Monday, October 26, 2015

MEDIAVORE REVIEWS ~ BOOK-LENGTH COMICS



MY FRIEND DAHMER
A Graphic Novel by Derf Backderf

Jeffrey Dahmer has always struck me as an outlier among the grisly menagerie of celebrity serial killers that bubbled up from North America's subconscious and into the world of tabloid television back in the Reagan/Bush era. Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy all seemed unambiguously evil.

There was something different about Dahmer. His obvious relief at being apprehended and his apparently sincere remorse - he had no reason to lie, as he was going to be spending the rest of his life behind bars no matter what - stood in sharp contrast to his aforementioned cohorts, most of whom basked in the Satanic afterglow of their despicable deeds, courting media attention and reveling in their hard earned notoriety.

Enter John “Derf” Backderf, whose semi-autobiographical work has extensively chronicled the middle-American punk rock experience, and whose long-running comic strip “The City” has been a mainstay of metropolitan alt.weeklies for years. Derf’s unique visual flair and his solid storytelling chops would, in and of themselves, be enough to make him a fitting choice to bring the story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s formative years to the printed page, even if it weren’t for the fact that he witnessed those years with his own two eyes.

You see, the title of his book isn’t just some writerly conceit, a flourish of artistic licence. Backderf really was there, in the woody suburbs of Bath, Ohio as, one of the small group of people who counted themselves among Jeffrey Dahmer's "friends". And his wonderful book helps to explain, without ever excusing, how a damaged young boy could turn into a truly tragic monster.

Even the most ardent of serial killer aficionados is bound to find something new, here; some tantalizing new trivia, or insights into the origins of Dahmer’s major malfunction. I won’t do potential future readers the disservice of spoiling any of them. Instead, I will simply offer this endorsement: My Friend Dahmer is a worthy addition to the genre of serial killer lit, and as a graphic novel, it is a major milestone, perhaps one of the decade’s finest.

***



KAFKA 
by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz

Anyone wishing to learn about the life and writing of the massively influential Modernist writer Franz Kafka will find a wonderful guide in this beautifully illustrated, very well researched and engagingly written biography.

Crumb is the undisputed master of the form, and it’s clear that he enjoyed his subject here. He is equally adept at portraying (relatively) mundane incidents from Kafka’s day-to-day routine as he is at vividly bringing to life many of the horrid images from Kafka’s most important works, many of which Mairowitz aptly describes in brief but illuminating capsule summaries.

This is one of those rare works that should appeal to serious Kafka scholars, students looking to bone up on the subject, and newbies who want to get acquainted with the author before delving into his work. 

***



HENRY & GLENN FOREVER & EVER
By Tom Neely and Friends

This second collection of stories about the fictional relationship between hardcore punk/metal icons Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins may be an extended, inside joke, but it’s a great joke, well told - both narratively and visually - in an intriguing variety of ways.

Bringing together all of the second wave of Henry & Glenn Forever mini-comics, the book also features a full color gallery of cover art all done in instantly recognizable comic book styles, and more than half the book is made up of previously unpublished material.

The quality of the artwork varies, of course, but some of the work on display here is truly exceptional. One particularly excellent tale (my favorite in the collection) involves a mythical re-imagining of Danzig’s infamous backstage encounter with an overweight roadie who, after being viciously shoved by Danzig for making an “impertinent” request, knocks the diminutive rocker unconscious with a single punch. This graphic version of that oft-viewed encounter had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down and take a brief break, making it worth the price of admission all on its own.

Not that there aren’t any other good stories here - there are plenty. In fact, the second half of this weighty collection (over 250 pages) is, if anything, superior to the first half; so if you find your interest waning on first read, stick with it. Or hell, just jump right to the stories in the second half if you want; it's not like this is a chronological collection.

Bottom line, if you’re a fan of either Danzig or Rollins, you’ll find plenty here to appreciate, and you’ll be fending off your buddies’ attempts to “borrow” (i.e. steal) the damned thing.


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