Sunday, 15 December 2013

Why Are You Doing This?

It would be pretentious to say that Why Are You Doing This? by writer-artist Jason is about the meaning of life. It would be inaccurate too. It’s not about the meaning of life but it does look at deeper themes and the nature of humanity in the western world more than the average Mark Millar or Grant Morrison book ever would.

The story’s central character, Alex, finds himself framed for murder and on the run from the law after spending a week watering his pal’s plants. Having recently split from his girlfriend of four years he’s in a reflective mood throughout the story, which Jason uses to explore themes such as loneliness, love, and social justice. Some of these themes, such as love, are laid on a little too thick in places while others, such as social justice, could be considered underdeveloped. More could certainly have been made of the failings of the legal system that ultimately lead the book to happen.

A recurring idea of the book is the worth of anecdotes that can be told during an evening with friends. At several points Alex notes that he has very few to tell and reflects on their importance. Jason asks, through secondary character and murder victim Claude, if the idea is that the person with the most anecdotes when they die “wins”. He also notes that Ernest Hemingway led a life that took him all over the world but that his life ended in suicide. Anecdotes, interesting sequences from life, are clearly of great importance to the writer and he uses this book to get us thinking about them, but holds off from attempting to provide a definitive answer to the question. It’s a book that wants to make you think rather than impose beliefs and views on you.

It should be pointed out that Alex, and every other character in the book (including, presumably, the deceased Hemingway), is a dog. Or possibly a cat, it’s not overly clear. But that’s not as important to the story as it could be. It’s more because Jason likes drawing animals than for anything else. Or perhaps because he feels he’s better at drawing them. It’s certainly not designed to introduce a feeling of whimsy because this is a distinctly unwhimsical title in every other regard. If anything I’d say it’s to lighten the sense of despair and depression that the story induces.

Not that it’s a bad book. Reading a tale of despair and depression can make you more appreciative of what you’ve got. And as such stories go this one is well written. A lot happens during the slender page count, with every panel contributing something to the advancement of the plot or the fleshing out of a character. It’s a good story told confidently.

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