“My Friend Dahmer” is a graphic novel project that was released earlier this year, written and illustrated by Derf Backderf. It chronicles the high school years of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Backderf is the appropriate commentator for this narrative, because he actually went to high school with Dahmer, and was part of the reclusive social group that he belonged to.
The book is not an in-depth psychological study on how Dahmer became the monster that he was, and you can say that even the circumstances he faced as a child — in a small town, neglected by parents who were too busy with themselves, with drugs, with their divorce — are any different than how most people struggle their way through their normal lives. But that’s the whole point of it. How normal this story feels, without the backdrop of knowing where Dahmer’s story ends, it’s just a high school tale a socially awkward kid with disturbing tendencies towards studying animals and human parts.
It’s how thin the line between his story and any other kid’s story that makes this such an interesting read. There are frightening moments, functioning as a foreshadow for what Dahmer would become. But there are the light hearted ones too, just a kid with a sense of humor who was not afraid to entertain his friends even if it embarrassed himself.
Backderf makes it clear at the end of the story that even though this graphic novel does in some ways humanize Dahmer and portrays him not necessarily in a better light, but one with a widen lens, that he in no way condones or forgives Dahmer for what he became.
In the epilogue, Backderf and his high school friends reunite and wonder what happened to Dahmer, who they had lost touch with after graduating. One of them commented, “He’s probably a serial killer now” and they break into laughter.
Once you get through the details in this book and get to that point, you’ll find that ending to be harrowing. It’ll stick with you for a bit.