Panels From Beyond the Grave #22

Part-time Random Reviews contributor Bob Ignizio (visit his movie blog HERE) steps up to the plate while I recover. Read on!

MY FRIEND DAHMER (Graphic Novel, March 2012)

What makes a man a monster, and is it predestined? Or are there points along the way where some kind of intervention might have led to a different outcome? That's the theme that underlies Cleveland area artist Derf Backderf's My Friend Dahmer. Both entertaining and insightful, this is a rare book where the term “graphic novel”, which I normally find kind of pretentious, actually fits.

Backderf went to Revere High School near Akron, OH with Jeffrey Dahmer, and much of the material in My Friend Dahmer comes from his personal memories. Dahmer's behavior at high school was so unusual, that Derf and his friends formed a “Jeff Dahmer Fan Club.” It would be stretching it to characterize their relationship with the future serial killer as a true friendship, but they were probably the closest thing to friends that Dahmer had. Derf obviously feels a certain amount of compassion for Dahmer, and rightly wonders why no one ever tried to help this obviously troubled young man. But his sympathy for Dahmer ends when he crosses the line and becomes a killer.

Derf has a highly distinctive drawing style that anyone who has seen his strip, “The City,” can instantly recognize. The artwork here is still undeniably by the same guy, but it's far more detailed with some nice moments of purely visual storytelling.

If you're looking for a grisly account of the birth of a serial killer that focuses on the crimes, this is not the book for you. Despite the aura of inevitable doom that hangs over the tale, much of My Friend Dahmer is actually quite funny. It's also a pretty spot-on portrait of life in the suburban 70's, when high school kids still had a designated smoking area and someone like Dahmer could get away with drinking hard liquor on school grounds all day long. It actually reminded me a lot of how things were at my own high school a decade later and a few miles away in Cuyahoga Falls. No serial killers in my graduating class, though (at least that I know of).

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