Friday, July 13, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #194: Why Are You Doing This? by Jason

We're in early-period Jason here, soon after his mature style solidified -- Why Are You Doing This? was published in 2005, in between You Can't Get There From Here (doomed love with the Frankensteins: doctor and monster and bride) and Meow, Baby! (a collection of various silent short stories).

Why Are You Doing This? has Jason doing Hitchcock: a regular guy is caught up in events he doesn't understand when he accidentally witnesses a murder, and is then framed with another murder. In Hitchcock, of course, the regular guy meets a girl to fall in love with, learns the truth of the plot he's fallen into, and triumphs in the end.

In Jason...well, two out of three ain't bad, right?

The regular guy is Alex, an artist who just had a bad break-up with his girlfriend Claire. His best friend, Claude, asks Alex to water his plants while he's away -- and, when doing so, Alex sees a mysterious man in a window across the street, Rear Window-style. The man is some kind of assassin, and soon Alex is on the run, helped by Geraldine, a woman with a young daughter who he met by accident. And he does get the truth to the police, and confront the assassin in the end. But Jason, as usual, uses genre materials to tell more fatalistic stories, and to ask existential questions. The one that comes up repeatedly in this book is "how many unique stories do you have that you can tell other people?"

He tells this story in a cinematic way, with lots of panels to the page for the comics equivalent of a restless, moving camera, and short dialogue that could easily be spoken. His people are as blank-faced and self-contained as ever, their emotions only shown through direct action or the occasional outburst. (Like most real people in a real world: we don't have access to their inner monologue, and only know them from what they do and say.)

The plot, like all of early Jason, is familiar: what he did was to take those stories and generic characters and use them for his own purposes. This is less garish, and so maybe less obviously Jason-ized, than the stories with werewolves and vampires and time travel, but it's just as bleak at bottom, just as stark.

In the end, this book is asking all of us: why are you doing this?

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