My Friend Dahmer, Graphic Novel, True Crime, Memoir Review

Author Derf Backderf

My Friend Dahmer is about the author, Derf Backderf, and his memory of going to high school with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He portrays Dahmer as he was back then, an oddball alcoholic with a habit of getting attention in ways that would be considered unbelievably offensive today.

Apparently, Dahmer would imitate his mother who had some sort of nervous system disorder and suffered from issues such as seizures and violent ticks. The author’s friend circle found these imitations hilarious and would join in the mocking. This was how the author bonded with Dahmer briefly.

Dahmer had a lot of home troubles with his parents going through a particularly nasty divorce. He also had a lot of personal troubles dealing with the thoughts that he could not push aside. He was gay in a time that being gay was not only not accepted but assaulted. But far more troubling were his desires to have sexual relations with dead men.

All of these issues caused him to turn to extreme alcoholism to attempt to shut out these thoughts. Backderf and many other students were aware of his constant state of drunkenness and yet no one stepped in to stop it in any way.

Backderf frequently excuses himself for not stepping in to help with the reasoning that he was just a dumb kid. True. It’s hard to say that that should have been the responsibility of other students. He pushes blame to the teachers and parents who also certainly must have noticed a student smelling like a barroom floor and acting out.

Jeffrey Dahmer drinking behind his high school
they weren’t oblivious

The main question the author brings up over and over again is could someone have stepped in and stopped the chain of events that lead to Dahmer torturing and killing several people just after high school?

We’ll never know. But it is interesting to at least bring awareness that children and teens who are acting out may be struggling with something much darker deep beneath the surface. In today’s society of constant school shootings this is something that we should definitely be aware of but no one seems to have figured out a solution yet.

I do not want to get political here and I will just say one thing and then don’t @ me but easy, affordable access to mental health care is quite possibly what many of these kids need. Dahmer and many other individuals experience thoughts that they know are wrong and want help but have no way of getting it and even fear speaking up because they not only wont get help but they’ll be ridiculed or even beaten up for talking about it. They’re left to self medicate, spiral out, and finally follow the dark thoughts.

This is all very tragic but we’re here to talk about this particular book. I appreciate that the author went back and did the research to fill in some gaps in the story, his memory of a high school acquaintance is hardly a peer reviewed reference case, but what is this book?

I think more that anything this book probably started as a coping mechanism for Backderf. He likely feels guilt over seeing some red flags in Dahmer and not stepping in to stop anything. I can totally understand that. And telling the story and deflecting blame probably helped. But turning around to sell the book and make a profit and calling it a cult classic kind of deflates that for me.

It seems exploitative.

Believe me, I know what it’s like to have a twisted obsession with the macabre. I read the true crime books, listen to the podcasts, even got a whole degree in it! But to put out a story about a teenager who dissolves animals in acid and then murders a jogger while you happened to know him seems unnecessary at best.

Dahmer is one of the most well known serial killers in history. Everything he did is well known because he was caught with a basement full of disgusting evidence and then readily participated in many lengthy interviews in which he discussed all of it openly. Saying he was also a “spaz” in high school is a drop in the bucket.

I wish the author would take his talent elsewhere. He is capable of telling a story and he has an art style that, although not for me, could find an audience with a different group of independent graphic novel fans. This is just not a story that needed to be told. It feels kinda icky to be capitalizing on your own accidental approximation to a serial killer.

The more I think about this book the less I feel comfortable with it. It’s not poorly written and doesn’t have any technical issues it’s just kinda icky and not because of the serial killer.

2.5/5 high school graduates who also went to school with Dahmer and didn’t try to get famous off of it 👩‍🎓👩‍🎓

I’m not going to include an affiliate link for this one. If you want to check it out get it for free at the library. At least then I won’t be making any money off of these crimes. And on that note… Happy reading!

I love comic books, nonfiction, and everything in between! Come discuss your favorites!

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