Webcomic Weekly: Paul Rainey’s ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ – Mind-Bogglingly Brilliant Mundanity
by Richard Bruton
Webcomic Weekly – the increasingly inappropriately named feature (the weekly bit, not the webcomic bit) where I have a look at something rather marvelous online – this week, it’s Paul Rainey’s Why Don’t You Love Me?
Why Don’t You Love Me? has been running at his website since May 2018, after appearing in David Lloyd’s excellent digital anthology Aces Weekly, with Rainey regularly posting new episodes online until it finishes – which should be about March – only about 10-ish episodes to go.
And just this month, we got the announcement that it’s been picked up by Drawn & Quarterly for publication in Winter 2023 – and about time! For decades, I’ve been enjoying Rainey’s work and he’s seemingly finally getting some of the attention he richly deserves.
His first graphic novel, There’s No Time Like The Present (2015, Escape Books,) was a stunning, complex time-twisting thing, mixing all the domesticity and mundanity Rainey captures so well with completely off the wall weirdness. And his irregularly published comics, including the likes of Pope Francis Goes To The Dentist, Journey Into Indignity, and the currently on Kickstarter, Gripe Night are perfect things, full of delightful absurdity and dark comedy. In 2020, Rainey won the Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize with the strip Similar To But Not, with its typically Rainey storyline of him meeting Madonna in his local pub in 1985.
But enough of that, what about Why Don’t You Love Me?
Well, it’s up to 150-ish episodes or more online, so it’s a long work, but it’s just so damn good, brilliant in its execution, guaranteed to leave you wondering… who are these people? what the hell is going on? what was that thing in the news? how come it all just switched? And so on and so on… intriguing, complex, fascinating, and absolutely spellbinding.
You get a real feel for it just in the first few episodes… take that line in the first episode where Mark’s asking Claire if she should be smoking inside and her reply is “Christ! Do you mean all this might be real?” is just the first indication of the strange world we’re in here.
It’s all about our nice little surburban couple, Claire and Mark, and their two kids. They’re dealing with all the normal modern life things, the troubles with parenting, things with schools, work, their relationship.
Except that’s not true. It’s far from a normal little family unit. Claire’s obviously depressed, retreating into the bottle, and Mark’s obviously got his own problems – forgetting the kids’ names being only the start of it.
But from the start, things just get so weirdly strange very quickly – of course, part of the brilliance is how Rainey pulls this off. There’s no great revelation here, just a slow realisation on the reader that everything’s completely off-kilter, a dash of the bizarre amongst the seemingly normal, absolutely mundane setting.
As Rainey documents Claire and Mark’s lives, the dialogue seems to be absolutely on the nail everyday stuff, all the bickering and moaning of life together, the frustrations of having kids. Yet, every single one of them has something bizarrely askew, something that points out that this is as far from a mundane little nuclear family as you can get. It’s not in the actual events themselves so much as it is in the dialogue, with Rainey dropping in lines that bemuse, perplex, confuse, and point the way that all is absolutely not normal and mundane here…
‘I do wish you’d call me Mark! I am supposed to be your husband!’
‘Hey, Where’s Hopkins?’
‘You know, the Big Guy.’
‘You mean dad?’
As things go on, the kids are noticing that Mummy is sad all the time, but it’s a weird kind of sad, a dysfunctional, disconnected thing. Yes, it could be just ordinary depression, but the set-up for Why Don’t You Love Me? points to something more than that, something very different.
And it’s not just Claire either, Mark’s behaviour just feels off, like they’re both just visiting the planet and have no idea what they’re meant to be doing here.
So, as the pages roll on and you’re sitting on the edge of your seat to see which brilliant way Rainey will take this, all the while engrossed in the absolute normalacy of things like the school run, kids’ parties, Mark going back to work, Claire being attracted to someone else, you’re also noticing all of those tiny inconsistencies in their lives.
It’s quite magnificent to see just how Rainey spins it all out, with an unsettling feel creeping in early on and simply refusing to stop nagging at you. There’s the constant feeling that something could go very, very, very wrong.
And then it does…
Again, it’s another masterstroke. Something bad happens. Something big and bad enough to make the news. But we don’t know what it was. Well, we sort of find out, many, many many episodes later. But by then, we’re so deep into the strangeness that it just passes over us almost completely, such is the scale of what we’re learning by this point.
And then there’s this…
That’s episode 105. And after that… well, I’m not going to spoiler it. Let’s just say it all changes. Again. Completely. Totally. Maybe.
Like I keep saying, Why Don’t You Love Me? is a truly wonderful read. It goes places you just don’t expect, it keeps you reading, wondering just what possible twist Rainey can pull off. And then, when he does it, things have gotten so strange that you just accept it straight off the bat – brilliant, brilliant, brilliant work. (And, although I missed it in Aces Weekly originally, Rainey was good enough to send me the whole thing, so I can happily tell you, again without spoiling it, that he’s absolutely nailed the ending here.)
So, mark your diaries for the book release in 2023. But of course, you don’t need to wait – you can find all the Why Don’t You Love Me? strips being published over at Rainey’s site. Read them, love them, be amazed and slightly disturbed.