This disturbing book about a serial killer’s youth was heartbreaking, as the book makes us witness to Jeffrey Dahmer’s slide into madness, from the viewpoint of a former classmate and “friend” of his.
The author, John “Derf” Backderf, attended high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. He knew JD as a lonely middle schooler, who then changed into a hulking strange young man in high school. He and his friends started taking notice of JD when they were amused by his strange mannerisms and talent for mimicking individuals with cerebral palsy. We learn some background about JD’s family, learning that his parent’s contentious divorce led to him being practically abandoned when he was most vulnerable, with no adults present to witness and possibly stop the behaviors he was exhibiting. JD’s death fascination started with road kill, escalated to the killing of pets and wildlife, and ultimately led to his first murder two weeks after high school graduation.
While the author would like to stand back and point at the adults as the only one’s to blame, he and his callous friends certainly played a part in Dahmer’s downward spiral. They were never true friends to JD, but let him tag along as a mascot and not an equal. They egged him into pranks and grotesque public displays, and then dropped him when they felt he had gone too far. Dahmer never felt that he could be himself, for he was hiding his homosexuality and sick fantasies, but became a caricature whose shtick got old, and his peers left him behind once again.
Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with the angular and strangely jointed people. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that 70’s era gritty punk vibe right. Derf also did his research to make the story as authentic as he could. When Dahmer’s murders first came to light, he wrote a small comic about him, but years later wanted to do the subject justice. An interesting prologue and sources section detail how the author got his information beyond what he observed, giving more credence to the story.
As a mother, and as someone who works with teens, I ache for bullied youth who are disenfranchised and lonely. There were so many signs that something was wrong with Jeffrey, and not a single adult stepped forward to help him. Most glaringly his parents, but what about teachers or his peers? How could the drinking not be noticed? This disheartening book should serve as a warning to youth and adults alike, to take note and help when you see someone struggling. Was Jeffrey Dahmer so far gone at that stage that no intervention would have helped? We’ll never know because no one did intervene, and his depraved acts went unchecked and he became the monster we heard about in the news.