My Friend Dahmer

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My Friend Dahmer
The cover of My Friend Dahmer. Artwork by Derf.
CreatorDerf Backderf
Page count224 pages
PublisherAbrams ComicArts
Preceded byPunk Rock & Trailer Parks
Followed byTrashed

My Friend Dahmer is a 2012 graphic novel and memoir by artist John "Derf" Backderf about his teenage friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer, who later became a serial killer. The book evolved from a 24-page, self-published version by Backderf in 2002.


Shortly after Backderf learned about Dahmer's crimes, he met two of his friends, Mike Kukral and Neil, all of whom had befriended Dahmer in school.[1] With the new information regarding Dahmer's fate, many of his odd behaviors in adolescence seemed to make sense.[1][2] Backderf recorded some of the stories shared in his sketchbook, which would serve as the beginning of My Friend Dahmer.[3][4][5] He started focusing on writing the stories in 1994 following Dahmer's death.[3][5]

Because Backderf worked at Akron Beacon Journal,[3] he also had access to much information about Dahmer's crimes before they became public knowledge, which, combined with his personal history with Dahmer, put him in a perfect situation to shed light on him.[1]

When Backderf initially began creating the comics, he thought of them as a series of mini-comics or as an anthology told from his own perspective.[1] Later, he returned to their high school for a more in-depth, journalistic approach wherein he collected information via interviews and FBI files.[1]

In 1997, My Friend Dahmer was first released in the comic anthology Zero Zero #18 (Fantagraphics, July 1997).[6] Backderf, wanting to write a full-length work, began writing publication proposals using a single chapter; publishers often shied away from the subject matter, fearing the gore associated with Dahmer.[1] Therefore, in 2002, he self-published the work as a 24-page comic.[6][7]

After twenty years of background research, Backderf drafted the full manuscript in two weeks, and publishers became interested in the story.[1] The final, full-length book was published by Abrams Books in 2012.


The novel depicts the author's teenage friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer, who later became an infamous serial killer, during his time at Eastview Junior High and Revere High School. The story follows Dahmer from age 12 up to, but not including, his first murder, two weeks after high school graduation.

Derf, while not excusing or forgiving Dahmer's crimes, presents an empathetic portrait of Dahmer as a lonely young man tormented by inner demons, ridiculed by bullies at school, and neglected by the adults in his life.[8] The graphic novel recalls Dahmer's isolation, his binge drinking, his bizarre behavior to get attention, and his disturbing fascination with roadkill.[7] Backderf and his friends encouraged Dahmer to act out, including faking epileptic seizures in school and the mall and pretending to have cerebral palsy.[9]


One of Backderf's techniques was drawing Dahmer in shadow as a representation of his personality.


The original self-published comic book was adapted and staged as a one-act play by the NYU Theater Department.

In 2017, the novel was adapted into a film directed by Marc Meyers and starring Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 86% rating based on 88 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "My Friend Dahmer opens a window into the making of a serial killer whose conclusions are as empathetic as they are deeply troubling."[10] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[11]



My Friend Dahmer was generally well received by critics, including starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews,[12] Publishers Weekly.[13] Kirkus called the book "[a]n exemplary demonstration of the transformative possibilities of graphic narrative."[12] Publishers Weekly called the writing "impeccably honest" and the story "quietly horrifying."[13]

Multiple reviewers also highlighted the book's art style. Booklist noted, "The blunt, ungainly drawings, with their robotically stiff figures, effectively convey the drab suburban milieu."[14] Time's Lev Grossman pointed out that "[t]he psychedelic wavy highlights Backderf draws on glass are like Proust’s madeleine to anybody who was alive in the 1970’s, and the way Backderf draws people owes a lot to Mad magazine’s Don Martin, ... [whose] characters all have those long, angular heads and exaggeratedly articulated joints."[7]

Library Journal called the book "a thoughtfully terrifying look at unmonitored tendencies and careless interactions combining to forge a serial murderer" and said it "is a real butt-kicker for educators and youth counselors as well as peers of other potential Dahmers."[15]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2012, Publishers Weekly named My Friend Dahmer in their list of the year's top five comics;[16] Lev Grossman, book critic for Time, named it one of his top five nonfiction books of the year;[7] and The A.V. Club named it the year's best nonfiction book.[17]

Awards for My Friend Dahmer
Year Award Result Ref.
2012 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel Nominee [18]
2012 Reuben Award Nominee
2013 American Library Association's (ALA) Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top 10 [19][20]
2013 Alex Awards Winner [21][22]
2013 ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Top 10 [23][24]
2015 ALA's Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Top 10 [25]
2013 Harvey Awards for Best Graphic Album - Original Nominee [26][27]
2014 Angoulême International Comics Festival's Revelation Award Winner [28]


In 2021, My Friend Dahmer was one of 22 books removed from libraries in Texas's Leander Independent School District[29] "as part of an initiative to prohibit "inappropriate" books in their learning institutions."[30] The book was later returned to shelves with the requirement that readers receive counseling regarding its contents.[31][30] When asked why he believed the book was banned, Backderf reiterated that the book does not include violence, sex, or profanity.[30] As such, he believes, "People are objecting to what he became, ... not what I depict in my book."[30] Backderf also disagrees with the requirement that students should receive counseling after reading the book.[30]

The following year, the book was listed among 52 books banned by the Alpine School District following the implementation of Utah law H.B. 374, “Sensitive Materials In Schools."[32]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Arrant, Chris (2012-05-08). "Derf Opens Up About His High School Friend Jeffrey Dahmer in New Graphic Novel". Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  2. ^ Applebaum, Stephen (2018-05-31). "'There was always a darkness about him': My Friend Dahmer author John Backderf on growing up with a serial killer". The Independent. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  3. ^ a b c Warner, Stuart. "Jeffrey Dahmer's Friend Derf: A Q&A About His Classmate the Serial Killer". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  4. ^ Barnett, David (2017-11-12). "In New Film, 'My Friend Dahmer' Author Portrays Serial Killer As Sympathetic Outcast". Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  5. ^ a b Riesman, Abraham. "My Friend Dahmer Author on the Boy Behind the Killer and the Movie Adaptation". Vulture. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  6. ^ a b Soderberg, Brandon (2012-04-30). "My Friend Dahmer". The Comics Journal. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  7. ^ a b c d Grossman, Lev (2012-03-28). "My Friend Dahmer: The Unspeakable Horror of Life in the 1970s". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  8. ^ Newman, Andy (May 1, 2002). "Drawing Jeffrey Dahmer". Boston City Paper. Boston, Massachusetts. Archived from the original on April 6, 2012. Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  9. ^ "Young Jeffrey Dahmer". Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved August 27, 2011., p. 2
  10. ^ "My Friend Dahmer (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  11. ^ "My Friend Dahmer Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  12. ^ a b "My Friend Dahmer". Kirkus Reviews. 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  13. ^ a b "My Friend Dahmer by Derf, Derf Backderf". Publishers Weekly. 2012-01-02. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  14. ^ Flagg, Gordon (2012-03-15). "My Friend Dahmer". Booklist. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  15. ^ Rednour, Douglas (2018-09-01). "My Friend Dahmer". Library Journal. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  16. ^ "Best Books of 2012". Publishers Weekly . Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  17. ^ Murray, Noel (2012-12-31). "The best graphic novels and art comics of 2012". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  18. ^ "Ignatz Awards". Small Press Expo. 2012-10-08. Archived from the original on 2012-10-08. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  19. ^ "My Friend Dahmer | Awards & Grants". 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  20. ^ JFINNEKE (2013-01-30). "Great Graphic Novels Top Ten 2013". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  21. ^ Communications and Marketing Office (2013-01-28). "YALSA announces 2013 Alex Awards". News and Press Center. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  22. ^ JFINNEKE (2014-01-29). "Alex Awards 2013". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  23. ^ "My Friend Dahmer | Awards & Grants". 2013-02-06. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  24. ^ JFINNEKE (2013-01-31). "2013 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  25. ^ O’Connor, Nichole (2015-01-27). "YALSA names 2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". News and Press Center. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  26. ^ "2013 Harvey Awards". Harvey Awards. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  27. ^ Cavna, Michael (July 15, 2013). "2013 HARVEY AWARD NOMS: Chris Ware, 'Saga' among top nominees". The Washington Post. Washington DC: Nash Holdings LLC. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  28. ^ Connors, Joanna (February 4, 2014). "Bill Watterson and Derf Backderf win major awards in France at the biggest comic-con in the world, Angouleme Comics Festival". The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio: Advance Publications. Retrieved October 19, 2018 – via
  29. ^ Yorio, Kara. "As Banned Books Week Approaches, the Fight Against Censorship Intensifies". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  30. ^ a b c d e Bickham, D. R. (2021-12-09). "My Friend Dahmer's Derf Backderf Delves Into Why His Book Was Banned". CBR. Retrieved 2022-08-05.
  31. ^ Girtman, Taylor (2021-03-15). "Leander ISD review underway on 'inappropriate literature' in book clubs". impact. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  32. ^ "Ban on 52 Books in Largest Utah School District is a Worrisome Escalation of Censorship". PEN America. 2022-08-01. Retrieved 2022-08-05.