My Friend Dahmer: from page to screen

John "Derf" Backderf

Sep 25, 2017

Dahmer and his friends looking into the camera with varying facial expressions

As part of the Wex's ongoing partnership with Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, we're proud to present a sold-out screening on September 29 of My Friend Dahmer, filmmaker Marc Meyers' adaptation of the award-winning graphic novel by Ohio State alum John "Derf" Backderf. Currently collecting positive early reviews on the festival circuit, My Friend Dahmer takes an entirely unique and thoughtful approach to the story of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, driven by Derf's memories of being his classmate at Revere High School in the Akron/Cleveland area in the late '70s. The book's a must-read, and as Derf explains below, both the finished novel and the film made from it were a long time coming.

My Friend Dahmer movie still(My Friend Dahmer, image courtesy of FilmRise)

My comics career has been a 35-year-long series of surprises.

Having my book My Friend Dahmer made into a feature film? Yeah, that's near the top of that list.

It wasn't a surprise that a filmmaker was interested in the story, because filmmakers have always been interested. Marc Meyers was the FOURTH to approach me. My Friend Dahmer was a comics project that took me 20 years to finish, and it came out in pieces, with several published fragments along the way. There was enough of the story that circulated to pique the interest of the film industry. Hey, it's a great story, even in its awful early state. The three earlier inquiries were serious ones, but didn't work out, as is normally the case. I had a comics colleague tell me once that films NEVER get made and the best a comics creator can hope for is a book just keeps getting optioned over and over again, along with repeated option checks.

So I wasn't all that optimistic when Marc called me out of the blue, but I dutifully checked out his two earlier films and really liked what I saw. Here was a guy who made quiet, smart films. We had some long conversations, and I decided to take the gamble. And it was a gamble, passing off an intensely personal work to be re-imagined by a filmmaker. It could have been a disaster of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen proportions, but I was comfortable with Mark and believed him when he promised to stay true to the book, which had just been released, was getting great reviews and was my breakthrough work, as I always knew it would be, if I could only convince a publisher to put it out. As I told Marc then, half in jest, hey, the pressure is on YOU to live up to the book! If you blow it, people will just say, oh well, the book is a lot better. In fact, the inscription I wrote on his copy of MFD, when we had our first lengthy face-to-face meeting, was simply “Don't F it up!” Marc tells me he will always treasure that copy.

I'm happy to report he didn't F it up, as you'll all see at this screening at the Wex.

The Wexner hadn't been built yet when I was a student here at Ohio State in the early Eighties, but we had a similar film series in the Ohio Union, one I regularly frequented. The OLD Ohio Union, not the current one (Jesus H. Christ, I'm such a warhorse I've outlived entire buildings at my alma mater!). I never imagined then that I would one day have a film based on my work, as I was sitting in the auditorium with a date watching Eraserhead for the first time. I never dreamed I would ever have a book like My Friend Dahmer either. At the time, I was scribbling bad political cartoons for The Lantern and I thought that was my path. Like I wrote, my career has been chock full of surprises. And Yeah. I took a date to Eraserhead. First date, too! There wasn't a second one. So I'm absolutely thrilled to be bringing the film here, where it all began for me.

It took 20 years to finish my book. It took Marc five years to finish his film. So what the Wex is presenting here is a quarter century of combined effort!