Marvelette Missives – My Friend Dahmer

Anyone over the age of 30 knows about Jeffrey Dahmer and likely remembers the details of his arrest and trial in the early 90s. Even if you’re younger, you no doubt recognize the name of the man who took the lives of 17 victims. Artist John “Derf” Backderf went to highschool with Dahmer in the 70s and in the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, he recounts his interactions with him, how much of an outsider he really was and how the toxic family environment he lived in had a hand in creating the monster he was to become. 

First, let me say that this was an odd read for me. I’ve lived in this area of Ohio for about 20 years and recognize many of the locations depicted in the book (some really haven’t changed much since the 70s). But more than that, about five years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Dahmer house (it’s less than 30 minutes from where I live). Having toured the house and a bit of the surrounding woods, I know exactly what the drawings in this book are depicting. It’s a bit surreal and I don’t know if the connection it made for me is a good thing, but it did make for a more interesting read.

The book itself covers the highschool years of the author, his friends and Dahmer, who never really fit in. Using not only personal accounts, but also newspaper articles and FBI records following Dahmer’s arrest, the book delves into Dahmer’s home life and his gradual dissent to the dark side. It’s the side of the story that was never told, but that everyone wanted to know: how a middle class kid could become a cold, heartless killer… and why no one was able to stop it before it happened.

It took almost two decades for Derf to get this story told in the way he felt it needed to be, beginning with a short story in 1994 (shortly after Dahmer was killed in prison) and ultimately becoming the 224-page graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. It’s no surprise this book was nominated for multiple awards and made a lot of “best non-fiction comics” lists. It was even turned into a movie that’s been making the rounds on the independent circuit this year. Yes, it is a disturbing read, but it’s an engrossing one that is not only well-told, but appropriately interpreted through Derf’s unique art style.

Marvelette Missives is written by TinkEsq, aka Miss Dawn, Web Goddess of Geek Watch One.

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