Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Derf! It's me! It's going nuts in the newsroom! There's a big story breaking."
"This guy in Wisconsin killed a bunch of people! He had sex with the corpses... and ate some of them!! Derf, this guy went to Revere! He was in your class!!"
Well... who do you think it was? Guess!"
"Um... no, that isn't it..."
"Yes! Dahmer! Yeah, that's the guy!"
That's right... Dahmer was my second guess...
Before someone becomes a monster, what were they? How did they become something so beyond the comprehension of most normal people without anyone apparently noticing? In retrospect, were there warning signs that were ignored by authority figures like parents and teachers? And by their friends? Written and illustrated by a classmate of Dahmer's who was probably the closest thing he actually had to a friend in high school, this work certainly sheds some light on the peculiar teenage years of the boy who would go on to become America's most infamous mass murderer, but also leaves several questions hanging rather disturbingly unanswered. And indeed perhaps makes you realise they are in the end utterly unanswerable, even to Dahmer himself.
Certainly in the interrogations after his arrest Dahmer was at somewhat of a loss to understand how his life had taken the course it had, whilst also displaying some not inconsiderable regret for his victims. But as to whether it was nature or nurture that him made into a sociopath, that isn't immediately apparent, and perhaps in the end, for Dahmer at least, it almost certainly was a combination of the two. Even from early adolescence his sexual urges included the desire to have sex with corpses, and the lack of virtually any parental engagement, positive or otherwise, meant he was left to grapple with his very considerable inner demons entirely alone.
His social network at high school consisted of those, like the author, who were prepared to tolerate his social awkwardness, which often manifested itself in bizarre mannerisms or verbal absurdities that became known as Dahmerisms and were much copied and repeated as colloquialisms by the author and his friends. In fact Dahmer became almost something of a mascot to them, and whilst not exactly wholly part of their social circle he certainly wasn't excluded.
It was only as Dahmer's demons began to take a deeper and deeper hold and he resorted to drinking massive quantities of alcohol daily, presumably to numb himself and keep his urges in check, that he began to drift away from the author and his friends completely. They were aware of his drinking, but just put it down to Dahmer's incredibly difficult living situation with his warring parents, including his most definitely mentally ill mother. But perhaps because they were also subconsciously aware that there was something just not quite right with him, they never made any effort to reach out to him or offer help. Astonishingly his teachers seem to have been completely unaware of any of what was going on.
This work is the perfect combination of truly fascinating biography of the teenage Dahmer, combined with the unique autobiographical perspective of the creator, whose own insight into the troubled teen makes for uncomfortably gripping reading. The final revelation that the last time the author or any of his friends saw Dahmer, the body of his first victim was probably in the boot of his car that he was driving the particular friend home in, is disconcerting to say the least! Derfbacker's art style, possibly influenced by Robert Crumb a little, may not be to everyone's taste, but I actually thought it helped to get me in the appropriate '70s highschool state of mind. (Actually, Crumb provides the pull quote on the front cover, so perhaps the observation regarding artistic influence is justified.)