I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers. I want to know why they do it, how do they kill people in such violent ways and feel no remorse or guilt. It’s a large part of why I studied Psychology and Criminology, and to date I genuinely enjoy learning about these psychopaths (that sounds so creepy now that I think about it). So when I stumbled upon My Friend Dahmer at the local comic book store, I immediately had to buy it. Luckily for me my parents were in town for graduation and my dad, who never says no to books, bought it for me. It was a short read and to be honest, I was a just a little disappointed.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is a true story told by Backderf who attended high school with Dahmer. The title of the book is a little misleading considering Backderf and Dahmer were not necessarily friends but more like acquaintances. Backderf and a group of boys founded the Dahmer fan club where they would make fun of Dahmer’s mannerisms, eventually coining them Dahmerisms. Dahmer, a pretty strange boy with plenty of issues of his own had a rough family life. His parents were caught up in their own marital problems and for the most part did not seem to pay him any attention. His mother had mental health issues of her own and would often experience convulsive episodes. Dahmer took to copying these tics, and it was these imitations that played a part in the formation of the Dahmer Fan Club. While Backderf gives interesting insight into Dahmer’s life, he was not very close to Dahmer. In fact, Dahmer was a loner, who pretty much had no friends. By his senior year, the Dahmer fan club had disbanded and Dahmer had become an extremely heavy drinker. Witnessing Dahmer ravage a 6 pack of beer in under 10 minutes was one of the incidents that lead to the exclusion of Dahmer from his own fan club.
After reading this book, I find myself pitying Dahmer. He truly was completely isolated and had absolutely no one to talk to. His father had to move out when his mother filed a restraining order against him, and then his mother eventually moved back to Wisconsin with his brother leaving Dahmer completely alone in the house. Loneliness is dark and scary, and for a teenager who already had his own set of issues, I can’t imagine how consuming it must have become. Backderf mentions that Dahmer had perverse thoughts and desires long before he acted on them. This coupled with Dahmer’s obsession with roadkill, immediately made me think serial killer. (But then again, I also already know what he did). Backderf’s story is full of hints that Dahmer was not normal but it’s hard to say how much of this stems from reality and how much is tainted by his knowledge of Dahmer’s crimes.
The other things that bugged me through the novel was how Backderfs drawings made the characters hard to distinguish. It’s possible this was done on purpose to shine the spotlight on Dahmer. However, it’s a graphic novel and not being able to successfully tell the characters apart was frustrating.
The story itself isn’t all that exciting, however it does attempt to show the evolution of Jeff Dahmer the teenage boy to Jeffrey Dahmer cannibalistic psychopath. I’ve read about Dahmer before but he never stood far apart from other psychopaths, until I read this novel. Backderf gives you a personal look into what it must have been like being Dahmer. Backderf coupled his personal knowledge with information from various other sources, as well as FBI interviews with Dahmer. The most interesting fact I learned from Backderfs story is that Dahmer never lied. It’s interesting because it contradicts everything I have ever read or learned about psychopaths; because of the potential knowledge we could have gained had he lived; because no other serial killer I have learned of has been so forthcoming about their indiscretions. While Backderf doesn’t delve into the psychology or patterns behind Dahmer’s behaviors, he did ignite a new found interest in Dahmer. Now, I just need to get my hands on copies of those FBI interviews.