By Alan Davidson and Phil Gascoine.
Endless rains erode the patience and temperaments of house-bound families, but you can always trust Fran to retain her sunny disposition. There’s boating to be enjoyed in a local flooded field, and she’s all set to sing in the upcoming school concert. Even so, it does not escape Fran’s notice that her parents are trying to hide their fears; creating flimsy excuses for stockpiling food and turning off the news whenever she enters the room. News that the banks of rivers are bursting, and London and the lowlands have disappeared beneath the deluge…
Fran of the Floods restores another classic from the archives of the Treasury of British Comics. Originally published in Jinty in 1976, this collection gathers together the entire run of weekly, three-page episodes. For the best part of a year, readers followed their hero Fran as she struggled to survive while Britain sank beneath the sea.
Publishers Rebellion are marketing this comic as a topical tale of the perils of climate change. While this shrewd decision should rightfully help sales, the story is every bit as fascinating for not being a modern take on the issues. Where today’s creative teams would come armed with decades of research on this complicated and insidious threat, Fran of the Flood reminds us of the more simplistic views of the not-at-all-distant past. Rather than have humanity cause a subtle collapse of global eco-systems, Fran’s world is bludgeoned by a single ostentatious cosmic act. Biblical parallels are cast across a fable where nature punishes the wicked and saves the virtuous.
Themes and context aside, the exact flavour of destruction is of secondary importance to the resulting drama. Fran of the Floods is a perfect example of how the disaster genre uses cataclysms as mere catalysts for the meat of the story. Though humanity is on the verge of extinction, these vast, abstract stakes cannot compete against Fran spending five pages hungrily side-eyeing a companion’s pet rabbit.
In this way Fran of the Floods becomes a family friendly Walking Dead, with added benefits of the concise story-telling and conclusions favoured by traditional British comics. Unable to rely on the suspension of belief integral to unbelievable fantasy settings like America, writer Alan Davison instead draws wry smiles from his audience by having the British people act completely predictably. So it is that the Midlands are instantly engulfed in fascism, the north sees society industrially rebuilt underground, and there’s that one Glaswegian who thinks they can easily win a fight against nature itself.
The gentle fun of these broad characterisations is balanced by the deeper character of Fran Herself. Davison trusts his children with endearing competence; Fran has no doubts about her ability to skin and cook rabbits or perform admirable feats of climbing and swimming. Without the presence of condescending adults, this aptitude is presented as simply who Fran is. Though Fran occasionally needs assistance, the focus is always on the importance of community rather than her personal failings.
Phil Gascoine brings the story to life with simple, dynamic art. He is equally at home drawing quiet conversations as characters float amid empty voids, and more detailed scenes of cities crumbling under walls of water. The compact style of the time forces nine or ten text-heavy panels onto each page, leaving little room for stylistic indulgence. Restraint is of course a skill all of its own, and fitting clear story-telling onto these busy pages is a fine demonstration of Gascoine’s talent.
Fran of the Floods provides a satisfying, complete story of post-apocalyptic adventure. As is often the case with comics from this period, characters are given no guarantee of survival. Even so, this is an optimistic story that highlights human positivity in a situation that could all too easily bring out our worst instincts.