My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer

4.3 13
by Derf Backderf
     
 

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2013 ALA/YALSA Alex Award
2014 Revelation Award at Angoulême
2015 ALA/YALSA Alex Award (Excellence in Narrative Nonfiction)
 
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,… See more details below

Overview


NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2013 ALA/YALSA Alex Award
2014 Revelation Award at Angoulême
2015 ALA/YALSA Alex Award (Excellence in Narrative Nonfiction)
 
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.
 
Also available by Derf Backderf, Trashed.

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." -- Slate.com?

"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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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Rebecca Moore
As a junior high kid, he collected roadkill and stored it in acid in a shed on the back of his parents' property. He was beneath the notice of all but the bullies. His mother suffered from peculiar neurotic episodes, and eventually his parents divorced. He realized that he was homosexual but never acted on it. He attracted a little more attention in high school, due greatly to the eccentric persona he adapted to thwart adults and humor his peers. He tried to drown his fantasies (which included sexual fulfillment with dead bodies) in alcohol. It is really little wonder that Jeffrey Dahmer went on to become the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper. This reviewer was prepared to hate this graphic novel but is thrilled to be proven wrong. What could have been an exploitative tell-all is instead a sympathetic portrayal of Dahmer's descent into madness. Backderf is a two-time nominee for Eisner Awards, but most do not know that he spent his junior and senior high years as a classmate and acquaintance of Dahmer. Thoughtfully reflecting on the influential school years, Backderf uses a variety of sources—FBI interviews, news stories, Dateline NBC, his own experiences—to chronicle a young man's battle with his own inner demons. Black, white, and ocher panels portray a somber story that needs to be told, if only to warn us all of the dangers of living on the fringe. Reviewer: Rebecca Moore
Library Journal
Backderf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious serial killer who murdered 17 people, dabbling in cannibalism and necrophilia en route. With growing gay attractions he couldn't talk about, distant and combative parents, and limited social skills with peers, Dahmer was a kid who imitated cerebral palsy victims to get anybody to notice him. Indeed, perhaps "friend" isn't the right word for Backderf's relationship to Dahmer, since the kids who talked to Dahmer did so mainly to laugh at his weird performances or to torment him. There's no graphic crime or murder in this story, just the creepiness of how Dahmer's loneliness and insanity snuck up on him while eluding the adults who should have helped. Backderf's intentionally ungainly black-and-white art underscores the universal awkwardness of adolescence, and the approach has emotional resonance even if Dahmer must have been rather nice looking, judging from later photos. VERDICT 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, teen up.—M.C.
ALAN Review - Jesse Gray
Derf Backderf and his friends don't know what to make of the new Jeffrey Dahmer. This previously shy loner is making a name for himself as a high school class clown with few inhibitions and a remarkable wit. Backderf's friends, The Dahmer Fan Club, embrace (and exploit) Dahmer's new public persona, but, faced with serious indications that Dahmer's public displays are hiding something deeply wrong, they struggle to keep him at a safe distance. Backderf is careful to reveal Dahmer as a tragic figure whose home life, sexual identity, and hidden thoughts and urges lead him down what seems an inexorable path of isolation and alcoholism. While Backderf does not excuse Dahmer's behavior in high school or beyond, he asks a question that the reader can't help but ask at every page, "Where were the damn adults?" Reviewer: Jesse Gray
Kirkus Reviews
A powerful, unsettling use of the graphic medium to share a profoundly disturbing story. If a boy is not born a monster, how does he become one? Though Backderf (Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, 2008) was once an Ohio classmate of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer, he doesn't try to elicit sympathy for "Jeff." Yet he walks an emotional tightrope here, for he recognizes that someone--maybe the other kids who laughed at and with him, certainly the adults who should have recognized aberration well beyond tortured adolescence--should have done something. "To you Dahmer was a depraved fiend but to me he was a kid I sat next to in study hall and hung out with in the band room," writes the author, whose dark narrative proceeds to show how Dahmer's behavior degenerated from fascination with roadkill and torture of animals to repressed homosexuality and high-school alcoholism to mass murder. It also shows how he was shaken by his parents' troubled marriage and tempestuous divorce, by his emotionally disturbed mother's decision to move away and leave her son alone, and by the encouragement of the Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club (with the author a charter member and ringleader) to turn the outcast into a freak show. The more that Dahmer drank to numb his life, the more oblivious adults seemed to be, letting him disappear between the cracks. "It'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," writes Backderf. "Once Dahmer kills, however--and I can't stress this enough--my sympathy for him ends." An exemplary demonstration of the transformative possibilities of graphic narrative.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781419702174
Publisher:
Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
03/01/2012
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
119,234
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet 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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