Willie Garvin is a character in the long-running British comic strip series Modesty Blaise, as well as a series of novels based upon the strip. The character was created by Peter O’Donnell in 1963 and, alongside Modesty Blaise, made his first appearance in the story La Machine, appearing for the first time in strip no. 21. Willie Garvin also appears in every volume of the Modesty Blaise book series.
Willie Garvin appears throughout the Modesty Blaise series as Modesty’s confidant and right-hand man. His background is never presented in an ordered, chronological context, but rather in bits and pieces over the course of the comic strip, which ran from 1963 to 2002, and the literary series, which shared a more-or-less common continuity and ran from 1965 to 1996.
What is known can be pieced together from the many tidbits revealed by O’Donnell over the years. Willie Garvin is British and has a rather shady background. He was born in Whitechapel to an unwed mother who died young, leaving him in the care of his „auntie“—an aged and alcoholic prostitute—who „taught him how to duck.“ He was then put in an orphanage which he ran away from after crossing a bully known as Dicer and losing his virginity to a girl nicknamed „Annie the Bang“. He served in the French Foreign Legion, including the gruesome Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and later lived in Thailand, where he learned his skills as a Thai boxer.
It is during his time as a Thai boxer in Saigon (or Bangkok, O’Donnell changed the story at some point) that he first meets Modesty Blaise, who despite being only twenty, runs a powerful (but moralistic) criminal organisation called The Network. Modesty sees Willie in one of his fights, and sees him getting arrested afterwards („for the brawl he’d been involved in the night before“). Modesty buys him out of jail and tells him that she believes he is capable of being more of a man than he currently is. She tests him by having him collect money owed by a person in Hong Kong. This simple order gets so complicated that Willie actually has to break the man out of a prison in mainland China just to complete the mission. Modesty is astonished and impressed by Willie’s ingenuity and so invites him to join The Network. Willie accepts and spends six months training with Modesty to the point where they trust each other as much as they trust themselves. Willie becomes Modesty’s most trusted man in The Network, and stays on for six years until Modesty shuts the organisation down. Afterwards, the two remain close friends—Willie opening a pub 25 miles (40 km.) from London called The Treadmill—and when Sir Gerald Tarrant offers Modesty a chance to put her skills to work on behalf of British Intelligence, she easily recruits Willie to fight by her side.