The story before the story
"Hopefully, the success of My Friend Dahmer as a film will prod comics forward yet another inch."

1 June 2018

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Derf is an American cartoonist and graphic novelist. He was the recipient of a prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for political cartoons in 2006 and an Angoulême Prize for My Friend Dahmer in 2014.

My Friend Dahmer is the true story of my teenage friendship with the strange boy who would become the most depraved serial killer since Jack the Ripper.

If you’re expecting a grisly horror film about necrophilia and cannibalism, that’s not what my story is. This is the story before that story, about a deeply disturbed kid who spiraled into madness while the adults in his life stood by, oblivious or uncaring. In some ways it’s more disturbing than the tale of Dahmer’s crimes, especially since murderous kids like Dahmer keep popping up with depressing regularity here in the States. My Friend Dahmer is a cautionary tale, one that leaves people unnerved and with much to ponder.

When Mark asked me to sign his copy of the book early on, laughing, I simply wrote: “Don’t fuck it up!”

It took me 21 years to finish the graphic novel, which became a runaway critical and commercial success with its release in 2012. Filmmaker Marc Meyers started courting me to option the book right around that time. If it seems a bit reckless to pass off a very personal work like this, well, I can only plead guilty, but my instincts about this project have always been good, probably because I lived with it for so long as it slowly took shape. Those instincts told me, after doing my homework on Mark and viewing his previous work, of course, that he was a filmmaker who would do the book justice. And he did. There are scenes in the film that so accurately portray scenes in my book that I was left with chills. I would put My Friend Dahmer on a short list of the finest comics-to-film adaptations.

Besides, as I told Mark, half in jest, hey, the pressure is all on you! If you make a good film, I win. If you blow it, I still win, because people will say, well, it’s not as good as the book. Has Alan Moore suffered from lousy films adapted from his work? No, he hasn’t. When Mark asked me to sign his copy of the book early on, laughing, I simply wrote: “Don’t fuck it up!”

Comics is so much more than the tiresome superhero fare currently clogging theaters and TV screens. It’s long past time for the general public to wake up to that fact. Hopefully, the success of My Friend Dahmer as a film will prod comics, an art form I love and to which I have devoted my life, forward yet another inch.

My Friend Dahmer is out in UK cinemas from 1 June.