What if you went to high school with a serial killer?

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A key component of any high school social circle is the strange friend. For most us, the worst that happens is that “friend” goes on to send the occasional Facebook invite to their embarrassing art installations. For graphic novelist Derf Backderf, that friend went on to become one of the more infamous killers of the late 20th Century.

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Last weekend, Backderf appeared at Dearborn's Green Brain Comics to discuss his adolescent friendship with Jeffery Dahmer and the book it inspired. The capacity crowd was told about My Friend Dahmer's 20-year journey from a series of short stories to a 220-page graphic novel. Combining his own memories with interviews with his former classmates and transcripts of Dahmer's own recollections, Backderf creates a story that gives insight into the origins of a deranged personality without being exploitative.

"I'm not a reporter coming in from the outside, I'm a local kid. Everybody knew me. It was a small town; I had this access that an outsider didn't," the author explained.

As much as the book is about Jeffery Dahmer, it is also about a time and place, specifically, a rural Ohio town during the late ’70s. A time that Backderf describes as "pre-pre-pre Columbine."  A world where someone very troubled would go unnoticed just by virtue of the fact that there wasn't much trouble to notice.

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However, Backderf makes clear in both the book and in person his belief that someone like Jeffery Dahmer is rare.  When asked by an audience member about a rumor that Dahmer came back from an operation in his youth "changed," Backderf offered this:  "How many hernia operations have people had in the world, you know?  How many Jeffery Dahmers are there? One."—Devon Coleman

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