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My Friend Dahmer [Hardcover]

Derf Backderf
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 2012
You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer—the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper—seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, "Jeff" was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche—a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget.

Praise for My Friend Dahmer:

"The tone is sympathetic and enraged (‘Where were the damn adults?’), while not excusing or making the story unduly fascinating. Backderf’s writing is impeccably honest in not exculpating his own misdeeds . . . and quietly horrifying. A small, dark classic." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"One of the best graphic novels I've read this year." -- USA Today's PopCandy

"One of the most thought-provoking comics released in a long time." --

"Carefully researched and sourced with ample back matter, Backderf’s tragic chronicle of what shouldn’t have been is a real butt-kicker for educators and youth counselors as well as peers of other potential Dahmers. Highly recommended for professionals as well as true crime readers." —Library Journal

"This isnt a cautionary tale. Its insight sharedinsight arriving too late to save Dahmers victims, let alone Jeff himself, but perhaps soon enough to remind both teens and their caretakers that questioning peculiar behavior might be a better tack than ignoring or exploiting it." -- School Library Journal

"Fortunately, cartoonist Derf Backderf isn't one to avoid the troubling, even terrifying, truths that lurk in the dark recesses of that notorious serial killer's early lifeand modern American life itself." -- Foreword Reviews

"A powerful, unsettling use of the graphic medium to share a profoundly disturbing story. . . . An exemplary demonstration of the transformative possibilities of graphic narrative." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Masterful. . . a rich tale full of complexity and sensitivity . . . There's something about Dahmer's life and crimes that seems almost crafted for treatment in the murky world of comix. Yet it's empathy and nuance, not gore, that put My Friend Dahmer alongside Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and David Small's Stitches in the annals of illustrated literature." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A new classic of the graphic novel genre. . . . A moving book that qualifies as one of the great graphic novels, a work of art." —Creative Loafing

"A well-told, powerful story. Backderf is quite skilled in using comics to tell this tale of a truly weird and sinister 1970s adolescent world."
—R. Crumb

"Anyone who opens My Friend Dahmer to satisfy a morbid curiosity, and likewise anyone who expects to find no more than a cynical publishing venture here, is bound for disappointment. It is a horrifying read, yes, not so much for what it reveals about the sad early (and inevitably terrible) life of Jeffrey Dahmer, but because of what it reveals about the bland emotional landscape of Middle America, in this vision a petri dish for psychoses in many degrees and forms.
Backderf’s odd stylization, with figures that look like organic robots, is a perfect vehicle for this conception. His graphic approach is grotesque, droll, and it rags on reality as masses of kids knew and still know it.
Lots of books exist about the agonies and cruelty of the adolescent high school experience, but few so compellingly bring us straight into that soulless environment, showing the ways it can shelter, allow to burgeon, and, at the same time, be completely blind to real madness.
It wasn’t easy reading this book, but I’m glad I did."
—David Small, author and illustrator of Stitches, a National Book Award finalist and #1 New York Times bestseller

"Stunning. Horrifying. Beautifully done."
—Alison Bechdel, author and illustrator of Fun Home, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist

"My Friend Dahmer is a brilliant graphic novel and surely ranks among the very best of the form. Like Alison Bechdel’sFun Home, the book plumbs a dark autobiographical mystery, trying in retrospect to understand actions and motivations to piece together the makings of a tragedy. Like Charles Burns’s Black Hole, it’s a starkly etched portrait of the horror of high school in the 1970s. Comparisons aside, My Friend Dahmer is entirely original, boldly and beautifully drawn, and full of nuance and complexity and even a strange tenderness. Out of the sordid and grotesque details of Dahmer’s life, Derf has fashioned a moving and complex literary work of art."
—Dan Chaon, award-winning author of Among the Missing and You Remind Me of Me

"Just when you think you know all there is to know about Jeffrey Dahmer— one of the most notorious criminals of the past century—along comes My Friend Dahmer, which adds significantly to our understanding of this rare form of psychopathology. The graphic novel format helps the reader appreciate the adolescent mind-set of Dahmer’s high school classmates. Although none of those who grew up with Dahmer expected to hear what they learned on July 22, 1991, when he was caught, no one was really surprised, either.
This unique book allows the reader to listen in on the fascinating reminiscences of those who watched the developing mind of a future serial killer."
—Louis B. Schlesinger, PhD, Professor of Forensic Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"It’d be so easy to pigeonhole and think that the reason you can’t stop reading My Friend Dahmer is because it offers a voyeuristic peek inside the monster. And it does. But as it turns its self-aware eye on the boy who doesn’t belong, the real magic trick is how equally hateful and sad you feel for the monster himself. This one’s still haunting me."
—Brad Meltzer, author of Identity Crisis and The Inner Circle, a #1 New York Times bestseller

"As someone who walked the halls of Revere High School with both Backderf and Dahmer and was there from the beginning, I am astounded by the accuracy and truthfulness of this portrait. I know of no other work that so clearly shows the teenage days of an American monster, long before the rest of the world heard of him. Mesmerizing."
—Mike Kukral, PhD, Revere High School class of 1978, Professor of Geography, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, author of Prague 1989: Theater of Revolution

"If you want to read a heavy story about a disturbing teenager, My Friend Dahmer will certainly quench your dark little desires. But this book is about a lot of other things that matter much, much more: the institutionalized weirdness of the suburban seventies, what it means to be friends with someone you don’t really like, a cogent explanation as to why terrible things happen, and a means for feeling sympathy toward those who don’t seem to deserve it."
—Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto
and The Visible Man

"A solid job. Putrid serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s origins are explored in this fine book. Dig it—it’ll hang you out to dry."
—James Ellroy, author of My Dark Places and L.A. Confidential

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About the Author

Derf Backderf has been nominated for two Eisner Awards and has received a host of honors, including the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for political cartooning. His weekly comic strip, The City, has appeared in more than 100 newspapers over the past 22 years. Backderf lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars From Disturbed Kid to Monstrous Serial Killer Dec 19 2013
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
If you read my reviews regularly you'll know I read a lot of serial killer books, both fiction and true crime. I have never read about Jeffrey Dahmer before though. On purpose. When that case went public I was just so horrified with the whole thing I could not watch any of the interviews nor was I barely able to even look at him when they showed him on the news. Since then I've had no desire to read anything about him. When I heard about this graphic novel last year I was tempted because of the unique perspective. What was it like growing up as Dahmer's friend in jr/sr highschool then finding out he was a monster? But I couldn't bring myself to lift a somewhat self-imposed ban on the topic. Then one of my favourite blogging buddies, Joy, reviewed and recommended it. I knew if she liked it I'd be able to handle it. It is superb!

Derf tells how he knew Dahmer in grade school, jr & sr high. They lived in the same small town but it wasn't until highschool that they started to hang out. Derf's group of friends were outsiders themselves geek band kids, not with the cool kids, and somehow they adopted Dahmer into their group, as a sort of mascot. Dahmer acted out in class putting on a "spaztic" routine that became the centre focus of Derf's Dahmer group. It was teen-age boy goofing around stuff, probably hurt a lot of feelings, but these kinds of kids didn't really care. Derf tries to make sense of that time looking back at it now as an adult who knows what Dahlmer became. Dalmer is portrayed as fifteen-year-old Derf Backderf knew and saw him. A regular kid, but one with probably more than his fair share of problems, parents who didn't seem to care, that were wrapped up in the anger of their ending marriage.
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By Sember
So, how do you write a story about a person who performed horrifying acts without glorifying or justifying his terrible crimes? That was the task that Derk Backderf had to accomplish in his graphic novel "My Friend Dahmer". Backderf was a classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer in the late 70's. Dahmer isolated himself so much in high school that he had no true friends, but Backderf was one of the few people in high school that paid attention to him. After Dahmer was arrested in 1991 for killing multiple men and boys and reportors started reporting on Dahmer's childhood, Backderf noticed that there was a glaring lack of understanding for what it was like to grow up in rural Bath, Ohio.

This graphic novel takes places through Dahmer's junior high and senior high years. Although the book depicts a childhood filled with loneliness and a difficult family life, this was apparently one of the most enjoyable times of Dahmer's life.

The graphic novel was the perfect medium for this story. Backderf never gets inside Dahmer's head to understand the difficulties in dealing with his parents' divorce or the challenges with dealing with his desires. The drawings of Dahmer's homelife tells us more about the isolation and hurt that Dahmer felt, especially when contrasted against Backderf's normal and stable family life. Throughout the book, Backderf interjects stories and facts about schoollife in the 1970's at Revere High School. Young teachers talked openly about drug use and ignored Dahmer's obvious alcoholism throughout high school. When animal parts were found in the woods nailed to trees or clearly tortured, instead of looking at a troubled youth, the cult-focused culture of the 70's assumed that it was a satanic cult.
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By Red Xala TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The artwork of the front cover beautifully symbolizes the overall message of the book: Everyone around Jeffrey Dahmer had their eyes closed; no one seemed to "see" what was happening.

MY FRIEND DAHMER brings to life the dark tale of Dahmer's adolescent years, as seen through the eyes of fellow classmate Derf Backderf. Through personal recollections, eye witness interviews, and public resources, Backderk traces a pivotal three year trajectory, from 1975 to the summer of 1978, in which Dahmer slowly morphed into the ghoul known the world over today.

Amazingly, Backderf successfully purveys a sense of empathy for the adolescent Dahmer. Throughout the book, Backderf gives the sense that, despite overt warning signs during those high school years, teachers and other prominent adults seemed oblivious to Dahmer's ever-worsening plight. As stated by Backderf in the preface, "[i]t's my belief that Dahmer didn't have to wind up a monster, that all those people didn't have to die horribly, if only the adults in his life hadn't been so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent."

This is an engrossing graphic novel; once I stared reading, I didn't want to put in down. The creepiest part of all is the fact that, during my own developmental years, I saw similar instances of adult apathy and institutionalized student silence that allowed bad situations to flourish. Moreover, as is aptly pointed out on the front cover flap, most everyone comes to know at least one misfit adolescent who is similar to the young Jeffrey Dahmer; someone strange, oddly amusing, or even potentially dangerous. This is, in essence, a tragic story that could have happened anywhere in America.

Kudos to Mr. Backderf -- the painstaking research and the artistic endeavor that he collectively put forth in this book is impressive.
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