This meticulously drawn graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer as a high schooler is a haunting portrait of a disturbed individual in his formative years and it depicts how the environment that he grew up in helped create one of the most notorious serial killers in recent memory.
The author-artist is fellow Dahmer classmate Derf Backderf, who proves how hindsight can be 20/20, recognizing all the disturbing behaviors and situations upon reflection, and after Dahmer's ghastly murders were committed. Derf has pieced together the timeline for the graphic novel with help from Dahmer's father's novel and other records, used recollections from other classmates, and paints a picture of Dahmer that is both shocking and in many ways sympathetic.
If there was ever a playbook for creating or spotting a serial killer Derf shows how Dahmer 'checks all the boxes': a disturbed mind and untreated mental illness, teenage alcoholism, isolated in a small town in an era when school had few rules, dysfunction at home where parents go through a nasty divorce, mother has her own mental health problems, dad is oblivious to his son's issues, Dahmer doesn't fit in at school and is bullied by some of his peers, repressed sexual urges and closeted homosexuality, interest in dead animals and roadkill, collection of animal carcasses, his apathy and lack of emotion. So many warning signs. So little done to step in.
Derf asks at one point 'Where were all the adults?' but he also recognizes that this was a different decade, a different era, and remarks that even his teachers would comment on rolling their own joints, and obviously turned a blind eye to a drunk Dahmer every day. There's also a point where, after Dahmer's first murder, thanks to shoddy police work, he SHOULD have been caught. Today, we have our eyes open to all sorts of new concerns, and schools have zero tolerance for any substance use and keep an eye out for mental health problems and bullying.
This is a tragic tale, but I appreciate that Derf told it the way he did (even with the adolescent ignorance involved) and that the movie adaptation happened. May another horrific set of crimes, or such a troubled individual, never come out of a similar circumstance again.