Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1574- Derf Backderf: My Friend Dahmer

There was a time when I'd have been all over a book about Jeffrey Dahmer. (I had planned, for a while, to be a forensic psychologist.) I no longer, however, looked forward to reading about Dahmer's gruesomely depraved murders. Not that I didn't think I could handle it, I just felt that I had long since heard enough of the lurid details and wouldn't find it particularly interesting.

However, reading My Friend Dahmer, I quickly rekindled my interest in the psychological and sociological aspects of serial killers. In most cases, and as it turns out, in Dahmer's as well, there's a toxic brew. Dahmer had major psychological problems (sexually attracted to dead men) and the sociological conditions at the time (70s, rural Ohio, dysfunctional family) were not exactly conducive to him getting help, or even to reach out for help.

This is not to suggest that Derf Backderf, who knew and hung around with Dahmer, presents an entirely sympathetic picture. In fact, he's very clear in his intro that his sympathies come to an abrupt halt when Dahmer first kills. Still it comes a little closer, perhaps as close as anyone can ever really get, in understanding how something like Jeffrey Dahmer happens.

It's not, for the record, gruesome. As the book ends after his first human kill, we are largely spared from the more shocking details. (I say mostly as end notes do get into such things, but fortunately they lack the visuals.)

Art-wise, the characters reminded me of a cross between Charles Burns (Black Hole) and Don Martin (MAD Magazine), which may not necessarily be a perfect fit for the story, but the strange essence of the 70s and the peculiarities of teenage years, are both there at least and it's not as jarring as you might expect. In black and white, a liberal use of ink gets the emotion across when needed.

My Friend Dahmer has been adapted for a movie which will be released this year.

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