It’s a book that tells a simple tale of a not so simple young man. Before he was known as the “The Milwaukee Cannibal” or “The Milwaukee Monster”, Jeffrey Dahmer was just plain old Jeffrey Dahmer; a loner who often showed up to school drunk and didn’t make much of an impression on anybody. Even the few friends had in high school found young Dahmer odd to say the least. One of these friends, John “Derf” Backderf, recounts the childhood and many other chilling events that was surely a foreshadow of what the future held in this engrossing graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer.
To most of America Jeffrey Dahmer was a monster that single-handedly plotted and executed the murder of 17 people. But to Derf Backderf? It was much more complex than that. The author is very clever in presenting the straightforward and sympathetic picture that was early Dahmer’s life; suggesting while the man may have always been a monster, he was a monster that could have been saved. Life in the 1970’s in Ohio should have been decent for any kid to grow up in. Of course, we learn right away in the books prologue that even at the mere age of 12, Dahmer was participating in some questionable habits that morphed into some sort of safe haven from his parents constant arguing. And it only gets worse from there. Between getting bullied, a developing drinking problem and repressing his sexuality, life seemed to be a never ending hell for Jeffrey Dahmer. It was almost inevitable that he would snap at some point.
What’s extremely fascinating about this book is that it isn’t merely your run of the mill biography. The author is an expert storyteller that brings to light a version of Dahmer many have never seen, almost insisting that he wasn’t always this blood thirsty monster that enjoyed hurting people. Rather that for a while he was just some goofball that mimicked the loud, spastic tics of someone with cerebral palsy in hopes of getting attention. What I liked most of all was the observations the author made as a young man, noting some particular events he found exceptionally chilling; an example would be how in just a span of ten minutes, 18 year old Jeffrey Dahmer drank an entire six pack of beer in the back of his friends car. Backderf’s art style only seems to add to the haunting and dreadful atmosphere Dahmer seemed to bring with him everywhere he went.
At the beginning of the book the author goes on to provide a typed statement entitled The Convoluted History of My Friend Dahmer, giving a bit more detail into the process of making the book, among other things. One paragraph he writes toward the end gives the reader an insight to what he genuineley thinks about his old friend, Jeff.
It’s my belief that Dahmer didn’t have to wind up a monster, that all those people didn’t have to die horribly, if only the adults in his life hadn’t been so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent. Once Dahmer kills, however – and I can’t stress this enough – my sympathy for him ends. He could have turned himself in after that first murder. He could have put a gun to his head. Instead he, and he alone, chose to become a serial killer and spread misery to countless people. There are a surprising number out there who view Jeffrey Dahmer as some kind of anti-hero, a bullied kid who lashed back at the society that rejected him, This is nonsense. Dahmer was a twisted wretch whose depravity was almost beyond comprehension. Pity him, but don’t empathize with him.
For any and all true crime fans that have a deep fascination for the human psyche, I would highly recommend you considering this book.