INTRODUCTION AND ORIGINS
‘My Friend Dahmer‘ is a graphic novel based on one of America’s notorious serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer. The book was written by John ‘Derf’ Backderf and published under Abrams ComicArts. As the name indicates, Derf had personally known Dahmer and through this book, he recollects and highlights some eye-openers about the old times spent at Eastview Junior High and Revere High School where they were classmates.
The writing of ‘My Friend Dahmer’ took a few rounds. Derf wrote this back in 1995. It was an 8-page comic strip that was published two years later in the 18th issue of the Zero Zero series of Fantagraphics books. Derf decided to rewrite it full-length and then self-published a 24-page comic. After the death of Dahmer, Derf had made extensive research through other classmates, journals, news, and interviews that stretched to twenty years. When Derf was prepared to shape his fact-finding and exploration into a book of around 200 pages, Abrams Books published it in 2012.
The book is not just a graphic novel but also Derf’s personal memoir and to some extent critically a psychological case study about Dahmer’s personal life. By reading it, it may look as if Dahmer is backed by the author and shows sympathy but Derf actually points out what were the causes that unfortunately misled Dahmer to the path where he never turned his back and looked behind once he walked away.
DAHMER IN DIFFERENT MEDIUMS
For those who have finished watching Dahmer on Netflix starring Evan Peters, reading this book is totally a different experience. The show was dramatized from Dahmer’s narrative and thus, focused on his crimes, his motives, and his victims. Whereas the book helps the readers understand Dahmer’s school life that Derf and other friends observed. The book covers a lot of incidents that reflect Dahmer’s isolation, loneliness, silence, disturbance, and difficulties.
ZERO HUMAN CONCERN
‘My Friend Dahmer’ abandons the hatred and the outcries over Dahmer’s horrific crimes and in very smart writing, the author successfully complains; where were people when Dahmer needed them? The people include his parents, Lionel and Joyce. Where were the adults who could have guided him instead of shutting him down?
Where was the decency when his classmates bullied him? Why none of his friends at school helped him? He was let down by everyone.
The book confirms and the author indirectly admits that he himself along with his friends made a joke out of him instead of helping him. Derf does admit that he wanted to help Dahmer but couldn’t.
In a way, it is kind of a double standard that Derf somehow blames others but he also belonged to the same kind who didn’t shoulder him.
The readers are believed to have considered their reading experience of ‘My Friend Dahmer’ to be haunting. Maybe my mental capacity is strong enough to not feel it haunting or scary but I think readers who are not hypersensitive or too soft can read this. Maybe, the reader gets disturbed over looking at the pictures of dead animals especially when Dahmer madly chops a tiny fish or when you look at a mutilated dog carcass. But I reason the book to be less haunting because the book doesn’t illustrate those horrific crimes that Dahmer committed after leaving the school. And my first understanding about the book was that picturing his crimes in broad detailing will be the case but not at all.
I will especially praise the artwork of the book. Pencilling the black and white drawings reminds me of good old mini comic strips of the old newspapers that used to start someone’s morning with a cup of coffee. With a kind of subject and a dark tone the story settles in, I think this was a perfect idea to keep the presentation this way.
Every picture showing Dahmer mimicking the slurred speech of someone with Cerebral Palsy was so accurately drawn giving the reader an impression that Derf closely observed Dahmer’s mimicking because he acted that way most of the time. It looked like an exaggeration, maybe Derf showed us this strange character of Dahmer that he had no other choice of humor to fun around with ‘friends’ but to stick with the only comical act he got recognition around.
But Derf deserves the praise for establishing a reading impact. After many pictures of that mimicry, the readers come to know that he was actually mimicking his own mother. It was a sad revelation when Dahmer’s mother permanently leaves the house and isolates him when Dahmer’s depression alarms.
A Social Guide to Understand the Cornered People
‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a valuable source of understanding a disturbing teenager. If a student, teacher, or principal of an educational institution reads this book, will surely consider backing or assisting such kids in their lives before they turn into Dahmer.
I will recommend reading ‘My Friend Dahmer’ which has around 270 pages because besides five parts, a preface, a prologue, and an epilogue, that book also contains extra detailing about the making of this book and an explanation about a few important pages and some bonus materials.
One valid question that breaks after reading this non-fiction book is, who was responsible for making Dahmer a monster? It is not a mystery but a curiosity. He was not an orphan nor did he lack the necessities of life. He wasn’t poor or belonged to some lower-class background.
His father was a chemist and the family lived in some mid-century modern home standing at nearly 2200 square feet back in 1968.
After watching the Netflix show and then reading this book, I think Dahmer was a society-reject who was canceled by almost everyone for his being visibly odd or awkward. In most cases, people like to generally hang around with those who are jolly, funny, friendly, and very extroverted. And Dahmer carries none of the traits.
No one was interested to understand Dahmer’s problems, not even his own parents because they were busy arguing, abusing, blaming, and fighting with each other. No teacher considered being his psychologist. Backderf and other friends used his mimicking and earned some money. He was cornered by everyone and therefore, the human contact distancing from him broke him and ignited him. An anger that will have scary consequences and will bring fear to society. The madness that he committed is unexplainable but this is how the fever starts, the pain instills. His silence became cancer, he moved on to the path that would turn him into evil. People around him failed him.
You can read ‘My Friend Dahmer’ online from here.
This is quite an excellent book review. You can watch this video too.