On Apr. 19, author of My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf, visited Bloomsburg University’s campus. Backderf delivered a presentation that detailed his experiences with infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that led to the creation of the novel. He explained his writing and drawing processes as well as all of the hurdles he had to overcome to create the book, which took roughly 20 years to complete. However, he ended up writing a critically acclaimed graphic novel that earned a film adaptation in 2017.
As a fan of true crime, I was eager to attend this presentation. Backderf exceeded my expectations and provided me with a better insight into Jeffrey Dahmer’s story and answered questions I’ve always wondered about.
Backderf knew Dahmer from age 12 up until they graduated high school in a small town in Ohio. Derf and his friends befriended Dahmer in high school and deemed themselves “The Dahmer Fan Club.” The friends would often act aloof together and perform all sorts of antics.
Backderf recounted how many have said that small town in Ohio isn’t exactly where you would expect a serial killer to develop, but refutes this by asking, “what is a right placee?” One of the most intriguing aspects of the presentation was hearing a firsthand account of experiences with Dahmer. It’s one thing to read it in a book or see it in a movie, but hearing it in person was an entirely different experience.
This presentation showed me that it doesn’t take a troubled upbringing or bullying to create a criminal. Not everyone has a dark backstory; some people are just simply born that way.
In fact, Backderf said that the conception that Dahmer was bullied a lot in school is false. He said Dahmer was not a scrawny guy and the thought of bullying him or pushing him around seemed intimidating, even without knowing what he would later do.
Backderf recalled that he was shocked when he found out about Dahmer’s crimes. In high school, Dahmer did a lot of things that were bizarre, but many people dismissed it as a teenage boy being weird. They had no idea what was actually going on in Dahmer’s head.
One of the creepiest stories Backderf told was when he said his friend threw a party a few weeks after their high school graduation. The friend who was throwing the party lived down the street from Dahmer. Around the same time the party was occurring, Dahmer was dismembering the body of his first victim.
Someone asked the question of if Dahmer’s parents’ divorce contributed to his spiraling out of control, to which Backderf replied that he is not a psychologist but it could have played a role in a way we might not think about. He said that the divorcing of Dahmer’s parents definitely allowed him to get away with a lot of things that probably were red flags because they were distracted. But, he added that lots of people have tough home lives that don’t go out and kill people.
It was also interesting to learn about the production of the movie and hear about how the movie was made. Backderf said that the movie was filmed in the actual town he and Dahmer grew up together in. The road Dahmer is seen walking down in the movie is the actual road Dahmer lived on and the road from the opening scene of the novel. Dahmer’s house in the film is his actual childhood home, which Backderf said led to a very solemn set. The film does an excellent job of bringing the graphic novel to the big screen.
All in all, I am extremely glad I chose to attend this presentation. It was very insightful and allows you to hear Dahmer’s story from a different perspective, a narrative that not many people are familiar with.