Solid entertainment coupled with documentary style insights makes for a quality read. Backderf is no one-trick-pony, as Trashed is his followup to ‘My Friend Dahmer’ that tells the story of young men doing a dirty job out of necessity. The characters are genuine in a relatable way that makes me want to share a pizza with them on a night out. They gripe about their role as thankless cogs that contribute to life as you know it. They’re a brand of people who I’d call ‘chill.’ Take this conversation for example:
“What are you doing here in th’ dark?”
“To Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?”
“Fred is the light and the way… neighbor.” (70)
Backderf had a year of experience as a garbage man, and his knowledge on the topic shows that experience beyond the bits that are composed of research (facts and statistics are strewn throughout for context). The story is brought out of the 70’s and into a contemporary time, but one theme that hasn’t changed much is the exposure of our throwaway culture. There’s a point in the story where the crew is burdened with all that is abandoned in a foreclosed home. They pop open a shoebox full of photographs, and take a moment to flip through the sentimental memories of the people who had once inhabited the house. A materialistic culture finds no comfort or value in the commodity with which one fills their life, and thus it’s all potential waste. While one character voices a sadness over the pictures, another offers his own take, “Think of the economy as a giant digestive tract. And we’re here at the rectum of the free market to clean it all up.” (203)
Showed up for the Dahmer story, stuck around for the quality. Backderf should keep making full length graphic novels. Trashed kept me turning pages to the point where I went through it in one sitting.
With a baby on the way my wife and I decided to get out for what may be our last ‘out on the town’ date before our girl arrives. There was no consideration of any other film, we were going to see My Friend Dahmer. We had to drive an hour+ out of town, as this film hasn’t the reach of a typical Hollywood blockbuster. We arrived in Athens, Ohio to find the streets flooded with college students, but had little trouble navigating through the hoards of bobcats.
Anxious to get our seating preference we were the first in the theater. Back row: center… as always… if it can be managed.
The film delivers much of the same that Backderf’s graphic novel of the same title had to offer. It reveals the complications of closeted homosexuality in a ‘we don’t talk about that kinda thing’ environment, a distant/hostile home life, and the escapism of chronic alcohol abuse. Dahmer isn’t a character that stirs much in the way of empathy, nor does the movie glorify his violent crimes, instead I feel that the movie seeks to show a cultural failure to help a troubled youth. The ‘friends’ Dahmer made along the way only catered to his company as a means of exploiting his antics for their own entertainment. They put him in situations, pressuring him to act out, and reveled in the results. It’s not the most flattering way Backderf could’ve presented himself, but the honesty draws me in more than the prospect of fabricated friendship.
Backderf’s involvement in Dahmer’s life was amplified for the sake of making a more cohesive film, while the graphic novel was more fragmented in a way that filled the gaps with assumptions. Backderf’s comic suggested they only got together outside of school on one occasion, and that’s not enough for a full length feature film. That’s the main difference between the two mediums. Aside from this issue, Dahmer’s mother is presented with a particular mania of sorts that wasn’t expressed in the graphic novel. The comic book shows Mrs. Dahmer in a depressive state that borders on catatonic, while the movie explores her mental instability through argumentative highs. I also wish that the prom scene had included Dahmer’s awkward parting handshake with his date at the end of the night. But these gripes are for the purists who want a book and film to be exactly the same, and I’m not that kind of fan. For what it is My Friend Dahmer is an honest prelude to tragedy that is tragic in an of itself.
Having gone to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer, Derf Backderf tells a story of adolescence in the 1970’s that leads right up to Dahmer’s first murder. The story focuses on the high school experience and the strange outcast that brought Derf and his group of friends the occasional comic relief and concern. My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel that is not so much a bloodbath as it is a prelude to the horrors that would surface in adulthood. It explores the mind of a teenager who simply shook hands with his prom date and denied his own sexuality. How could a teenager talk about the kind of urges that Jeffrey had with anybody in the social atmosphere of the time? It’s the kind of background story that few documentaries could capture with such intrigue without all of the bloody details.
I heard about the graphic novel last year when Backderf was scheduled to speak at his Alma Mater, The Ohio State University. I couldn’t make it, and it wasn’t until a matter of months later that I found myself in a book store with My Friend Dahmer on the employee’s selection shelf.
I don’t read too many comic books these days. On occasion I find a graphic novel so interesting that I devour it within a matter of a few short hours. This was one of those books as the storytelling in My Friend Dahmer is so fluidly perfect that for a moment, I was lost in Derf’s world.