My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
While most people know parts of the story about the infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf knew him as a teenager and uses this graphic novel as an opportunity to explore the killer’s teen years. If readers are looking for answers to Dahmer’s horrifying behavior, this book won’t give them answers. But it does shed light on his teenage years as as misfit who ultimately became one of the U.S.’s most notorious serial killers. Backderf portrays his classmate as an quiet giant, who drank too much and faked seizures for attention. The artist and his group of friends treated the teenaged Dahmer almost like a mascot, sneaking him into yearbook photos, bribing him to “spaz out” at a local mall, and encouraging him to perform a “spazmatic” sketch at the school talent show. One of Backderf’s main themes is that the adults in Dahmer’s life ignored him and his increasingly bizarre behavior. No one seems to have questioned his strange actions, near alcoholism or prolonged truancies from class even though he did lurk around the high school campus. Readers must wonder what might have been different if he had had any real friends or adults who had taken him under their wing.
I liked this title, although found it somewhat creepy, as I’m sure most readers will given its subject. It did give me some insight into a killer’s mind and early development, which was what I was looking for. Backderf’s black and white drawings are expressive and realistic. His high quality artwork enables readers to observe the world of the 70’s teenage boys, where drinking, goofing around and camaraderie are portrayed as crucial to the more normal boys. I recommend this graphic novel for readers interested in the darker side of life, the mind of a serial killer, or true crime stories.
*By the way, there is very little graphic violence in the book; mostly it’s just alluded to at the beginning when Dahmer started killing small animals.