Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I stumbled upon Modesty Blaise through the back door: the 1966 film starring Monica Vitti. Not being familiar with Peter O'Donnell's "Modesty Blaise" newspaper strips or novels, I took the movie at its purely silly face value. And I loved it.
It turns out that Monica Vitti's character bears next to no resemblance to the REAL Blaise. Titan is reprinting the entire 39 year run of the daily strip in brand new, super high quality books, and I bought the first volume just to make a comparison. Now, three volumes in, I'm hopelessly hooked on the original non-campy-but-still-so-mod Modesty Blaise.
I'm not a fan of spy/action/thriller storylines, but O'Donnell gets me every time. Besides the solid characterization of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin -- a truly believable male/female duo who compensate for each other's weaknesses -- the villains are also fully-fleshed and beautifully quirky; Gabriel's nerd-sociopathy, Uncle Happy's baby-talk, Mister Sun's sadistic drive to force Blaise into compromising her rigid morals. On top of all that, artist Jim Holdaway's style is stark and real...but many of his characters have a comically grotesque appearance.
In short, the Modesty Blaise strips are expert storytelling, endless creativity, and every panel is a surprisingly beautiful and complex piece of art.
It's also interesting to see how O'Donnell structured the stories to meet the unique demands of a daily newspaper strip: three panels each, always ending with a significant piece of dialog; every strip self-contained but still fitting into a plot arc; subtle moments for rehashing the story for readers who missed a week or two. It does feel a bit weird to read them one after the other, but it still works...and they're the BEST "just before bed" material.
So cheers to Modesty: a realistic kick-butt professional heroine. And cheers to the Monica Vitti version as well, incidentally.