Reviews of My Friend Dahmer (2012) and related work

My Friend Dahmer (2012Sequential art with text)

Derf Backderf (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

The underground art style is well chosen, and the composition is good. The writing is surprisingly shallow. “Derf” Backderf (real name John) makes the interpretation that Dahmer’s murderousness and necrophilia served an interest in “total control” extending “the two themes of Jeff Dahmer’s life”: cowardice and selfishness. That’s quoted from the end notes, by the way, not from the graphic novel as such. It’s a reasonable first approximation for an explanation, but it never becomes clear whether any of it is less spontaneous than the man’s homosexuality, and there’s an even more irritating vagueness as to the role of Dahmer’s parents. Backderf relies more on the father’s version of events, but doesn’t explain this preference, throwing shade on the mother while leaving the implication that both parents’ self-absorbed bickering played a causal role, beyond just denying the boy some help and attention. What is that role supposed to have been? The implication isn’t resolved, and does nothing to explain the future killer’s poker face.

By design, despite some fictionalization, there’s very little interiority to the presentation. The entire graphic novel is somewhere in the grey zone between an admirably honest biography of the author, retrospective true-crime rubbernecking with foreboding chapter endings, and bad arm-chair psychology in which a tail-end baby boomer reflexively blames the generation of his parents without managing to pinpoint what they did. I learned nothing.

fiction sequential art text

My Friend Dahmer (2017Moving picture, 107 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Largely naturalistic, with some alterations made to further approach the horror genre (thankfully not musical cues, jump scares or fast cuts), but most of the changes are just abbreviations and a general shift in perspective, away from Backderf and toward Dahmer himself, making Dahmer the main character. It’s not a bad live-action adaptation, but it adds only a shallow mimesis and subtracts the art style.

adaptation fiction moving picture