#450 “My Friend Dahmer”

My Friend DahmerHow would you feel if someone you went to high school with showed up on the news as a murderer? That’s what happened to the cartoonist Derf Backderf, who was acquainted with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer when they were teenagers in the ’70s.

Backderf looks back on this experience, and the warning signs missed by all, in his 2011 graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. It’s more than just a memoir — Backderf did a lot of research and includes a lot of things he had no way of knowing about when they happened back in the ‘70s. Matching up his own Dahmer experiences with information that came to light after Dahmer’s arrest makes for a book that’s both chilling and thoughtful, and one that Kumar and Tim couldn’t put down! This week, our review.

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Resident of Japan since 1989, creator of "The Crazing Spider-Hag"

2 thoughts on “#450 “My Friend Dahmer””

  1. That was a very perceptive review! (and not just because you liked the book, although that’s certainly a plus)

    You talk about Lev Grossman of Time magazine making a comparison of my art to that of Don Martin. Yeah, I don’t see it either. I think Lev doesn’t possess a broad knowledge about comix, so he was fishing for a comparison in his own experience. Guess he read Mad magazine as a kid and came up Don Martin. That’s my theory.

    I was impressed by many of the observations you bring up in your podcast. You “get” everything I was striving to get across. This is petty bitching, of course, because the book has piled up great reviews and awards and sold a jillion copies, but it irks me when readers miss big points, mainly because I think I beat those big points to death in the narrative and wonder, Jesus, what else could I have done here? What’s most important is that My Friend Dahmer is a story… about failure. EVERYbody fails. His parents, the teachers, the police, his friends, Jeff himself. There’s no happy ending here, just a pile of bodies. Sometimes, that’s just the way life is. In particular, younger readers can’t accept that, or rather, still have a youthful idealism combined with, well, cluelessness. You’ll find out, kids! That’s why I present this brutally honest portrayal of my role in this tale. I certainly could have made myself look more heroic. Who would have known? But, no, I felt I owed it to the story to just lay it all out there.

    I’m also glad you appreciated what are some of my favorite scenes in the book, especially the scene with the anti-drug movie. I worked my ass off on that scene! I think you may be the first of hundreds of reviews that cite it.

    The art is a lot different in MFD than that in my comic strip, as you remark. Different genres, different parameters. When I made the move into graphic novels, I decided to completely remake myself as an artist, and with a book I have as much room as I want, not just four little panels. It was liberating and, much to my surprise, I discovered I was toiling in the wrong genre all along, because my books have received far more interest than my strip ever did! But thank you for noticing.

    Funny thing is my new fans are completely unaware of my previous work. Some of them may know my first graphic novel, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, but that’s it. So when people meet me, they are stunned to learn I’m not in my Twenties, since they’ve only been aware of my work for the five years I’ve been making graphic novels. I should be a young guy, not this craggy, middle-aged punk rocker. Cracks me up. I’ve gotten a total re-boot!

    Oh. About my name. Yeah, yeah, it’s weird. I started out, at Ohio State where my comics were first published, just signing my work “Derf.” Reason unknown. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But it took, and, in fact, Derf supplanted my given name. Even my wife calls me that. But when I moved from comic strips and cartoons into graphic novels, I decided I needed a big boy name, so what to do? Derf Backderf it was.

  2. Thanks!

    Glad we picked up on some stuff other reviewers missed. I tend to think that a lack of comics literacy is why a lot of those mainstream reviewers miss stuff. Maybe they’ve read MAD or newspaper strips, that’s about it, and they don’t understand ways that comics communicate. So they focus on the plot. Which is a huge mistake on a book like “Asterios Polyp”!

    Anyway, thanks so much for the awesome comment! –Tim

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