Since his arrest in 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer has become one of the most well-known serial killers in the history of the United States. Derf Backderf’s MY FRIEND DAHMER is but one of many accounts that take a look at this depraved killer. However, this graphic novel stands apart from the rest. On top of being well-researched and brilliantly illustrated, MY FRIEND DAHMER is also a memoir created by someone who actually knew Jeffrey Dahmer.

Derf’s memoir cuts through the horrific facts of Dahmer’s crimes to examine the man at the center. MY FRIEND DAHMER takes places in Bath, Ohio during the 1970’s. It follows Dahmer from the time he and Derf meet in middle school to the summer after high school graduation when Dahmer takes the life of Steven Hicks, his first victim. The graphic novel shows the parallel lives of Dahmer and Derf and their tentative “friendship”. Derf chronicles Dahmer’s crumbling home life, his growing dependence on alcohol, and the increasingly disturbing fantasies that he desperately tries to drown out. At its core, MY FRIEND DAHMER asks the reader to grapple with a few difficult questions. Who is responsible for Jeffrey Dahmer? And could anyone have stopped him?


MY FRIEND DAHMER does a pretty good job of shying away from gore and violence for a book about a serial killer. However, it’s still not for everyone. The decision to create this graphic memoir at all is in and of itself controversial. Is MY FRIEND DAHMER unavoidably exploitative given its subject matter? And given how fleeting his connection with Dahmer was, is Derf really the best person to tell this story?

For many reasons, MY FRIEND DAHMER is polarizing. It will make even the most seasoned of true crime aficionados squirm. And that’s exactly what makes it so good. Art and controversy often go hand in hand. At its best, art should make you uncomfortable. MY FRIEND DAHMER deftly accomplishes this. Instead of focusing on the grisly details of the case, it holds a mirror up for us to examine ourselves in the framework of its narrative. We have to ask if the same uncontrollable darkness that lurked within Dahmer exists in all of us to some degree.

Confronting the Monster Inside

MY FRIEND DAHMER is ultimately successful because it’s a jumping off point for so many diverging and interconnected discussions. During the course of this episode, we attempt to address the questions that arise about mental health, sexuality, art, and human nature within the context of this book. MY FRIEND DAHMER might not sound like your cup of tea. Still, we hope you stick around for the conversation it spurred. For all involved, this conversation was challenging but worth having.

Ultimately, MY FRIEND DAHMER does not provide an answer for why Dahmer became a monster. However, it will force you to examine your own potential for cruelty in the process of reading it.

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  1. rfid

    April 3, 2018 at 12:11 pm

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