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. A guy with rumours circulating about him and dead animals, a freakishly large and muscular kid, one who acted like an epileptic having seizures, while mentally challenged and lisping at the same time. Dahmer's act. This was just his thing. Derf has sympathy for this kid he knew and went to school with. And he asks "where were the adults in all this? Did no one notice Dahmer needed some help?" Derf and his friends gradually pulled away from Dahmer because each in his own time became aware that Dahmer was scary ... dangerous scary. At this point as a reader we can sit and look back with Derf at the situation. Derf has sympathy for him; he knew the kid; maybe many of us can sympathise up to this point too. The rest of Dahmer's story did not have to happen if someone had cared or noticed or bothered to take positive action for the disturbed kid, Jeffrey Dahlmer. But no one did.
And so, both Derf and the reader accept reality. As an adult Dahmer is responsible for his own actions. He killed, tortured, mutilated and did despicable things. Here is where Derf makes it clear that this monster is no longer anyone he, the author, sympathizes with. With Dahmer's first kill he chose to continue doing so and the past cannot be blamed for his actions anymore. The author muses that Dahmer could have done many things to prevent further killings, turning himself in to the police or mental health facilities, killing himself, etc. There is a lot of thinking here for the reader to grasp how a child, someones highschool buddy end's up a monster of a serial killer.
I love Backderf's artwork. Dahmer always looks so uncomfortable in his own skin, whether he is sad, mad, embarrassed or just being plain creepy. I'm glad the book is done in b/w as I find these true crime novels work best in the graphic format without any colour. I am so pleased to have read this and I think I will read a book on Dahmer's case in the future now.
on September 29, 2012
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.
The most interesting part of the book is the last 22 pages which lists the references and background information that went into the book. It includes background that would be too onerous for a graphic novel and information that a fellow classmate may remember or think was significant. The book is just as much about what it was like to be in high school in the late 70's as it was to be the oddball kid who really isn't participating in high school.
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.
on February 23, 2012
I got my copy in hardcover and was surprised to see that the cover of it, is really just a cover. It comes off revealing a nice dark jean-blue streaky/blotchy cover. I removed it to read the book so it wouldn't get messed up.
I've read and seen a lot of information on Dahmer, but mainly stuff after Jeff had become Jeffrey. Derf's 'Dahmer-facts' are highly interesting to me since he knew him when he was Jeff. Dahmer's father's book is interesting too since it focuses is on his son's Jeff stage, but Derf shows us what Jeff was like outside of his depressive home settings and away from his parents' influence.
I don't understand why Derf chose "My Friend" as its title since he admits he and Dahmer were never friends - understandably though since he did mention that Dahmer was so weird you couldn't get close with him.
This is the most saddest comic I've ever read. If one knows about Jeffrey Dahmer, and they read this, they know the character only goes from bad to worse. It's watching someone further deteriorate.
I enjoyed reading this entire book. I like the lengthy 20-page mention of his sources/explanations/descriptions at the end of the book. I was lucky enough to buy Derf's highly condensed $3.08 24-page My Friend Dahmer comic a couple of months before it became discontinued so even though he had chosen the right parts for the 24 page comic, I'm still happy I got his intended full-length version. It was so interesting, I wish it were longer!
on April 29, 2012
The dustcover has a ringing endorsement, at the top, from the legendary Robert Crumb. That and my unquenchable interest in Crime/Serial Killers & Graphic Novels, was more than enough for me to acquire this gruesome addition to the collection. Awesome illustrations (by the author) meet the criteria required to relate the author's true story and the eerie pace the book takes. It doesn't take much to get into the heads (not a critique but a gift of the author) of those who hung around Dahmer in his HS days. In fact, you kinda get the feeling you are there yourself (especially if you went to Junior High & HS in the 70s). Essentially, this is one of the creepier & compelling Graphic Novels available. Highly recommended if the name Crumb and Genres listed in this review appeal to you.