
Between 1981 and 1986, Ken Pierce Inc. of the United States, in conjunction with Eclipse Comics, published eight volumes of comic book-sized reprints dubbed the First American Edition series. The first four books featured Holdaway-illustrated stories
from the 1960s, while the last four featured strips from the early 1980s as illustrated by Neville Colvin. These books also
suffered from reproduction problems that resulted in many panels being reprinted too light, making them difficult to read.
Between 1984 and 1988, Titan Books of England published seven volumes of reprints of strips featuring art by Holdaway and Romero, covering the period 1963 to
Manuscript Press, published two volumes of late-1980s Romero strips in 2003 (Live Bait and Lady in the Dark); it also published
all of the stories not reprinted elsewhere in serialized form in its magazine publications Comics Revue and Modesty Blaise Quarterly, the former of which, as noted above, also published The Dark Angels for the first (and, to date, only) time in
Beginning in March 2004, Titan launched a new series of reprint volumes. These new versions use larger images and reportedly come from better source
material than the earlier editions. Several volumes also featured specially written introductions by O'Donnell. So far, the
new series has reprinted the full run of the Holdaway years and has moved on to the Romero-illustrated stories. The first
volume published in 2006, The Gallows Bird, includes one story that was not reprinted in the earlier Titan series.
The tenth volume, Cry Wolf (November 2006), will completely consist of stories not previously reprinted. Titan Books
has yet to announce whether the series will continue after this book is published.