Monday, 29 November 2010

Review: Cragmore, Pat Lewis (2010)

Pat Lewis | B&W, 150 pages | $12 (4 issues) | Available Now

“When W.P. Cragmore cheated death, there was hell to pay. 
Fortunately, he could afford it.” 

Apparently, the greatest mistake Faust made when dealing with Mephistopheles was simply settling for a bad deal. Fortunately, Pat Lewis’ unscrupulous billionaire businessman W.P. Cragmore knows better. When the devil comes to collect your soul, you assemble your lawyers, contact R&D, and have them construct a way for you to avoid the afterlife completely. Hell, it worked for Walt Disney, right?

After a near-fatal construction accident sees Cragmore visiting hell, he's given a second chance to escape his fiery fate when his highly-paid medical team manage to save his life. Rather than pulling an Ebeneezer Scrooge, and simply repenting, Cragmore proves he's made of stronger stuff, deciding that he's going to live forever by developing a cryogenic-esque deathless stasis unit in order to avoid eternal damnation. More so than that, he’s going to mass-produce the technology for the world’s rich elite. Ignoring the pleas of his son—a priest, and ironic black sheep of the family—ol’ W.P. soon finds himself in a world of trouble, with the whole of hell conspiring to off him before his plans can come to fruition.

The Don Draper of supernatural cartoon comedy, Cragmore, lays the Devil himself out. Whatta guy.

On paper, you could be forgiven for assuming that this screwball comedy about an incorrigible megalomaniac locked in a war of the minds with the devil himself is as simple as it sounds. Appropriately, however, considering the supernatural connotations of the word, “craft” is at the heart of the graphic novel, with Lewis demonstrating a remarkable ability to create flawless, straight-ahead comedy that plays with classic troupes and formulas without feeling derivative.

Readers will notice Lewis’ style owes a great deal to the golden era of modernist cartooning. The hard angles and sweeping curves of his illustration are reminiscent of classic limited-animation; iconic yet full of life, fleshed out by pantomimic dialogue that is used to great comedic effect. Lewis has an obvious love of this kind of cartooning that shines through in his solid understanding of pacing and narrative construction. If it wasn’t for all the cursing or flipping off within, I’d claim that I got a warm nostalgic sense of childhood joy out of it. Oh, who am I kidding? Kids love swearing.

Cragmore's ultra-hip son (and foil), Father John Cragmore is pretty much the dreamiest guy ever to wear the collar. Chicks dig him.

Arrogant, partially clueless, yet absolutely devious, Cragmore is perhaps a fitting anti-hero for these uncertain economic times. Considering that ultra-violent morally-grey rebels like Wolverine and The Punisher redefined comic book protagonists in the ultra-conservative 1980s and early 1990s, why not have a billionaire during a financial recession? It’s difficult to not to like a guy who has the stones to cross Satan himself by attempting to circumvent death on behalf of the world’s biggest sinners.

Cooler than Keanu Reeves and Al Pachino put together, Cragmore proves that the only way to beat the devil is to be the devil. Recommended to anyone who believes that there’s still a place for the classic humour comic in today’s sequential art landscape, it flies in the face of the idea that the card of postmodernism must be played when utilising more traditional illustration and storytelling techniques. Pat Lewis should be commended for putting together an ultra-fun book that, whilst wearing its classic influences on its sleeve, has an identity all of its own. Maybe Lewis himself has a Faustian deal with the Devil?


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