Jim Holdaway’s Modesty Blaise

Recently I wrote about Peter O’Donnell and his character Modesty Blaise.  I would be remiss if I didn’t follow-up with piece about Jim Holdaway.

Holdaway was the artist for the Modesty Blaise strip with O’Donnell when it started in 1963.  They had worked together previously on Romeo Brown, and Holdaway and O’Donnell made perfect sense for Modesty.

My appreciation of Holdaway’s work centers on his ability to manage a three- or four-panel daily strip to build tension and suspense.  There a real sense of movement, not just in plot but in action.  When I was young, I’d love to read the Spider-Man comic strip but I never felt like anything was happening – everything was stalled until the larger/longer/full color Sunday strip.  But Holdaway didn’t have that option.

And perhaps more importantly, Holdaway was able to imbue and design Modesty and Willie with sense of style, personality, and charm.  Again, there is no denying that Modesty is sexy, but she is also strong, independent, determined, and compassionate.  It would be so easy for the artist to take shortcuts, but Holdaway never did.  And as much as I loved Modesty Blaise, I could never embrace her portrayal after Holdaway.  She was too posed – more sexpot than kick-ass action hero.

Peter O’Donnell describes his appreciation for Holdaway’s work:

Take-Over is the last complete story Jim Holdaway drew and there really is some superb work in it.  Take a look at the second frame in Strip 1928, for example.  The script called for an exterior London scene, which could have come out as a few rooftops with a bit of Nelsons Column in the foreground; but just look at the work Jim put into it.  You can even see that hes included a man in a dinghy moving to or from the river steamer. Now look at the next frame — and catch your breath at what he’s managed to put into that background through the window behind Modesty.

Jim Holdaway died in 1970 midway through the Warlords of Phoenix storyline.


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