A powerful, unsettling use of the graphic medium to share a profoundly disturbing story.
If a boy is not born a monster, how does he become one? Though Backderf (Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, 2008) was once an Ohio classmate of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer, he doesn’t try to elicit sympathy for “Jeff.” Yet he walks an emotional tightrope here, for he recognizes that someone—maybe the other kids who laughed at and with him, certainly the adults who should have recognized aberration well beyond tortured adolescence—should have done something. “To you Dahmer was a depraved fiend but to me he was a kid I sat next to in study hall and hung out with in the band room,” writes the author, whose dark narrative proceeds to show how Dahmer’s behavior degenerated from fascination with roadkill and torture of animals to repressed homosexuality and high-school alcoholism to mass murder. It also shows how he was shaken by his parents’ troubled marriage and tempestuous divorce, by his emotionally disturbed mother’s decision to move away and leave her son alone, and by the encouragement of the Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club (with the author a charter member and ringleader) to turn the outcast into a freak show. The more that Dahmer drank to numb his life, the more oblivious adults seemed to be, letting him disappear between the cracks. “It’s my belief that Dahmer didn’t have to wind up a monster, that all those people didn’t have to die horribly, if only the adults in his life hadn’t been so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent,” writes Backderf. “Once Dahmer kills, however—and I can’t stress this enough—my sympathy for him ends.”
An exemplary demonstration of the transformative possibilities of graphic narrative.