Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!: Chapter 1

Written by Brittney Sabo and Anna Bratton
Art by Brittney Sabo
96 pages, black and white
Self-Published

I get a little excited every time I find myself looking at a new comic funded by the Xeric Grant. For those unfamiliar with the Xeric Grant, it’s a fund set up by Peter Laird that chooses comic book projects and gives them money to actually publish their comic. It’s an extremely competitive field, and the end result is a lot of worthy, interesting comics that we might have otherwise never seen. Brittney Sabo and Anna Bratton’s book Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!: Chapter 1 is part of the latest batch of Xeric-powered books to appear, and it’s such a fun book that I’m thankful yet again that Laird set the grant up.

The premise behind Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! is a familiar one, with young Francis Sharp stumbling from his own familiar life into a strange fantastical world, with no way back in sight. Sabo and Bratton quickly make it their own by changing some of the smaller details up a bit. Rather than starting in the present day, Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! has its real world setting sometime in the past, probably the 1930s based on the love of radio and what appears to be the lingering effects of the Great Depression. It’s a smooth move on their part; without television or lots of blockbuster movies around, it limits Francis’s knowledge on what’s happening to him. A modern child would instantly peg that they’d crossed over into some parallel world, but instead Sabo and Bratton can have Francis be confused and not quite understanding what’s happening without seeming like an idiot.

At the same time, Sabo and Bratton establish Francis as an imaginative boy who acts out his own adventures from his pulp radio heroes with a local friend, and we see that he’s a dreamer who isn’t (at least yet) suited for farm life. Crossing over into this new world is prime for adventure and excitement for Francis, save for the fact that he doesn’t physically fit in at all, any more than people with long animal ears and clawed feet would fit in here. They’ve done a good job of making sure that aside from plant life, there appears to be no overlap on how evolution played out in this new world. The animals themselves are all slightly different and creepy, especially the hissing dark creatures that look like a strange mixture of rat, cat, and lizard, infesting the alleys and street corners.

What I think love the most about Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!, though, is Sabo’s art. It reminds me of some early Craig Thompson drawings, with the way she draws the young freckled Francis and his big-eyed, worried expressions. Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! is printed in magazine size, and the extra dimensions allow you to really stop and gaze at Sabo’s art and see everything extra she’s crammed onto the pages, from split rail fences and starry skies to swirls of smoke and old pulp novels. I think my favorite kind of scene from Sabo, though, is when she starts drawing the wilds of the forest. From the masses of trees to the tangles of dying dandelions, Sabo brings the scenes to life in a way that draws you in as a reader. I’m glad Sabo and Bratton went for the larger size for Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!, because it showcases Sabo’s art in a way that a smaller book just couldn’t quite handle.

Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!: Chapter 1 is the first of four planned books, and it ends at just the right moment; the setup is over, the danger is growing, and you want to read more. The Xeric Grant has, once again, picked another winner to help fund. The book may be called Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!, but I think other readers will also find themselves in Sabo and Bratton’s grip by the time this over. This was a nice, satisfying read from start to finish.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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