My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer
   
Between 1978 and 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer murdered seventeen people, all male adults and teens. His crimes were horrific and gruesome, and they shocked and saddened a nation. Why had this been allowed to happen and why did it take so long for him to be caught? And, as with any mass murderer, the public wondered what had, if anything, happened to Jeffrey as a young man to turn him into this horrific monster. Many wondered what could have been done to stop him; many wondered what kind of childhood he must have had. As Jeffrey began to speak, to the media and to law enforcement, he told a story of a childhood and young adulthood that might have mirrored others, one that included nonexistent parents who were too busy with their own hatred of each other to pay him notice, alcohol abuse, an invisible life in high school even though he was surrounded by others. Author and artist Derf Backderf was one of those who surrounded Jeffrey. Derf was a high school classmate of Jeffrey’s who populated much of the same space during their time at Revere High School. He has written a memoir of his recollections of this time in his updated and fully realized new graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer. Readers will follow Dahmer’s time in high school through the eyes of his sometime friend and acquaintance and wonder what, exactly, went wrong and why there was no one there to stop his burgeoning madness.

Jeffrey Dahmer lived in rural Bath, Ohio, a town outside of Akron. Derf met Jeffrey in seventh grade at Eastview Junior High. When it was time for high school they both moved up to Revere High School where they were acquaintances and occasional, albeit removed, friends. As much as this story is about Jeffrey and his descent into madness, it’s also a tale of the 1970s and growing up in a time of uncertainty. Derf and his friends were on a course of extreme possibilities, their whole lives in front of them. They felt they could make their dreams into reality. And as much as their futures were wide open, Jeffrey’s couldn’t have been more constrained and painful. He grew up with parents who were extremely verbally abusive to each other in front of their sons (they eventually divorced and deserted Jeffrey as a young man). As his inner demons continued to grow, Jeffrey became increasingly strange, drinking heavily to the point of self-annihilation, the only way to keep up the façade of a seemingly normal life. But, inside, the voices and desires grew so loud that his life soon turned into a hell on Earth.

Derf wonderfully tells a story so heavy and dark, yet engaging, that readers will eventually feel as though they are the ones living the story in those early years in Dahmer’s life. Derf’s impeccable research and memory lends to the story the feeling of truth and earnestness that transcends other works on Dahmer’s life. This isn’t a trashy tabloid account of a mass murderer, this is a story coming from a person who now, with many years spent in between, wonders what, if anything, could have been done to stop the rampage that Jeffrey later embarked upon. It’s weird to say this is a wonderful story because of the devastation and sadness that readers know will start after the final page, but it is just that – engaging and devastating.

Derf’s illustrations really make the story, though. His crisp black and white line drawings are so detailed and so precise that the story and illustrations truly complement each other. Because of the exquisite illustrations, readers are brought into the world of Jeffrey and Derf which makes it so affecting for the reader. Thanks to the fact that the only colors used are black and white, some of the more gruesome scenes, mainly those showing the after effects of Jeffrey’s obsession with roadkill and dismemberment of such, are not sensational and do not distract from the story; in other words, the gross out factor is muted, as much as it can be. Derf also provides extensive notes on his research in the back of the book. These pages are full of information that further clarifies the story and references exact page numbers for readers.

This is a story that would be best suited for older teens and adults, obviously due to the subject matter of the story, but also because for readers to truly be sucked in by the story, they have to know Jeffrey Dahmer and what he later became. Because we know who he is, this makes the story that much more powerful and disturbing. This story is difficult to read, and it will definitely stay with readers long after they’ve put the book down. Derf Backderf has created a graphic memoir that will set the standard for others in the years to come.

My Friend Dahmer
by Derf Backderf
ISBN: 9781419702174
Abrams ComicArts, 2012

Lovers’ Lane: the Hall-Mills Mystery (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)

Lovers-Lane
     
Well, Rick Geary has done it again. My favorite teller and illustrator of true crime stories has entered another yarn into his A Treasury of XXth Century Murder series and this one is definitely a doozy. On Saturday, September 16, 1922, a young amorous couple walked down a popular Lovers’ Lane around the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hoping to find a nice place to smooch, they instead found something much more sinister – two dead bodies right there in the open. Get ready to get sucked into Rick’s spectacular tale of love, deceit, murder, and witnesses galore in the newest book in his Eisner Award winning series. You won’t want to put down Lovers’ Lane: the Hall-Mills Mystery until the shocking, and somewhat anti-climactic (not in a bad way), end!

This story of murder and deceit only exists because of two lonely people – Edward Wheeler Hall and Eleanor Reinhardt Mills. Both adults were in seemingly loveless marriages – Edward to the heiress of the Johnson & Johnson fortune and Eleanor to James, a man of limited intelligence and limited in his ability to display any romantic feelings towards his wife. Eleanor threw herself into life at her church, the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, of which Edward (dun, dun, dun) was the Reverend. As the two became friends, and Eleanor started spending more and more of her time there, their relationship turned from friendly to romantic, with most of the small town noticing and gossiping about it at length. Things had come to a breaking point, with both parties agreed that something must change in their relationship for it to survive. Little did they know that that something would be murder!

Eleanor and Edward were found that Saturday morning posed with their love letters strewn about them. Does this mean their killer knew them and was taking revenge? The way Eleanor was killed, especially considering the information discovered after the second autopsy, seemed to suggest it was a crime of anger or jealousy perpetrated upon two trysting adulterers. Yet many other theories emerge, as is customary with the stories Rick chooses to bring to life, which throw the reader into a questioning tailspin – was it the jealous wife? The jealous husband? Some random drunk passerby? The KKK? All and nothing will be revealed by the final page and readers will spend time after the book has been closed ruminating on what might have really happened.

As usual, any book in Geary’s Murder series (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder and A Treasury of Victorian Murder) is perfect, not only for teens and adults interested in true crime, but also those interested in historical stories or mysteries. I can’t say it enough — Geary really does a great job researching his stories, providing all the angles for readers, as well as providing wonderfully drawn illustrations and maps for the reader to peruse.

Geary’s perfectly flawless black and white line drawings complement the complex and overwhelming stories, providing clear and concise pictures to really bring the story to life. Each panel provides a great amount of information, through both the words and drawings, in a way that won’t overwhelm the reader. Geary’s stories are never cut and dried and I appreciate having information presented to me both through words and pictures. I have recommended many of Geary’s books to readers who are researching a specific event and those who might be thrown by the idea of a graphic novel being well researched, important additions to the record of the crime quickly have their minds changed after reading one of Geary’s great tomes. This is another great addition to his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series and I can’t wait until the next installment!

Lovers’ Lane: the Hall-Mills Mystery (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781561636280
NBM/ComicsLit, 2012

The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)

Sacco-and-Vanzetti
     
April 15, 1920 in South Braintree, Massachusetts, started off like any other day – people walking the streets, fixing cars, and, for the employees of The Slater and Morrill Shoe Factory, it was payday. Unfortunately, there had been quite a few robberies in the area, but that didn’t stop the delivery of the payroll envelopes full of cash – approximately $15,000 in cash – to the other building that Slater and Morrill used in their business. That day, the two gentlemen who were carrying the boxes full of cash were suddenly ambushed, shot and killed in front of dozens of witnesses right out in the middle of the road. The murderers escaped and two innocent men died that day. In this new edition in his Eisner Award Winning series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, Rick Geary once again writes a tale of intrigue, murder, suspense, and possibly wrongful execution.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were both born and raised in Italy, with only a 2 year age difference between them. Around the same time, they separately moved to America for a better life, and soon found themselves sympathizing with the Socialist Movement of the day due to their work in many different factories. They also expressed their interest in the local Anarchist movement that had sprung up around the Boston area in 1917. They were hard workers, although with their leftish leanings, were starting to show up on the Government’s radar. The night of the murders, they were picked up by police for acting suspicious on a streetcar; their lives would never be the same again.

Over the course of seven years, Sacco and Vanzetti were tried and ultimately executed for the murder of the two men in Massachusetts. However, during the time of their trial right up to today, there have been lingering doubts of their guilt. What of the judge who vowed to send them to their deaths regardless of the evidence exonerating them, the numerous eyewitnesses who recanted their identification of the two men, the idea that they were being railroaded because of their associations with the Socialist and Anarchist movements of the day? All of these things were pushed aside or forgotten in order to bring a guilty verdict to both of them. Yet, it has been concluded that the fatal bullet came from a gun of Sacco’s – were they innocent, guilty or a little of both? The story is fascinating and intriguing and will hold a reader’s attention right up to the bitter end. Any book in Geary’s Murder series (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder or A Treasury of Victorian Murder) would be a great read for any teen or adult interested in historical fiction or true crime stories. His books are always meticulously researched and reported and his writing style is never dry – always lively and engaging.

Like other books in this wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated series, Rick Geary brings readers a story that they think they already know, but they soon realize they knew much less than they realized. Mistaken identity, false imprisonment, doubt on both sides fill all of Rick’s stories to the point that the reader realizes that maybe they never really can know what truly happened. Rick’s style of illustration are what some might call simple black and white line drawings, but they are anything but simple. His ability to purely show maps, interiors and people is a gift that goes perfectly with his matter of fact way of writing. If the illustrations were garish or even colorful, they would take away from the story at hand; the story and illustrations work perfectly together, complimenting each other and allowing the story to move forward without any one piece overshadowing another. Another great true crime story by Rick Geary!

The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781561636228
NBM/Comicslit, 2011

The Murder of King Tut

Tutankhamen captured the hearts and minds of the Western world in a way no other Egyptian pharaoh has. Since Howard Carter’s discovery of Tut’s undisturbed tomb in 1922, people have marveled at the wonders it revealed. But there were many unanswered questions about both Tut’s life and his death, most brought to light because of the attempts by Tut’s successors to wipe him from the historical record. This graphic novel adaptation of James Patterson’s nonfiction book tells the story of Tut’s life and of Carter’s amazing discovery.

The main problem with this adaptation of Patterson’s book is that it gives too little information, a fatal error for a nonfiction work. The story begins abruptly in Ancient Egypt with Tut’s grandfather, though it takes some time for readers to realize that is who the dying pharaoh is. Without character guides, background notes, a summary of events, or other such explanatory material, the reader must already possess a good knowledge of Ancient Egyptian history in order to follow the story….

This review was originally posted at Good Comics for Kids. Please visit the original post to see the rest of the review.

The Murder of King Tut
Author: James Patterson; Adaptation: Alexander Irvine; Art: Ron Randall & Christopher Mitten
ISBN: 9781600107801
IDW, 2010

Jack the Ripper

I will admit to a fascination with Jack the Ripper. Apparently like a good chunk of the American public, I am intrigued as to what causes such great evil to manifest in certain men and women, and all of the stories, from the suave Republican Ted Bundy to everyone’s favorite fictional cannibal Hannibal, begin with the Whitechapel murders. The string of murders which have continued to puzzle criminal experts since the 1880s remain sensational, and the various speculations on the identity of this first icon of serial killers are often the most intriguing, if often ridiculous, tales of all. Rick Geary has a series of titles, dubbed A Treasury of Victorian Murder, which each examine a particular case of the time, from the Ripper to accused murderess Lizzie Borden. This volume is presented as journal following the case as it happened, obviously of a gentleman of the upper classes given his access to the crimes and their details, and Geary does an excellent job of presenting the case, the players, and the suspects without ever speculating on the killer’s true identity. The artwork is suitably dark and strong, its woodcut style giving every image an almost physical weight on the page. Though graphic enough to transmit the severity and violence of the crimes, the art is never ghoulish in its portrayal of the victims. An admirable addition to Jack the Ripper titles, certain to delight young investigators and those in search of a good, chilling tale.

Jack the Ripper
ISBN: 9781561633081
by Rick Geary
NBM Publishing 2008 (new edition)