Jim Holdaway (1927–1970) was born in 1927 in Barnes Common, London. On completing schooling in New Malden, Surrey, Holdaway attended the Kingston School of Art. After spending two years of National Service from 1945 with the East Surrey Regiment, Holdaway went to Italy, Austria and Greece before returning to art school on an ex-Serviceman's grant.
Jim Holdaway eventually left to work in France where he secured numerous advertising opportunities. Returning to England soon to take care of his widowed mother, Holdaway went to work for Scion Books in Kensington, doing a variety of artwork, book jackets, comic books and advertising. He then became freelance, working from home. He was drawing for Odhams and Farringdon Press doing 64-page comics including: Captain Vigour, The Football Comic, Steve Samson, Dick Hercules, Reveille, Tit-Bits, Comic Cuts, Junior Express with The Red Rider and Joanna of Bitter Creek, 1955), Mickey's Weekly with Davy Crockett, 1956, and Swift with The Red Rider, 1956).
In 1957, Holdaway replaced the artist Alfred Mazure on the strip Romeo Brown, leading to the key association of his career with writer Peter O'Donnell. The two were a perfect match and in 1963 Holdaway started drawing for O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise comics strips.
Jim Holdaway died in 1970 from a heart attack midway through illustrating the Modesty Blaise story arc The Warlords of Phoenix, leaving a wife, Audrey and a daughter, Joanna. O'Donnell enlisted Enrique Badia Romero to complete the strip and Romero succeeded Holdaway as the strip's full-time artist. Years later, a painting of Modesty Blaise by Holdaway was used as the cover art for O'Donnell's final Modesty Blaise literary collection, Cobra Trap.
Peter O'Donnell (11 April 1920 – 3 May 2010) was a British writer of mysteries and of comic strips, best known as the creator of Modesty Blaise, a female action heroine/undercover trouble-shooter. He was also an award-winning gothic historical romance novelist who wrote under the female pseudonym Madeleine Brent, in 1978, his novel Merlin's Keep won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists' Association.
Born on 11 April 1920 in Lewisham, London, O'Donnell was the son of Bernard O'Donnell, a journalist on the Empire News, and was educated at Catford Central School.
He began to write professionally prior to the Second World War, at the age of 16. In 1938 he joined the British Army, and during the war served as an NCO in mobile radio detachment ,3 Corps, of Royal Corps of Signals in the 8th Army. He saw active service in Persia in 1942, after which his unit was moved to Syria, Egypt, the Western Desert, and Italy, and he was with forces that went into Greece in October 1944. After the war, O'Donnell returned to civilian life and began to script comic strips, including an adaptation for the Daily Express of the James Bond novel, Dr. No. From 1953 to 1966 he wrote for Garth, and from 1956 to 1962 Romeo Brown, with Jim Holdaway as an artist.
In addition to the comic strips and graphic novels based on Modesty Blaise, O'Donnell published two collections of short stories and twenty novels. He wrote a play that was widely performed in the 1980s, Mr. Fothergill's Murder, and wrote for television and film. He wrote for women's magazines and children's papers early in his career. His most famous creation, Modesty Blaise, was first published in 1963 in comic strip form. For the first seven years, the strip was illustrated by Holdaway until his death in 1970. Enrique Badia Romero then became the artist, and except for a seven-year period (1979–86) he drew the strip until it ended in 2001.
In 1965, O'Donnell novelized his screenplay for a motion picture version, the final release of which in 1966 used virtually nothing of O'Donnell's original material', which was published as Modesty Blaise. This book was a huge success and O'Donnell would publish a dozen more novels and short story collections until 1996. Kingsley Amis said the novels were 'endlessly fascinating' and that Blaise and Garvin were 'one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson'.
At the request of publisher Ernest Hecht, he began writing gothic romance and adventure novels under the pen name of Madeleine Brent. The novels are not a series, but feature a variety of strong female protagonists. They are written in first person, take place in the late Victorian era, and although every protagonist has connections to England, part of each book is set in various locations around the world—including China, Australia, Afghanistan, and Mexico. In 2001, O'Donnell retired from writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip with the lead characters having been given a definitive end in the previous Cobra Trap short story collection and was also said to have retired from full-time writing. In 2002, he gave Romero permission to adapt one of his short stories, The Dark Angels, for a graphic novel initially published only in Europe and later reprinted by Comics Revue magazine in the US. From 2004 to 2009 he wrote the introductions for a series of Modesty Blaise comic strip reprint volumes published by Titan Books; beginning in 2010, just prior to O'Donnell's death, another writer had begun composing these introductions. He was also interviewed for a special feature included on the DVD release of the 2004 film My Name Is Modesty, which was based on his creation.
O'Donnell's wish was that no one else write any future Modesty Blaise stories, but whether this was ever formalized is unknown. With the exception of The Dark Angels adaptation and the My Name is Modesty film, no further new productions related to the character have been released as of 2015.
According to his obituary in the Evening Standard, O'Donnell had been suffering from Parkinson's disease in his later years. He died at age 90 in Brighton, Sussex.