When Ohio native Derf Backderf promotes his new graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, he’s asked the obvious question — what was Jeffrey Dahmer like?
Derf, the cartoonist behind the well-known and nationally syndicated comic “The City,” attended Revere High School in Bath with the infamous serial killer, and he knew Dahmer before he became a household name.
But people attending Derf’s talk tonight at 7 at shouldn’t expect to hear about Dahmer’s cannibalism or his penchant for keeping body parts in the fridge.
“The talk is more about making the book then it is about Dahmer himself, because I like to talk about making comics. Talking about Dahmer is not something I’m that crazy about. What was he like? Go read the book,” Derf said.
Derf said he’s been working on a story about Dahmer off and on for 20 years.
“I wanted to tell this story my way … it just fell from the sky and dropped in my lap, and how could I not?”
He first wrote a 100-page version of the story in 1998. And in 2002, he self-published a 24-page comic book “to try to drum up interest in the story. That didn’t happen, but to my surprise, the comic became a cult classic almost instantly,” he said.
“It was always the plan to make a graphic novel, but I just wasn’t really able to get anyone interested up until recently … This one, finally, I was able to sell. It’s been everything I’ve hoped it would be — a big critical hit and it’s selling like crazy.”
Derf researched the topic extensively — he interviewed his friends, reviewed transcripts of those who interviewed Dahmer, and scoured FBI records and police reports. Derf has a degree in journalism and worked for a paper in Florida, the Akron Beacon Journal and The Plain Dealer.
“There’s been a lot written about his young life, but a lot of it is inaccurate … I wanted to chart what exactly happened,” he said. “A lot of this stuff no one but me and my friends knew.”
Dahmer’s early life is what intrigues Derf.
“People are just fascinated with this guy for reasons I don’t entirely understand,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the time we spent together. His story after he starts to kill doesn’t interest me at all … I don’t think I could recount his story after he starts killing. He just becomes another boring serial killer to me. I am interested in that spiral down because I was a part of it.”
He wasn't Dahmer's best friend, but they were school friends, Derf recalls. Dahmer’s behavior at first amused Derf and his buddies.
They ultimately pushed Dahmer away after his antics became too “alarming and disturbing.” But Derf said he never imagined Dahmer would commit the crimes he did. And that's not what the graphic novel is about.
It's “the story before the story that everybody knows.”
To hear Derf speak about My Friend Dahmer at 7 p.m. today at the Coventry Village Library, register here. The talk is part of the library's Cedar-Coventry Author Series.
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