A Graphic Novel
My Friend Dahmer
By Derf Backderf
When this suggestion came up during my original phase of my Pinterest Reading Challenge I thought, Oh great! I'm going to have to read a Superman comic or something. At the time I didn't know there were other graphic novels out there. I had no clue that the graphic novel world expanded farther than superheros and Dungeons and Dragons. But I tucked that thought away in the back of my mind, after all, it wasn't a topic I had picked yet, just a topic that was suggested and went on the list.
That is until the topic was actually selected. When Emry pulled A Graphic Novel out of the jar I felt my stomach kind of drop. This wasn't a topic I was excited about in the beginning, and here it was staring in the face.
If you can't tell, I've never read a graphic novel before. I've watched a ton of superhero movies, and I grew up watching the original X-Men cartoon with my brother, but I've never read a comic other than the funny pages, let a lone pick one up. What was I going to do? How was I going to choose which to read?
So, I did what I thought I needed to do: I went to a comic book store. I walked in and immediately felt like Penny from The Big Bang Theory the first time she went to the comic book store with Leonard. Heads turned, the room (it felt, but I'm sure was all in my head) got eerily quiet, and no one moved. An overwhelming discomfort bubbled up and I immediately felt out of my element. I turned around and walked out.
After that I did some research, something I should have done to begin with. As it turned out I discovered two things:
- Not all graphic novels are superhero or D&D related. There are graphic novels about just about everything!
- A fellow Instagramer posted her review on a graphic novel that she had just finish. In her post she stated how she had felt just like me when deciding to review on and had no idea where to start until a friend suggested the one she reviewed to her. And she gave it a raving review! So, naturally I immediately looked it up only to find that it's only written in Russian. Issue: I don't speak, let alone read Russian.
I took this new knowledge with me and went back to the comic book store the next week. I found a ton of graphic novels that were on subjects that I would enjoy, and this led me to the overwhelming comfort of being home in a book store. Now my questions were: Where do I start?! Which do I choose?!
The decision, like any time I go to the book store, was difficult to make. But since this was my first endeavor with a graphic novel I made myself to stick to just one; make sure I like it first before I go buying out the store. And so I chose My Friend Dahmer.
Jeffrey Dahmer (May 21, 1960 to November 28, 1994) was an American serial killer who took the lives of 17 males between 1978 and 1991. Over the course of more than 13 years, Dahmer sought out men, mostly African-American, at gay bars, malls and bus stops, lured them home with promises of money or sex, and gave them alcohol laced with drugs before strangling them to death. He would then engage in sex acts with the corpses before dismembering them and disposing of them, often keeping their skulls or genitals as souvenirs. He frequently took photos of his victims at various stages of the murder process, so he could recollect each act afterward and relive the experience. Dahmer was captured in 1991 and sentenced to 16 life terms. He was killed by fellow prison inmate Christopher Scarver in 1994.
Dahmer's killing spree ended when he was arrested on July 22, 1991. That day, two Milwaukee police officers picked up Tracy Edwards, a 32-year-old African American man who was wandering the streets with a handcuff dangling from his wrist. They decided to investigate the man's claims that a "weird dude" had drugged and restrained him. They arrived at Dahmer's apartment, where he calmly offered to get the keys for the handcuffs.
Edwards claimed that the knife Dahmer had threatened him with was in the bedroom. When the officer went in to corroborate the story, he noticed Polaroid photographs of dismembered bodies lying around. Dahmer was subdued by the officers. Subsequent searches revealed a head in the refrigerator, three more in the freezer and a catalog of other horrors, including preserved skulls, jars containing genitalia and an extensive gallery of macabre Polaroid photographs of his victims. (source)
You only think you know this story.
We all have that one friend from school - the strange kid, the class freak, the guy whose antics amused, entertained, and maybe even alarmed us. The one who sticks in our heads even with the passing of the years. That classmate is invariably left behind when we graduate, vanishing into memory, filed away with our old yearbooks and other teenage mementos. But every now and then we wonder, whatever happened to that friend? For one man who grew up in a small town in Ohio, that question was answered by every media outlet in the world on July 22, 1991, when Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested for the murder of seventeen young men and teenage boys.
My Friend Dahmer is a haunting, original graphic novel by Derf Backderf, an award-winning political cartoonist and comix creator. In these pages, Backderf tried to make sense of the future serial killer with whom he shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. What emerges is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling helplessly against the ghastly urges bubbling up from the deep recesses of his psyche. The Dahmer recounted here, universally regarded as an inhuman monster by the rest of the world, is a lonely oddball who, in reality, is all too human. A shy kid sucked inexorably into madness while the adults in his life fail to notice.
We all know what Dahmer did, but in My Friend Dahmer, Backderf provides, from his unique vantage point, profound (and at times, even strangely comic) insight into how and, more important, why Jeffrey Dahmer transformed from high school nerd into a depraved fiend as notorious as Jack the Ripper.
In My Friend Dahmer, Backderf comes as close as anyone has to explaining the seemingly unexplainable phenomenon of one Jeffrey Dahmer, Revere High School class of 1978. (Abrams ComicArts)
The Review & Wrap-Up:
This was an interesting and a very fast read. So fast that I read it in a mere 6 hours with everyday life thrown in there, too. And interesting on two different fronts.
- The form in which the story is told: graphic.
- The story itself.
I both liked and disliked reading a graphic novel. I liked it enough that I plan on picking another up sometime in the near future. I disliked it enough to need to pick another up to see if I felt this dislike for it because of the author/illustrator, the story being told, or graphic novels in general.
First let me talk about the form of the book itself, and then I'll get to the actual story.
Reading this novel was very quick due to there not being many words. You learn a lot about what's going on by the pictures, much like you would a picture book or a movie. I was reading it so fast in the beginning, at about 20 pages in I made myself start over, and really focus on the work as a whole, and not just the story line.
I love art, and I'm usually one to take the time to admire it, but here I was greedily scarfing down the words and leaving the images behind. I started over and took the time to really focus on the illustrations and the amount of detail that was put into them. What they were telling me, that I was not reading. I was made at myself for not doing this from the beginning. I'm glad I took this time, because there is one scene where Dahmer and Neil are fishing, and if you're not paying attention to the illustrations, you won't notice the four water panels are actually showing you passage of time. (See image to the left.)
Now, that being said, just because I love art doesn't mean I want it in my books all the time. While I enjoyed the different writing style, I didn't enjoy my imagination being taken away from me essentially. Getting to use my imagination - and brain - is a big reason why I read. I like taking the author's words and creating the world and characters out of them in my head. No matter how descriptive an author is, they can never tell you EVERY little detail, there's always room for your imagination to flourish. But it's not so with a graphic novel. The photos, like a movie, are right there in front of you, telling you everything. The only part my imagination played while reading this was getting to make up the sounds of voices, and the rumbling of cars. This aspect made me a little sad, but really my only complaint thus far about graphic novels. Hence why I feel I need to read another.
For the story itself. I personally like reading about weird twisted people. I don't know what it is about them that fascinates me, but as I've mentioned in other book reviews, learning about a person who kills other humans fascinates me. It's that two semesters of psychology background I have that just grabs on to those people and wants to know what makes them tick. What made them get to this point? What makes them want to do it again? Who is their next target? Really, I think that if the police academy didn't scare me so much, I would make an excellent detective. I pay attention to detail, and I like figuring out what makes people tick. So, seeing how this novel was about Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer as "notorious as Jack the Ripper," you can see why this story would entice me to read it.
I thought the view point for My Friend Dahmer was great. Since no one really knows what it going on in the mind of a serial killer, to have the view point of his life come from a friend and what they saw and knew of him made total and complete sense to me. Derf Backderf having actually been that friend that grew up with Dahmer made you see and understand this killer on a different level, but it's not made up information like it would have been if the story would have been told by Dahmer himself.
As for Backderf's illustrations, I wasn't the biggest fan. He did a great job, but they completely creeped me out with those whole eyes on the side of the face in profile, and the giant gummy smiles of Beavis and Butthead, a cartoon I wasn't a fan of not only for the vulgarity, but because the drawings creeped me out. (See image to the right.) But other than the creepiness of the illustrations, the detail and imagery are great! You learn so much about the story through these drawings.
As a whole, I enjoyed My Friend Dahmer more than I disliked it. I learned more of the part of the story I like to learn and know about: the childhood and nature versus nurture of the psychopath. Are graphic novels my new go to book? No. Not by a long shot, but that doesn't mean I will shy away from them in the future. I plan on adding some more to my collection in the future.
From one bookaholic to another, I hope I’ve helped you find your next fix.
Pair it with: Miller Beer.
Jeffrey Dahmer was known to lure his victims into his home with alcohol, usually beginning with beer laced with drugs to render his victims unconscious.
Start a conversation: How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you think they take away or add something to the story?
Have a book you’d like to suggest or one you’d like me to review? Please feel free to leave your comments down below.