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Derf

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

After my positive review’s of Derf Backderf’s books My Friend Dahmer and Trashed,  blogger Richard of From the Long Box, suggested I read Derf’s first book Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. Derf takes us back once again to Ohio during the late 1970’s.

Although fictionalized I believe the main character Otto, also known as The Baron, is a version of the author himself. Otto is a band geek in his senior year of high school, who lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic great uncle. A fan of the emerging punk rock scene, he often heads into nearby Akron to see concerts at The Bank. Told over the course of a school year, we follow Otto as he briefly fronts a punk band himself and interacts with real life singers and bands such as the Ramones, the Plasmatics and Klaus Nomi.

This book was filled to the brim with different plot threads, and at times it veered between the mundane and pathos. In addition to his trips to The Bank, Otto moons over an unrequited love interest, participates in hijinks with his friends against other schoolmates and a pervy teacher, and endures the death of a close friend.  For a self described nerd, he sure got some action, from two very unlikely women. There was a bit too much crammed into this graphic novel, and in future books he tightens his narrative.

Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with people drawn in an unusual caricature-type manner. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that underground comix vibe right. Despite Derf illustrating the comic The City for years, you can tell his style has evolved throughout his three books, as this book has the grittiest look. I’m assuming he slightly adjusted the next two books to make them more appealing to a larger audience.

Although this was my least favorite of Derf’s three books, I still enjoyed the ride. He not only has a distinct voice and art style, he captures the nostalgia and allure of the punk rock scene in an authentic manner. If music helped define your teen years, give this book a read!

-Nancy

Derf has since written an online sequel- you can follow Otto’s further adventures at The Baron of Prospect Ave. The Baron lives on!

Def. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. 2008

Trashed

“An ode to the crap job of all crap jobs” is an excellent introduction to this graphic novel that is equal parts fiction, non-fiction and memoir.

Trashed is written by Derf Backderf who is most famous for knowing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and writing a book about him, My Friend Dahmer. In this book here he too recounts stories of his youth as a trash collector, but fleshed it out to bring it up to date and add facts about the garbage collecting industry. This book about trash is surprisingly good and has a rather timeless feel.

Derf switched the narrative away from himself and writes the story from fictional college drop out JB’s perspective. JB and his friend Mike suffer through an entire year of garbage collecting in their hometown, starting as easily grossed out newbies to being stoic workers in a year’s time. They work with a misfit crew:  their boss who never gives them a moment’s peace, the hipster roommate, the truck driver who is a genius but has no common sense, a creepy racist, along with a few good guys.  Small town politics are shown along with the realities of just getting by in a working class environment. And of course there is the endless supply of garbage that people heedlessly throw out, not thinking of the workers, much less the impact their waste has on the world. Out of sight out of mind.

Interspersed among the narrative are the non-fiction segments that show how trash collection has evolved from medieval times to present day. These sections will really make you pause and think of your own goods consumption and subsequent trash. Its sobering to realize that despite recycling efforts America’s trash is a huge and growing issue. A brief mention is made of how other countries handle their waste in better ecological ways than we do, but going into more depth than that would veer off too far from the narrative.

As I said in my Dahmer review, 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 underground comix vibe right. This subject matter is certainly socially relevant and satirical in nature, with Derf drawing with loving detail the most disgusting parts of the job. Because I read this book after his first, I could not help but compare the two books to each other as his style is very distinctive and the Ohio setting is the same. I kept on expecting a teen aged Dahmer to appear as some of his characters look eerily familiar to how he drew him in the other book.

While this graphic novel may not be a light heartened romp, it is worth a read for its humor and insight into an issue we should be more informed about.

-Nancy

Backderf, Derf. Trashed. 2015.

My Friend Dahmer

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.

-Nancy

MFD
Backderf, Derf. My Friend Dahmer. 2012.

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