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.
One of the most thought-provoking comics released in a long time.
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.
My Friend Dahmer is a brilliant graphic novel and surely ranks among the very best of the form. Like Alison Bechdel’s Fun 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.
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.
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.
One of the best graphic novels I've read this year.
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 life and modern American life itself.
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.
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.
Stunning. Horrifying. Beautifully done.
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.
A new classic of the graphic novel genre . . . A moving book that qualifies as one of the great graphic novels, a work of art.
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.
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.
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.
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
- 2013 Alex Awards
- 2014-2015 Georgia Peach Book Award Nominees
- Barnes & Noble's Best Quirky, Beautiful, Different of 2012
- Biographical Comic Books & Graphic Memoirs
- Cleveland Plain Dealer's Best Nonfiction of 2012
- Publishers Weekly's Best Comics of 2012
- Serial Killers & Mass Murderers - Biography
- Time Magazine's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2012