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For the character in Watchmen, see Characters of Watchmen.
John Backderf
Born 1959
Richfield, Ohio
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist
Notable works
My Friend Dahmer
The City
Awards Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, 2006

Derf and Derf Backderf are the pseudonyms of American artist John Backderf, most famous for the comic strip The City, which appeared in a number of alternative newspapers from 1990 until May 2014. In 2006 Derf won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for cartooning.[1] In 2014, Derf announced that he was discontinuing The City to focus on graphic novels.[2]

The City[edit]

Backderf 's comic strip, The City, has appeared in over 140 publications, mostly free weekly newspapers, since its debut in the now-defunct Cleveland Edition in 1990, including: The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Cleveland Scene, Miami New Times, Houston Press, Pittsburgh City Paper, The Providence Phoenix, and Washington City Paper.

Backderf has been based in Cleveland, Ohio, for much of his career.

My Friend Dahmer and other graphic novels[edit]

My Friend Dahmer is a comic book project first started in 1994, shortly after Jeffrey Dahmer's death in prison. Derf's first Dahmer story appeared in Zero Zero #18 (Fantagraphics, July 1997). Derf then pitched the project as a 100-page graphic novel, but failed to find a publisher. He then self-published a scaled-back 24-page My Friend Dahmer comic book in 2002. The original self-published comic book was nominated for an Eisner Award and was adapted and staged as a one-act play by the NYU Theater Dept.[3] A longer, 224 page version was published March 1, 2012 by Abrams Comic Arts. This final incarnation was nominated for Ignatz, Harvey and Rueben Awards,[4] received an Angoulême Award and was named by Time magazine as one of the Top 5 non-fiction books of 2012.[5]

My Friend Dahmer depicts the author's teenage friendship with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer during his time at Eastview Junior High and Revere High School. Backderf, while not excusing Dahmer's crimes, presents Dahmer as a surprisingly sympathetic kid who was tormented by inner demons and neglected by the adults in his life.[6] The comic recalls Dahmer's isolation, his binge drinking, his bizarre behavior to get attention, and his disturbing fascination with roadkill. Derf and his friends encouraged Dahmer to act out, including fake epileptic fits in the library and his imitation of a person with cerebral palsy. The story follows Dahmer from age 12, when he was a shy, bespectacled kid, right up to the day he kills his first victim a mere two weeks after high school graduation.

Trashed is Derf's first graphic novel, a raucous comic memoir of the year he spent as a garbageman in his rural hometown at age 19. Published in 2002 by SLG Publishing, Trashed was nominated for an Eisner Award. Derf has recently revisited the project as a webcomic on

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks published in 2010 by SLG Publishing, is a 152-page graphic novel set in 1980, during the punk rock heyday in Akron, Ohio, whose vibrant music scene produced such acts as Devo, Chrissie Hynde, the Cramps and so many other acts Melody Maker wrote that Akron was "the new Liverpool." Punk Rock & Trailer Parks is a fictional story that follows one remarkable young man named Otto, who through talent, wits and sheer chutzpah becomes a star in the Rubber City punk scene and has memorable meetings with underground luminaries of the day, including Wendy O. Williams, Stiv Bators, Lester Bangs and The Clash. Punk Rock & Trailer Parks was featured in the 2010 edition of Best American Comics (Houghton Mifflin)


Backderf has contributed to many well-known national publications, including Playboy, The Wall Street Journal and Progressive Magazine. His illustrations have also appeared on posters, T-shirts and CD covers. His art has been compared to Robert Crumb, with his use of black to "project character and menace" praised.[7] Derf cites Crumb as an influence, along with Mad Magazine and Vaughn Bodé. He cites Expressionism as the inspiration for his usage of heavy ink, but feels the major influence on his work is the imagery of punk, a movement Derf immersed himself in during the late 1980s.[7]

His work has been displayed in many galleries and museums both in the United States and abroad. In 1995, he had a large solo show at Altered Image Gallery in Cleveland and in 1999 the Akron Art Museum put on a retrospective of his work, titled "Apocalyptic Giggles: The Industrial Cartoon Humor of Derf." The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at the Ohio State University established a Derf Collection of original art and papers in 2011.[8]

Of his many book projects, his most recent are: The City: The World’s Most Grueling Comic Strip (SLG Publishing, 2003), Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists (NBM, 2002), Trashed (SLG Publishing, 2002) and My Friend Dahmer (Derfcity Comics, 2002). The last two Andrew Arnold of called "The funniest book of the year so far, followed by the creepiest".[9]


He has won over 50 awards for his newspaper work, including a prestigious Bronze Medal from the Society of Newspaper Design. He was a member of the newsroom team for the Akron Beacon Journal that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. In 2006 Derf won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for cartooning.[1] He received the Prix Révélation at the 2014 Angoulême International Comics Festival in France.[10]


  1. ^ a b Gardner, Alan. "John Backderf wins Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award", May 1, 2006, The Daily Cartoonist. Accessed September 24, 2009. Archived from original September 24, 2009.
  2. ^ Backderf, Derf (2014-05-15). "The end of THE CITY". Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  3. ^ Young Jeffrey Dahmer (archived), p. 2
  4. ^ "Ignatz Awards 2012". The Small Press Expo. 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  5. ^ "The Top 10 Everything Of 2012". Time. 4 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Drawing Jeffrey Dahmer, Baltimore City Paper, 5/1/2002
  7. ^ a b Harrison, John. "My Friend Dahmer", Headpress 25: William Burroughs & the Flicker Machine, Headpress, 2003 p.76-9. ISBN 1-900486-26-1
  8. ^ Caitlin McGurk (2012-05-01). "Derf". Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Blog. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  9. ^ Arnold, Andrew (16 April 2002). "Hauling Garbage and Knowing Jeffrey Dahmer". Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Prix révélation (2014-02-02). "Festival BD Angoulême. Notre chronique de "Mon ami Dahmer"" [BD ANGOULÊME FESTIVAL. OUR REVIEW OF "MY FRIEND DAHMER"] (in French). Paris Match. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 

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