Forensic psychologists are in the business of studying, among many other factors, the childhoods of our most notorious criminals. How does someone’s past predict or play a role in the horrible pain they inflict upon others later in life? Volumes have been written on what Stalin and Hitler were like as kids, and the parallels between the two men are eerie and striking. Closer to home, any review of FBI interviews with serial killers will reveal lengthy discussions about parents, school friends, and formative events.
There also is a lot to be learned from the perspective of a person who knows the criminal in a different light. One such individual has just published a graphic novel to share with the world the Jeffrey Dahmer who was his high school friend.
Cartoonist John Backderf attended Revere High School in Ohio with Dahmer, noting that his group of “band nerd” friends adopted Dahmer and welcomed them into their fold. He remembers the eventual serial killer as a young man who was tortured by the voices in his head, who engaged in odd outbursts in the school halls, who drank alcohol to numb his internal suffering, but who also was funny and smart.
Backderf shares that he is releasing his novel, My Friend Dahmer, this week not to make the murderer into a sympathetic character, but instead to shed some new light on a person who both fascinates and repulses us. As he said during a recent interview with CNN, “It’s a tale of emerging evil, told by someone who was standing just a few feet away.”
Is My Friend Dahmer by John Backderf a book that you will be adding to your must-read list? I’ll admit, as someone who studies the psychology of criminals and writes from that mindset for a living, the concept is compelling.
What are your thoughts?
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As someone who is getting more and more into the mystery mode with my novels, I think this book could be a decent addition for research. It could show how events could lead up to the making of a serial killer.
Even if I weren’t a comic nerd, I’d still look into this. I’m always curious as to what would compel someone like Dahmer to do such things.
This will bring in readers solely on the weird factor of the title. People have an innate, morbid curiosity.
Reblogged this on Hunter's Writing and commented:
Interesting subject matter.
Article great and the book looks fab. Thanks for the info!
Reblogged this on criminalmassworderer.
I experienced the graphic novel online, years ago it seems, possibly in its entirety, and to me it’s rather old news to just now be talking about it in 2012. Whatever the author/illustrator’s intentions, I think that Dahmer came off as extremely sympathetic. Of course, I know too well how books can so often be Rorschachs into a reviewer’s psyche, such that the review will tend to say more about the reviewer than the book itself.
It was very much a work that encouraged the viewer to draw their own conclusions. If you were predisposed toward sympathy, there was no attempt to beat you over the head with another point of view. The illustrations showed what it looked like at the time, the dialogue showed what was said.
I would say that the book is a must for anyone who wants to get as complete a picture as possible into the development of a deviant mind. I have always been frustrated at how *little* attention is typically paid to a killer’s growing-up years.. For lack of a better source, one typically turns to True Crime, where practically every criminal who ever lived was a murderer, serial way out of proportion, and where you’re generally treated to maybe a few broad strokes with regard to the formative years before it’s on to the “good” stuff.
Particularly lacking has been any coverage of the hot house societal years of junior and high school days, the specific area where My Friend Dahmer shines. This is the area where the card-carrying Member of Society in good standing has his big chance to convict himself as co-conspirator in a murderer’s crimes rather than flippantly put it on Mommy and Daddy if not squarely on the murderer’s shoulders, and unsurprisingly there are very few authors who are up to this task– but I found that Dahmer’s friend was. Cartoonist John Backderf was a player in the drama as much as anyone in Jeffrey’s orbit, and at the risk of interpreting another inkspot, I would suggest that Backderf may have been the less sympathetic of the story’s Big Two.
But that’s alright– all is forgiven. Because he manned up and told the truth.
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