I confess that I borrowed Derf Backderf’s graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, from the library for equal parts earnest interest in and morbid curiosity about the early life of Jeffrey Dahmer. For those who don’t know who Dahmer is, he was found guilty of incredibly heinous crimes and sentenced to prison, where he was later slain by a fellow inmate. I don’t really want to go into any more detail than that, simply because I’m willing to bet you already know more than enough about what he did.
What you don’t know is why he did what he did. Neither do I, even after reading this novel. I suppose I didn’t really expect to find any concrete answers. I did expect a bit more insight than what Backderf provided. I think, though, for all his claims that he was doing this project out of a need to explore his past relationship with Dahmer and try to understand what happened that led Dahmer from who Backderf knew in high school to who he became, Backderf simply wasn’t up to the task of providing the “objective” look that he said he wanted to give readers. In fact, even though he claims at the beginning of the novel to want to give a more sympathetic look at the events of Dahmer’s youth that could have led him to commit such horrific acts, he then almost immediately calls Dahmer a monster undeserving of empathy.
For a bit of backstory, “Derf” Backderf (his real name is John) was in the same high school class as Dahmer, ran in the same circle of maligned geeks, nerds, and social misfits