If your vague memories of the 1970s UK girls comics market were limited to twee tales of ballerinas and boarding schools then Rebellion’s recent Treasury of British Comics volumes will no doubt have persuaded you that you’ve been looking at the past through a misremembered nostalgic haze. Fran of the Floods, for example, is not simply a deeply dramatic (and topical) tale of a Britain devastated by environmental collpase, it’s also an uncompromisingly brutal one in places. Not everyone is going to get a happy ending in this story and death and destruction is everywhere.
Written by Alan Davidson and illustrated by Phil Gascoine, Fran of the Floods takes us to a UK just before a solar anomaly melts the icecaps and leaves much of the country under water. Fran Scott’s small village is submerged in this calamity and, separated from her parents and sister, she begins the long journey to Scotland where she believes her sibling to be. But it’s a trip that will take her through a society now on the brink, and one on which she will encounter vicious gangs of thugs, self-appointed militia, terrible diseases, ferocious wildlife (including a shark!) and, most bizarrely, the self-appointed teenage king of Glasgow…
There are definite parallels with the contemporaneous Survivors TV series to Fran’s exploits here, although the subject matter is handled far more engagingly than 2000 AD‘s later Disaster 1990! (itself a prequel to cult favourite Invasion!) which had much the same basic premise. This is a more human tale and, essentially, despite its science fiction trappings is really centred on the importance and value of family. It adopts the same structure as some of the other Treasury reprints we’ve covered here at Broken Frontier of late (Jinty Vol. 1 or Bella at the Bar for example) in that short mini arcs slowly build up towards the main narrative’s denouement.
While Davidson’s story allows us to fully invest in Fran and the various travelling companions she meets along the way, it’s Phil Gascoine’s expressive art that provides the high emotion in these pages. Gascoine is adept at depicting the small human moments – and there are plenty of them in a story that pulls on the heartstrings with its compelling mix of tragedy and pathos – but he also brings the sheer scale of the disaster to the forefront in those more grandiose, widescreen dramatic developments. The initial deluge as homes and people are swept away is as terrifying a thing as you’ll ever see in a 1970s comic and, throughout, there’s a constant feeling of the flood waters invading and threatening to submerge every single panel.
As with all of these collections there’s a great attention to detail (the colour covers are included at the back) and the quality of the art is highly impressive, with expert restoration giving a clarity to old newsprint presentation that we could only have hoped for a few years ago. Fran of the Floods has an obvious relevance, too, that makes its reprinting all the more important. At a point in time when environmental issues have never been more widely embraced by a younger demographic this is a collection with an unexpected and vital topicality.
Alan Davidson (W), Phil Gascoine (A) • Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics, £12.99
Review by Andy Oliver