cover image My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer

Derf Backderf. Abrams Comicarts, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0216-7

Readers of Derf Backderf’s the City strip in various alt-weeklies will immediately recognize his visual style (flattened landscapes and blocky characters who look uncomfortable in their own skin), but not the content in this visceral, ambitious new graphic novel. Instead of the City’s surreal, satirical ennui, Backderf explores a hard-to-believe autobiographical story. During the 1970s in Ohio, he attended high school with and befriended Jeffrey Dahmer, “the loneliest kid I’d ever met.” Backderf and his social misfit crew drift in and out of Dahmer’s story, which the author pieced together from memories and more recent research. It’s a barbed-wire portrait of a devil-minded teen with divorcing and neglectful parents. He slices up roadkill to see what it looks like, gets attention in school by doing imitations of cerebral palsy victims, and swims in alcohol to drown out his violent urges. The tone is sympathetic and enraged (“Where were the damn adults?”) while not excusing or making the story unduly fascinating. Backderf’s writing is impeccably honest in not exculpating his own misdeeds (the sections about how he and his friends encourage Dahmer’s spaz shtick while still excluding him make for brutal reading) and quietly horrifying. A small, dark classic. (Mar.)