I know, I know--the idea of "graphic novel" and "Jeffrey Dahmer" in combination seems like a queasy choice at best. But My Friend Dahmer isn't graphic in terms of showing what Dahmer did--it's graphic in terms of looking at what might have caused him to become the infamous serial killer.
My Friend Dahmer is a true story, written and illustrated by one of Dahmer's high school classmates. "Friend" is perhaps overstating it, and maybe Backderf (the author) means it sarcastically. Dahmer seemed to have been a loner, and weird--surprised? Didn't think so--with some behavioral twists that made him occasionally a pal to Backderf and his crew. But sensing something not quite right with Dahmer, they kept him at arm's length.
This is such an interesting idea--the "I knew him when". Backderf has done additional background research to try and piece together behind-the-scenes history that he wouldn't have known as a teenager in order to provide more context.
He's also outraged, again and again: "Where were the adults?"
This is certainly a good question, and this is no justification, but in the 1970s, how many adults were paying attention to kids who were weird? He wasn't violent at school (mostly), he didn't threaten anyone. Today that loner status would possibly gain him some attention; certainly his increasing habit of skipping classes and drinking heavily would be noticed and addressed in most cases.
The question Backderf doesn't seem quite brave enough to address is: "Where were the friends?" He doesn't cover up how he and his friends used Dahmer for their amusement and then ignored him when it suited them, but he doesn't go to the next logical step: what if they'd done something? Said something? Asked an adult to pay attention?
I'm not blaming them. This is a horrendously complex and terrifying situation. But if he's going to accuse the adults of not stepping up at a time when the adults wouldn't normally be expected to (and he does note that everyone knew kids who had problems, or whose parents had problems, drinking, beating spouses or kids, etc., and no one talked about it), then he needs to take a harder look at his own role.
Again--I don't know that I would have done any differently.
It's a fascinating and very troubling book, a quick read. Perhaps most troubling: when Backderf's wife calls and says that someone from his high school class has just been accused of being a serial killer, he guesses who it might be--and guesses wrong.