Having conceived the idea after a chance meeting with a girl during his wartime service in the Middle East, O’Donnell elected to work with Jim Holdaway, with whom he had worked on the strip Romeo Brown, after a trial period of collaboration with Frank Hampson, creator of Dan Dare, left O’Donnell dissatisfied. Modesty Blaise debuted in the London Evening Standard on 13 May 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 Star (Malaysia), The West Australian (Perth) and The Evening Citizen (Glasgow, Scotland).
After Jim Holdaway’s sudden death in 1970, the art of the strip was provided by the Spanish artist Enrique Badía 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, resulting in a censored version of the strip being circulated. (Modesty occasionally used a tactic that she called the „Nailer,“ in which she appeared topless, distracting the bad guys long enough to give Willie or herself a chance to incapacitate them.) An example of this censorship appears in the introduction to the 2007 Titan Books reprint volume Death Trap, which illustrated two segments of the story arc, „The Junk Men“ that were censored by the Detroit Free Press when it published the strip in 1977; in both cases a screen was drawn over scantily clad images of Willie and Modesty. Reportedly, O’Donnell did not approve of the changes, although they were made by the artist, Romero.
The final Modesty Blaise daily comic strip, #10183. Unlike the printed version, the original art appears without the word balloons. The gist of the dialogue is that Modesty and Willie plan to unearth a treasure (the one left buried at the end of the book A Taste for Death) and anonymously donate it to the Salvation Army, and to take a break from adventuring. The final exchange at sunset: Modesty says, „NO VILLAINS, NO VICTIMS, NO BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS … WE’LL TAKE A LITTLE BREAK, WILLIE LOVE, JUST YOU AND ME.“ Willie replies, „BEST BIT OF ALL, PRINCESS.“
The final Modesty Blaise strip ran in the Evening Standard on 11 April 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, to give Romero some additional work, gave the artist permission to adapt one of his short stories („The Dark Angels“) as a comic that was published in the Scandinavian anthology magazine Agent X9 in 2002, later being reprinted in the US in a special issue of Comics Revue.
From 1 December 2008, the Evening Standard, which had stopped including comic strips for some time, republished La Machine, using the original artwork. Following a change of ownership of the paper, they did not continue with subsequent stories.
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