Otherworldly: Cragmore

Posted by on April 3rd, 2010 at 6:17 AM

Rob reviews the first three issues of Pat Lewis’ afterlife-defying minicomics series, CRAGMORE.

Pat Lewis is an old-fashioned gag man who likes to work in a fairly broad fashion.  He’s an unabashed bigfoot cartoonist who uses bulbous noses, square jaws and character designs that feel like something out of a classic Terrytoon.   It’s a cousin to Kyle Baker’s exaggerated, animated style, lending itself to over-the-top humor and high concepts.  The concept of this series is the apparent death of loathesome billionaire Cragmore, leading to a brief trip to hell.  When he’s revived and understands that hell is real, he goes on TV to tell his story…and offers to sell people eternal life through cryogenic freezing.  Naturally, the devil panics at losing out on so many souls and tries to  help Cragmore to an early end by putting stress on his bad heart.  Cragmore turns to his estranged son John, a priest, for help, and his son’s presence helps his father in ways even he doesn’t understand.

Every gesture is a big one in this story, every plot twist underscored and teased for maximum effect, and every emotion exaggerated for greatest comic value.  Cragmore makes Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a kindly fellow, and it’s clear that Lewis wants to make the audience squirm by positioning such a repugnant person as the story’s protagonist.  The devil is fat, moustachioed, horned and even wears a little bowtie.  John Cragmore is the story’s voice of sanity as both a voice of moral reason and someone who is not easily duped, as his redirection of a schoolgirl trying to seduce him proved.  Even god makes an appearance as the devil turns to him for help, but the “unmoved mover” prefers to let free will reign–especially since his omniscience gives him the outcome ahead of time.

While Lewis touches on issues of faith, greed and free will, CRAGMORE is not a satire.  His targets are way too easy for that to be the case, along with the cartoonishness of the proceedings.  Instead, he’s putting a twist on the CHRISTMAS CAROL model of reforming an unrepentant miser and exploiter of human lives by simply redirecting Cragmore’s greed, not transforming it into charity.  The devil is also a sort of bureaucratic fat cat, living the easy life because of a great deal he made, and only springs into action when his own domain is threatened.  CRAGMORE is really about the spillover that occurs when two greedy forces go at it, leavened only by the plan-wrecking square presence of John Cragmore. 

CRAGMORE is clearly Pat Lewis’ best work to date.  I’ve read a number of his comics, and they have all tended to be amusing without having the sort of bite that could have made them laugh-out-loud funny.  His craftsmanship is solid but familiar (and perhaps slightly generic); he draws funny-looking pictures that are only actually funny in the context of his story gag.  At times,  he’s so concerned with clarity and so content to settle the humor of his comic on one or two concepts (like a parody of Jeffrey Brown’s comics starring a monster), that he’s been unwilling to up the ante a bit and throw in more.  CRAGMORE has that sort of much-needed kitchen-sink quality, wrapping the Cragmore-John-Devil relationship around some over-the-top plot twists and adding in more complications, issue by issue.  Lewis’ dedication to his craft and ambitiousness in this series will hopefully lead to a final issue that continues to take risks and go in unexpected directions.

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One Response to “Otherworldly: Cragmore

  1. johnrplatt says:

    I *love* Cragmore. Can’t wait for the fourth and final chapter.