My Friend Dahmer
Author: John “Derf” Backderf
How lucky are we that Jeffrey Dahmer had a classmate who is a talented cartoonist?
My Friend Dahmer is a memoir by John “Derf” Backderf of his “friendship” with Jeffrey Dahmer in Ohio during high school in the 1970’s. In addition to his own personal memories of Dahmer, Backderf has interviewed fellow classmates, read interviews with Dahmer and books by his parents to create a timeline of Dahmer’s high school experience. At the end of the story, there is a very comprehensive notes section where Backderf explains how he was able to pinpoint dates and give details for events he was not present for.
Backderf brings an interesting perspective to the story, as somebody was both friendly with Dahmer as well as fascinated by him. Despite not knowing Dahmer would be a future serial killer, there were many clues that something was not right with Dahmer from a young age. Backderf recounts moments like Dahmer impersonating individuals with disabilities, sneaking out to drink during school hours, and the discovery of a mutilated dog while also providing a commentary asking why a single adult could not have also noticed that something was wrong with Jeffrey.
While the story centers around Dahmer there’s much more here for people who give it a read. On its own, My Friend Dahmer is an interesting perspective on 1970’s family and school life as well as a sociological quest of second guessing the warning signs that a troubled youth will display. There is a very delicate balance to strike between generating sympathy for Dahmer before he was a killer and not excusing his later actions.
The perspective of Backderf as a kid who hung out with Dahmer despite not really liking him reminded me of some of my own experiences back in high school. The entire story rang as very authentic. I read this after having previously watched the movie adaptation. I preferred this graphic novel slightly to the film, but both are very solid for their respective mediums.