A Graphic Novel for People Who Don’t Read Graphic Novels

Posted: March 24, 2015 in Book Reviews, Livin' in the USA, Psychology
Tags: , , , ,

Dahmer(My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf. Abrams, 2014, 224 pp., $24.95)

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

The City, one of my two favorite cartoons (the other is Zippy The Pinhead), disappeared from The Tucson Weekly a while back, but I didn’t bother to investigate. The Weekly has been going downhill for a while, and I figured that they’d dropped The City as a cost-cutting measure, or as part of their ongoing effort to make The Weekly ever less useful and entertaining. (GoComics, The City‘s distributor, is running old City strips.) But the other night I couldn’t sleep, decided to kill some time on the ‘Net, and discovered that Derf had stopped producing new City strips in favor of producing graphic novels, and that his latest was My Friend Dahmer. Being a connoisseur of the sick and perverse, and a Derf fan, I obtained a copy.

The first thing I noticed about the book was that it was a very well produced 6″X9″ hardback, rather than the 8-1/2″X11″ paperback I was expecting. The second thing I noticed, upon reading Derf’s preface, is that he had not simply knocked this book out relying on his memory and that of his friends; rather, he had done all the research necessary to producing a high quality nonfiction book. Then I began to read and view.

Serial killer/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer really did hang out regularly with Derf in junior high and high school, and this book almost entirely concerns Dahmer himself and that association. For Derf, judging purely from the material in this book, to describe Dahmer as a “friend” is stretching it; but My Friend Dahmer is a much better title than My Acquaintance Dahmer. That quibble aside, Dahmer’s personality and behavior quirks, and the relationships Derf describes and illustrates so well, are often creepy and occasionally darkly funny. There is horror here, but it’s almost entirely psychological: Derf steers away from graphic, gory depiction.

Once I started reading, I was sucked in immediately, and read the entire book in two sittings. The book only contains about 10,000 words in the text, but also roughly 1,000 cartoons. The work required to draw them must have been staggering. It’s fair to say that Derf very probably put in significantly more work on My Friend Dahmer than most authors of similar-sized standard nonfiction books put in on their works.

By the end of My Friend Dahmer, I felt both pity and abhorrence for Jeffrey Dahmer–and very glad I never knew him.

Highly recommended.

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