A Tale Of Survival
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Rebellion’s Fran of The Floods, out from 21 March…
Fran Of The Floods
Writer: Alan Davidson
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Pat Mills has commented many times that UK girls’ comics were underappreciated when they were at their peak and are still underappreciated now, something that Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics project wants to address. The latest stage of this campaign is Fran of the Floods, which ran for eight months of 1976 in Jinty and is now collected in one volume, where its dark melodrama and the anguish of its protagonist is certainly different from the machismo that would build up in a strip about a teenage boy facing the likely end of the world.
The apocalypse here, written by Alan Davidson and drawn by Phil Gascoine, is essentially climate change. Although the concept wasn’t unknown in 1970s comics—some Marvel stories certainly dug into it—this environmental crisis can’t help but look prescient. A hotter sun triggers freakish and unceasing rainfall, with most of Britain vanishing under the waves; one alarming panel eventually shows just the Pennines and other high ground poking up above the swollen Atlantic. Hazelford, the home town of Fran and her family, is certainly done for, something they realise after some early chapters attempting to carry on as normal in the face of mounting tension and emergency broadcasts from London. Separated from their families, Fran and her friend Jill attempt to travel to Scotland, encountering violent bands of adult survivors, plague villages, parents mourning their own children, and eventually the only substantial boy character in the story. He has been driven mad by his situation, in exactly the way that Fran and Jill have not.
The TV series Survivors was on the BBC at the time and the plot has some parallels, but that show was about a community, while Davidson’s story keeps Fran and Jill almost entirely isolated, driven relentlessly from one end of the country to the other and back again reliant on the comfort of strangers and their own morals. Gascoine’s art, reproduced here in pure black and white, jams overlapping panels onto the page, a network of threatening black skies and looming shadows, and the net effect of the strip bears out Mills’s belief that character under duress was one thing girls’ comics understood even better than the boys’ versions did.
The story is also unambiguously dark, although 1976 was a less coddled time. Some characters thought dead turn out to have survived, but there’s no doubt that countless bodies float beneath the waters on every page. (“A glimpse of the pilot’s despairing face…” writes Davidson as Fran’s potential rescue helicopter pancakes fatally into the flood—and Gascoine draws it too.) You could even suspect that perhaps Fran herself doesn’t survive past page 30, and that the last two-thirds of her painful odyssey are a near-death hallucination… Let’s assume not, but the strip is dark enough and adult enough that you can’t rule it out.
Fran Of The Floods comes out on 21 March from Rebellion