My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

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My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An excellent biographical look back at the beginnings of a serial killer.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Abrams Comicarts
ISBN: 9781419702174

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The motherlode when it comes to graphic novels seems to me to be a great story, told in the best way possible, by the best person for the job. Such a trinity is hard to find, unfortunately, but it's what we practically get in this brilliant graphic novel. It isn't, and never tries to be, a full biography of a serial killer - but it is still very interesting to see how a guy called Jeff becomes a man called Jeffrey Dahmer, from the point of view of a guy who went to high school with him, and shared his formative years.

Something else it tries to never do is justify Dahmer, but the evidence of his childhood is very interesting, and is certainly enough to dispel the tabloid reductio-ad-absurdum of 'he's gay, he liked dead animals, so he needed to kidnap, control, kill and eat kids'. Here's his seemingly loveless, secluded household, drawn by a guy who's actually been in the very building. Here's him being an alcoholic at high school age, and his regular routine of spazzing out and acting as if palsied. And here's our narrator, and his friends, who sort of associated with their neighbour but never allowed him to belong as one of them.

There's still a space left by the story to ask unanswerable questions. Which parent, if either, should feel most guilty - the father who left him first, or the mother who left him alone? And what actually went through his mind in that long gap of several years between the first murder, where this book ends, and his major killing spree?

There's also a sort of space left in the excellent illustrations. They have some striking compositions, and some very dramatic splash pages, but are unfussy, shaded cartoons. The black and white style is superb, allowing this Dahmer to force his way onto the pages of history without any distracting 70s tie-dye fashions. Some might find the characters a little too cartoonish, though, and they're certainly not drawn to be gorgeously attractive.

The fact that this author has spent a couple of decades piecing together the story as of both national and local interest, using FBI papers in the public domain, and global and regional press interviews, shows up on every page, long before the footnotes proving the veracity of everything. But the prime factor here remains Derf (real name John)'s own links to the story, and non-judgmental attitude to the guy he once knew. The way he takes a backseat as a character is just one more piece of evidence of the qualities of this piece of biography.

For more from 'people who were there at the time' we can recommend A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger. You might also appreciate The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer's Double Life by John Leake.

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Buy My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf at


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