Friday 16 March 2012

Swoon Now! My Friend Dahmer

So which new graphic novel has got an eclectic mix of writers such as Robert Crumb, James Ellroy and Alison Bechdale providing effusive cover quotes?  That'll be My Friend Dahmer (Abrams) by pollitical cartoonist Derf Backderf.  

In 1991, in America, Jefferey Dahmer was arrested for the murder of seventeen young men and boys.  In My Friend Dahmer, instead of recounting Dahmer's crimes and unpicking the police case that led to his arrest as is often the case with books about serial killers, Backderf looks at his early life searching for the rot that caused the decay in his character.  The reason Backderf can speak with a certain amount of authority on this topic is that he was friends with Dahmer at junior and high school. 

The underground Comix-style art may not appeal to everyone but Backderf fills each panel with as many clues as he can and his depiction of Dahmer is really quite chilling switching between his regular frozen-faced, emotionless expression to a twisted face of comedic horror for times he would fake epileptic fits.  Every put-down, rebuke and incident of bullying has greater significance and any item or person that catches the attention of his cold eyes becomes a chilling portent. 

There is an impressive level of restraint on show here, not just because Backderf eschews resorting to the drama of grisly crimes, but also because he never loses sight of the fact that this book is about Dahmer rather than about himself - the notes at the back of the book are testament to the extensive research he undertook to fill in the blanks of what he didn't know about Dahmer in the times he wasn't with him.  A rare and utterly compelling book. 

For Backderf's website see here and see here for the first eleven pages on BleedingCool.

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