You could call Modesty Blaise a comic strip, but the title is so much more. It is a classic British adventure comic strip written by Peter O’Donnell, which ran from 1963 to 2001; these evolved into a series of novels, a movie, some attempts at TV, and even a rock band in Europe someplace. Although O’Donnell has retired, the strips are still being amalgamated in large-format trade paper and sold at comic book stores.
The reason the concept lives so beautifully, in so many formats, can be summed up in one word: characters. Modesty Blaise herself is rightly described as fascinating. Originally a female James Bond figure, she immediately became much more interesting by accumulating a stable of assistants and sidekicks. Chief among these was Willie Garvin, her right-hand man. It is the relationship between Modesty and Willie that really drives both the comics and the novels, and their commitment to each other (non-sexual but complete) is as far away as you can get from the Bond girls and their hops in and out of James’ bed. A strong central character, comfortable in her strength and sexuality — in that sense Modesty is still a Bond cognate because she is the wish fulfilment for women, as Bond was for men.
Another more writerish fascination is the storytelling. The comic strips and the novels run on more or less separate tracks. Incidents from one side are shuffled and recycled over to the other. O’Donnell seems to have perfected modular story construction, where you can assemble big standard chunks into quite different projects, a necessity if you’re going to produce a daily strip for decades. He must have had more elbow room in the comics, where you can see him trying out different concepts — an Italian castle? a balloon? a Roman trireme? And then over on the other side the elements are recombined into the longer and more complexly constructed novel.
Because of the serial nature of the work, you should feel free to jump in anyplace. Buy a comic strip compendium, pick up a novel — you will be happy. (The movie and TV attempts are deservedly obscure, and will be difficult to find. Do not try.)