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Why Are You Doing This?
Review by David E. Miller

Why Are You Doing This? Review Cover Image
Why Are You Doing This?


Original Softcover
Publish Date
May 31, 2005
Cover Price
“How many stories do you have to tell? How many amusing or exciting anecdotes have you lived that you’d be able to relate during an evening with friends?” These existential questions would presume to put any reader in deep thought. Jason, who was born in Norway and now lives in France, is not out to entertain with bells and whistles with his new book, Why Are You Doing This?, but rather to take the readers’ hand on an emotional journey using the story as the carriage, much like Paul Auster did with City of Glass.

Things are not what they initially seem to be here, as we are introduced to Claude, who is going away on a trip and needs a favor from his friend Alex. Alex has just broken up with his girlfriend and is depressed. But somehow, the simple act of taking care of Claude’s plants while he is away changes both of their lives forever.

Claude is a "doer," he is a man of action. He travels and he doesn’t let emotional hang-ups curtail his momentum. Alex is an "artist" and indulges his emotions. His current rumination is over his lack of action, his inability to adequately answer in his mind how many stories he has to tell. Perhaps a typical story would evolve into a familiar love story from here, but that is not the world that Jason creates. Jason’s world is more like life, where sometimes things happen and the events do not measure their consequences. This existential conundrum perpetuates through the events as the story ends and readers are forced to continue the tale within themselves. Are we all living our lives simply to be other people’s anecdotes at social gatherings? Does the person with the best stories “win”?

At the heart of this ‘graphic novelette’ is the story of ‘boy meets girl’ with a crime/thriller/mystery noir twist that keeps the reader engaged as they question what events weave a worthy story to tell. Page after page, this somberly addicting story keeps you engaged in the mood initially thrust upon by the first panel. Upon completion, I was compelled to seek out other works to get a greater sense of this intriguing import. Pink Floyd said that quiet desperation was the ‘English way,’ but after reading this, I think they might have to give up their exclusivity.

This story simply could not be conveyed adequately unless the art was congruent with the work. This is not a dilemma here. What is most unique about Jason’s art is focused on the eyes — they are blank. Much like the Thematic Apperception Test, which is a psychological test in which subjects project their own perceptions upon seemingly common pictures, readers are able to project their emotions onto the characters. But it’s not a totally fair game, as the story itself is a somber one, so it only reinforces the sadness inherent within these characters. I stared many times into the blank expressions of these characters and realized that there were no inherent emotions in these faces, there were only my own projections that filled in these blanks.

Most of Jason’s characters exist between the panels and dialogue is used sparingly. It is a great credit to the artist to be able to convey so much with so little said between the characters.

Though this book is colored with muted tones, Hubert, the colorist, still has a daunting task. This story could not be complete unless it was set correctly with the mood conveyed through the coloring. However, just like the rest of the book, this is expertly done. The reader gets the complete emotional experience through all of these elements.

Bonus Features
It would be trite to complain about a lack of bonuses here, even though there are none. This story would not be any better with any extras. If I could have asked for anything more, it would have been an interview with Jason that delves into his ideas and how he goes about conveying them. Sometimes a meal is best without an appetizer or desert.
Final Words

Some graphic novels have the rare power to put you in a different frame of mind than the one you came into reading it. You close the book and you feel different. The story has engaged your mind in such a way, that when it’s over, you still aren’t finished. Because you didn't know when you opened the first page that you were going to be forced to take a look into yourself and question some of your existing beliefs.

Chris Ware, Chester Brown, Adrian Tomine, and Daniel Clowes all have this gift…and now I would add Jason. Why Are You Doing This? is not just the title of the book, but an examination of what happens when you actually do something, and the ridiculous complications that can come from it, regardless of the intentions. But to answer the question itself, do it because it’s a phenomenal read.

Highly Recommended

David E. Miller (email) has been involved in the comic book industry for almost 20 years. He started out attending Serendipity Comic Book Conventions in Suburban Philly and befriending top independent creators like Reggie Byers(Shuriken for Comico). He parlayed his industry expertise into recruiting the Honorary Board for the New York City Comic Book Museum. His highest related achievement was sitting down with Stan Lee in his studio office for an hour talking history. His lowest was selling off most of his collection in High School.
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