Abrams (2012), 224 pages
My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel written by one of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school classmates. While it would be wrong to call Backderf and Dahmer friends (Dahmer was just a bit too strange to have friends) they were close enough to offer Backderf a first-hand view into the strange mind of a trainee serial killer. My Friend Dahmer also offers an autobiographical account of surviving a US high school. The impersonality of such a large school and the apathy of some of the teachers makes it easier for those who don’t fit in to be bullied or ignored. Dahmer’s problems thrived in the uncaring environments of his home and school.
Backderf paints Dahmer as an awkward loner but it is when his parents’ marriage breaks up that his strange behaviour takes off. As Dahmer got older he began to experience violent necrophiliac desires. After his parents’ divorce Dahmer lived with his mother in a house outside of town. Her own mental illness and breakdowns increased the pressure on Dahmer. None of the adults in Dahmer’s life seemed to notice his increasingly strange behaviour (or if they noticed they didn’t seem to care). This was the time where some kind of intervention could have prevented future carnage but as Backderf wonders, “Where were the damn adults?” (p. 67)
My Friend Dahmer does contain moments of humour although mostly of the blackest variety. On a school trip to Washington DC Dahmer manages to organise a meeting with Vice-President Walter Mondale. After his father moved out Dahmer became increasingly violent and turned to killing animals. He became something of a mascot for the group of disaffected males who Backderf hung around with. Dahmer’s alcoholism worsened to such an extent that he would drink in the school parking lot before it opened (again no adults seemed to notice this). Just as high school was ending Dahmer’s mother moved out of the house leaving him alone until his father (who got the house in a divorce settlement) moved back in. With school finishing Dahmer lost the illusion that he had any friends at all. Abandoned by his family his unnatural desires had space to take over. Dahmer chose to kill his first victim, a young hitchhiker called Steven Hicks. It would be his first of 17 victims. It seems that Dahmers sexual desires and fear of being left alone played a part in his killings.
Of the many serial killers I have seen interviewed Dahmer is perhaps the only one who has expressed what appeared to be genuine remorse. Of course I could have been taken in by a man who was able to manipulate his victims into believing he wouldn’t harm them before he killed them. My Friend Dahmer is a bleak tale. Nobody comes out if it well. Jeffrey Dahmer bears the vast majority of the responsibility for his actions but the failure of the adults in his life to intervene in his obvious problems is also shocking.
DerfCity – Derf’s website
Reglar Wiglar interview with Derf Backderf