RARA-AVIS: Re:Willie Garvin and Friends

From: Mark D. Nevins (nevins_mark@yahoo.com)
Date: 24 Apr 2009

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    James, great post.

    Earlier this year I discovered the O'Donnell/Holdaway MODESTY BLAISE strip. Given that I am something of a comics aficionado, it's hard for me to believe I had never really "noticed" it before, because it's an absolute work of genius--by which I mean I would say unequivocally it is the finest non-humor comic strip of the last 50 years. (Though I know some will argue for SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN, which is nice to look at, especially when drawn by Williamson, but nowhere near as masterful in terms of storytelling.)

    I have not seen the film, and am not sure I want to. And the strip does to my mind decline in quality significantly after Holdaway's death: Romero's women are "sexier" but the cruder art style does not suit O'Donnell's smart and cheeky dialogue or the settings of the world (of a certain British class of the period) that Modesty often travels in.

    The newer (second series) Titan Publishing collections are doing us a service by bringing the entire MB run into print. They are decent books, occasionally interesting essays are included, and the reproduction is not bad but does not even begin to capture the fineness and dynamism of Holdaway's line work. (Yes, my obsession for MODESTY has moved me to purchase some of the original artwork, which is just glorious.)

    I have recently put my hands on some of the O'Donnell novels, and intend to give them a try.

    My knowledge of Le Carre is much shallower, but I've liked what I've read and will probably dip into more eventually. I also have a passion for the Fleming Bond novels, which I will not feel compelled to defend.

    Is there such a thing as a "HB spy" genre? If so, I'd love to hear other nominations. I have those James Munro books on my shelf, and have wondered if they are any good--they are the only ones of the scads of Bond knock-offs in the '60's and '70's that seemed to me potentially interesting. I have also been recommended Alan Furst's stuff--maybe that applies here? Then, of course, don't forget Graham Greene--if there is such a genre, maybe he invented it?

    Best, Mark Nevins

    P.S. Willie Garvin and Archie Goodwin--that's a great connection. Some trivia: I believe O'Donnell said he had in mind the then not-very-famous Michael Caine.

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