My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer

4.3 13
by Derf Backderf

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Includes eBook exclusive bonus material! 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… See more details below


Includes eBook exclusive bonus material! 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.

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
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
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.
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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Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
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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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