By Derf Backderf
Obviously, comics about notorious serial killers have to tread carefully with utmost sensitivity for such a gruesome subject. It helps to have a personal connection, like how Jensen’s father was one of the lead detectives investigating the Green River Killer case that lead to the (very) eventual capture of Gary Ridgway, and how Backderf was a high school classmate and one-time “friend” of Jeffrey Dahmer. It also helps that both these comics were well-researched, well-written and nicely illustrated – gripping without being too sensational, and thoughtful without being too indulgently maudlin.
Both comics make a point of exploring how Ridgway and Dahmer tried to stop or control their dark compulsions. Ridgway would put rocks inside his victims bodies so he would not be compelled to go back to their corpses. Dahmer became a hardcore alcoholic by the time he graduated from high school in a desperate effort to dull his increasingly powerful urges. This is not to excuse their crimes but more to provide some modicum of humanity as Ridgway and Dahmer struggle vainly to battle their own monsters.
Like most people, I’m mildly fascinated about serial killers. It’s not just about the horrific crimes they committed, but because I’m so freaking normal, I can’t help but wonder how they got that way. My Friend Dahmer makes a notable attempt to understand how a sad and lonely teenager who grew up in a bucolic 1970’s suburb became one of the most infamous serial killers in history. And frankly, Backderf’s graphic novel satisfied this morbid fascination of mine.