Friday 13 May 2011

Modesty Forbids - The Prologue

There are a few more strange twists and turns to the Modesty Blaise story, but perhaps one of the most fascinating is the fact that that the artist originally nominated for the job was none other than Frank Hampson. Hampson was the choice of Beaverbrook's editor of strip cartoons Kennedy Aitken. Such was the high regard that Hampson's work on Dan Dare had created that to Aitken he seemed like the ideal man for the job. Sadly events of which Aitken was presumably only dimly cognizant were to consign such hopes to the wastebasket of what ifs and might have beens.

The truth was that by 1962 having suffered a series of setbacks precipitated by a sequence of buyouts and takeovers in the corridors of Fleet Street, Hampson was effectively dismissed from his own strip. As a result, sapped of his confidence and in the deepest and darkest of depressions, the artist was one of the least likely contenders to be able to shoulder the arduous task of producing a daily strip to suit the very specific requirements that Peter O'Donnell's script dictated. The artwork that Hampson would have to produce needed to ooze danger laced with liberal quantities of sex and occasional flashes of violence. In all fairness even in Dan Dare's golden age these were elements in Hampson's work that were conspicuous by their absence.

Heading into his mid forties and feeling bitter and disillusioned, Hampson was finding it challenging to say the least to re-engage with the world of illustration. He accepted the brief with a degree of superficial enthusiasm appropriate to such a prestigious commission but once he'd returned home the enormity of the job seemed to sap his will to sit down and produce the work that Aitken and O'Donnell were now anxious to see.

Weeks passed and in the end, feeling he could stall no longer he steeled himself to the task and sat down to produce a series of strips that entirely failed to capture O'Donnell's vision. When Aitken and O'Donnell saw the work they were dismayed, doubtless they would have made vague assurances to Hampson about showing it to a few other souls and getting back to him soon. The fact that Aitken's choice had so badly failed to make the grade did however enable O'Donnell to nominate his own choice for art chores on Modesty Blaise and it was with no hesitation that the writer suggested his old partner from Romeo Brown days, Jim Holdaway.

Thus was Modesty Blaise launched.

Here for comparison are both Hampson's pitch and Holdaway's take on the same story.

More can be gleaned from the excellent The Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website.

Images © Modesty Blaise Ltd 2011

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, it's very interesting to see the side-by-side comparison.

    I really like Hampson's realistic style, but I can see why they went with Holdaway's more generic, action-oriented style.