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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 16

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we look at the first volume of Titan Books’ Modesty Blaise reprints, The Gabriel Set-Up, courtesy of writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Jim Holdaway!


When you think about the logistical nightmare it is for a company to deliver a weekly comic book series like 52 or Trinity, it makes you appreciate the efforts of those who deliver quality DAILY action strips, like the work done by Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway in every daily edition of the Evening Standard with their action strip, Modesty Blaise.

A few years back, Titan Books began doing deluxe treatments of the Modesty Blaise series, and their debut collected the first year or so of Modesty Blaise strips under the title of “The Gabriel Setup.”

You obviously have to use a different style of writing when you write in daily strip format, so the fact that the collection reads extremely well is a strong testament to O’Donnell’s writing abilities (which is not a surprise, as even at the time, he was a well regarded comic strip writer). Similar to yesterday’s featured comic, O’Donnell was good with the “slow burn” – stories that slowly escalated to a fevered pitch.

Modesty Blaise (which began in early 1963) is about a former thief who is called out of retirement by Sir Gabriel Tarrant (and Tarrant’s assistant, Jack Fraser) to stop an assassination ring. She calls up her old compatriot, Willie Garvin, and when that case ends, the two continue to work with Sir Gabriel, as Modesty could not resist the taste of the action-filled life again.

O’Donnell does an amazing job (as, let us be honest, there is not a lot of room in three panels) imbuing the characters with in depth personalities.

In fact, I think that that is a SLIGHT drawback to the stories in that Willie Garvin is such an interesting character that he almost steals the strip at times from Modesty, in particular in their conflict with the evil mastermind Gabriel. Garvin has some of the coolest scenes in the entire collection!!

But like I said, it is a minor nit I am picking there, as the fact that a supporting character takes some attention away from the lead is not really that big of a deal.

The series was also unafraid to show the private lives of the stars, and also unafraid to show a little skin…

Holdaway’s art is excellent – it is very life-life, but he still uses a number of noir lighting designs, exploring the potential of black and white beautifully. It makes me wonder if some of it may have been lost to readers in their newspapers, as I presume 1963 printing methods were not as sophisticated as today, so some of his tricks with shadows might not have looked as good back then.

And he was great at action, too – check it out…

Anyhow, the Titan Collection of Modesty Blaise’s first year (O’Donnell finally retired the strip in 2001, after almost FORTY years of stories) is a lot of value for your buck, so I would highly recommend picking it up.


I love this book. Holdaway’s art was such an interesting mix of realism with a little flattened expressionism mixed in. When I had to describe him to someone else, the best I could come with was “Al Williamson meets Bernie Krigstein”

Matt, that “Williamson meets Krigstein” description is spot on. I have about a half-dozen of these Titan collections and love ‘em to death. There are very gripping. They are hard edged, thrilling, sexy and often humorous. Holldoway is best but the Romera drawn strips are an able successor.

This really is great art. Why doesn’t anybody draw in this sort of style anymore?

Been meaning to look into this stuff for far too long.

I guess I need to get off my ass and get some if it. That’s just some really beautiful work!

Never read the comics, despite being exhorted to several times, but I recently read the first novel and thought it was absolutely tremendous. Gritty spy action with the glamourous modernism of The Avengers and very refreshing attitude to the heroine’s sexuality. Really surprised it’s never translated into cinematic success in manner of Bond.

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