Backderf, Derf. (2012). My Friend Dahmer. New York, NY: Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 9781419702174.
My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel that follows the adolescent life of Jeffrey Dahmer. The novel chronicles his parent’s rocky marriage, his strange and antisocial behavior in school, experimentation with animal corpses, and finally heading down the notorious path we all know he takes to become a serial killer. Derf Backderf provides first hand insight into who or what Jeffrey Dahmer was and how he got that way.
Derf Backderf had the unique and unsettling opportunity to grow up and know Jeffrey Dahmer. It has been said that this book will satisfy someone’s morbid curiosity, and it definitely does. The art and text are interdependent to a degree, but the illustrations are so exquisite that they can almost tell the story without words. But of course you want to know more, you want more details, you want to know WHY Jeffrey Dahmer became such a prolific serial killer and why no one seemed to notice there was something off about him. And so there are words, and you read on…
Backderf segments the story into parts: the preface, the prologue, Parts 1 – 5 and the epilogue, each shedding a bizarre light on the dark history of Jeffrey Dahmer. Backderf transitions between panels and segmented sections flawlessly. He is a master of his craft and makes the reader enjoy an otherwise creepy and haunting chain of events. You turn page after page devouring the text, and studying the comic. The art is monochromatic, all done in grayscale with entire frames predominately black. All very fitting for such a gloomy tale. It is pure evil packaged into something beautiful.
Perhaps the most harrowing detail of it all comes at the end. Backderf receives a phone call from a friend who tells him that someone he graduated high school with is a cannibal, necrophiliac, serial killer. This friend asks Derf to guess who it might be and his second guess, that’s right his second guess, out of everyone in his class, is Jeffrey Dahmer. So on some level his capabilities, his tendencies, and who he would become were always known.
So what is there not to like about My Friend Dahmer? Well, not much. The subject matter and content can be a bit too mature for a young adult. At times it can even be a little much for an adult reader, but you have to expect a certain level of repulsion and maturity when reading a book about Jeffrey Dahmer. My biggest qualm with it all is that the title is very misleading. Jeffrey Dahmer was never Backderf’s friend. Backderf under no circumstances liked Jeffrey Dahmer or considered him to even be a part of his friend circle. Dahmer was just this guy that he knew and that’s about it.