Jim Holdaway

HoldawayKId like to tell you a little about JIM HOLDAWAY, in my view the greatest of all strip cartoon artists. He was born in 1927, and at fourteen he won an award which gave him a place at the Kingston School of Art. He was called for National Service in 1945, served with the East Surrey Regiment in Italy, Austria and Greece, then returned to Art School on an ex-servicemans grant. After awhile, feeling restless, he left with a fellow student to look for work in France. They were offered quite a lot of work, mostly shoe advertising, but discovered they would be paid quarterly in arrears, and as they didnt have enough money to see them through the first quarter they came back to England.

Jim took a job as a Rubber Engraver (making dies for advertisements to be printed on boxes and cartons). He moved to the Reed Paper Group, doing the same job but also starting to freelance for some of the comics; then switched to Scion Books where he gained experience in doing every kind of artwork. Finally he went full-time freelance, working for Odhams, Amalgamated Press, Hultons, Newnes — all the big magazine publishing firms of that time.

I first met Jim when we were both called in by the Daily Mirror towards the end of 1956 to produce the Romeo Brown strip. There was immediate rapport between us, and the strip ran for six years until it was abruptly killed by the then Chairman of the group, who said he couldnt understand it. (Some years later I tried to get some Romeo originals from the Mirror and discovered they had all been dumped to save storage space).

In 1962 Beaverbrook Newspapers Strip Cartoon Editor asked me to produce a strip, and in the following months I created Modesty Blaise. When they asked me who should be engaged to draw the strip there was only one answer: the great Jim Holdaway. So it began, and once a week Jim would appear at my office in Fleet Street with a weeks supply of originals. We would go through them together so he could make any amendments needed, then we would take them across the road to the Strip Cartoon Editor.

I just said Jim would appear at my office, but I never knew quite what to expect. Sometimes the door would open an inch, and a voice would order me to throw out my gun and come out with my hands up. Sometimes he was the gas-meter man with a falsetto voice. Sometimes his hat would be thrown in, and sometimes the first I knew of his arrival was when clouds of cigarette smoke would come wafting through my old-fashioned office letter-box.

For seven years Jim drew Modesty Blaise in a way that brought profound admiration from fellow artists all over the world. And from me. Im glad to recall that in all the years we worked together, up to the time of his sudden and tragic death in 1970, we enjoyed and respected each others contribution and worked together in the greatest harmony.

Jim Holdaway was a small man with a gentle manner, an immense talent, and a lovely sense of humour. I still miss him.

Peter O´Donnell, Mister Sun, Titan Books 1985

An example for Jim Holdaway´s art

Take-Over is the last complete story Jim Holdaway drew and there really is some superb work in it. Take a look at the second frame in Strip 1928, for example. The script called for an exterior London scene, which could have come out as a few rooftops with a bit of Nelsons Column in the foreground; but just look at the work Jim put into it. You can even see that hes included a man in a dinghy moving to or from the river steamer. Now look at the next frame — and catch your breath at what hes managed to put into that background through the window behind Modesty.

Peter ODonnell, Warlords of Phoenix, Titan Books 1986


A unique feature of Jim Holdaway's exceptional subtlety is his black-in-black technique. Since he mostly has Willie Garvin and Modesty acting in black battle fatigues, the possibilities to demonstrate this special method are prolific – bodies woven within each other or overlapping figures in a single area of black ink can be distinguished without any auxiliary lines.

(Karlheinz Borchert in Macao 2)