Review by Karl Verhoven
It will take a fair while before it drops into place what a clever and tragic study of complex emotional dynamics Paul B. Rainey presents with Why Don’t You Love Me? Everyone, however momentarily, has dreamed about a different life and different circumstances, yet fantasy is a chasm away from reality, and that’s where lead characters Claire and Mark find themselves as the story begins.
The sample art presents the opening page, beginning in the same unsettling way Rainey continues by raising a considerable number of questions. The primary one is wondering who these neglectful parents are. Are they suffering from depression? If so it’s an extreme and exaggerated case when they can’t even remember the names of their own children, from whom they appear utterly distanced. One of them even questions their reality. As introductions go, it’s gripping.
The landscape format and each strip having its own title indicates the online origin where Why Don’t You Love Me? unfolded over a number of years, mimicking a daily newspaper strip but offering desperation and bleak laughs. It’s gradually revealed that the parents are actually strangers to each other, with Claire believing they’ve somehow been transported to an alternate reality replacing a married couple. Instead of this premise being an opportunity for comedy hijinks, Rainey examines the mental toll likely to be the reality of such a transference. Phrases like “If anyone asks tell them you’re being home educated now” and “So it isn’t enough that I bring her to school, I now have to make sure she’s dressed properly too?” accumulate, and although there are moments of sympathy for Claire and Mark, they’re brief.
It’s not without humour, though, as Rainey mines sitcom techniques for Mark returning to work as a website designer when he’s actually a barber, and smart writing ensures a very thin line between a smile and a moment of intense sadness. This is typified via the relentless upbeat nature of the children in the face of continuing lapses and neglect, ultimately contrasted by consideration of the courage some people need just to face another day. Rainey also feeds in the constant day to day frustrations blighting British life, noting long waits to see doctors, long waits before any company phone is answered with anything other than an automated message, and the other side of the coin for call centre workers.
There’s a big change halfway through, which finally induces consistent sympathy and shows how smart Rainey’s been from the beginning, although the change for Rainey is just the opportunity to open a new world of despair. He never stops prodding, forcing the reader to contemplate whether uninformed ignorance is preferable to well-informed frustration and to question facets of their own life. While this is happening Why Don’t You Love Me? edges into heartbreak.
Having a graphic novel that begins as one thing and morphs into another is tidy enough, but Rainey ensures this is far more than mere artifice, by prompting readers to consider their own lives. Should the apocalypse occur tomorrow how happy would we be about how we’ve behaved with loved ones? Is work as important as we’re conditioned to believe? What are the obstacles to happiness? It makes for a graphic novel of unusual perception and understanding, and it may change your life.