Friday, August 26, 2016

About the film

OK. Apparently this needs to be said again. I’ll post this here so I don’t have to repeatedly state this. Any media can feel free to pick up any of these quotes. I've no real interest in being interviewed about all this again. I'm currently promoting my latest book, Trashed, and working on my 4th and 5th books. I'm looking forward, not in the rearview mirror.
With the film in production and getting press, some of the tired charges of “exploitation” are flying around again, mostly from the usual parties: tv news and other mainstream media and from tongue-cluckers who haven’t read the book and have no intention of ever reading it.
My Friend Dahmer was released in 2012. Twenty-one years after Dahmer was arrested, 19 years after he was killed. There have been four feature films made about him, one starring Jeremy Renner, the action film hero. There have been hundreds of books written about Dahmer. Dozens of tv biopics. Thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. There’s a line of Jeffrey Dahmer trading cards. Katy Perry has sung about him. There are three death metal tribute albums. There are two Jeffrey Dahmer action figures. He’s been a character in South Park, and on Saturday Night Live. And a thoughtful memoir is somehow “exploitive”? Yeah. OK. Sure.

So why did I make the book? I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do. And this story dropped from the sky and fell in my lap. 

Mine was also a story that hadn’t been told. Most concentrate on his infamous crimes. My book isn’t about those crimes. It’s the story before that story. It ends when he kills his first victim. There’s no violence, no depictions of deviant sex, heck there aren’t even any swear words! My story is that of a sad, dysfunctional boy who falls between the cracks, and his inexorable march to the edge of the edge of the abyss as an uncaring adult world stands by and watches with disinterest. It’s a story with value. It’s a story worth telling. It’s also MY story. I was a part of it and I have EVERY right to tell it.

My Friend Dahmer is in its 15th US printing. It’s been translated into six languages. It’s been universally lauded by critics here and abroad. Lev Grossman, the book critic of Time magazine, named it one of the five best non-fiction books (ALL books) of 2012. It won a prestigious Alex Award from the American Library Association, and was placed on the 100 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time list by the same organization.  It was awarded an Angoulême Prize in France, the Cannes Film Festival of comics, along with three other European book prizes. It’s taught in many, many high school and college lit classes, both here and in Europe. Think it’s tacky or exploitive? That question has long been answered, and you’re on the wrong side of it. 

I have nothing to apologize for. My story isn’t about Dahmer’s crimes, and it’s not about his victims. The only murder that is touched upon (and it doesn’t occur “on camera”) is that of his first, 19-year-old Stephen Hicks, a local kid who was just trying to get home. I’m haunted by Stephen, because his grisly fate was so random, because my friends and I were so close to the murder, mere yards away at some points, and because he was so like dozens of kids that I knew at Revere High School. The other 16 victims aren’t in this story at all. In fact, the book ends nine years before he kills his first victim in Milwaukee. Mine is a melancholy tale, full of regret and, yes, a little anger. 

So why a comic book? Why didn’t I write a “real” book? I, of course, reject that question out of hand. Comics are my storytelling medium and I think I'm pretty good at it. How else was I going to tell it? If I was a poet, I would have written a poem. That question also implies comics are a junk artform, unworthy of such a story, which is a small-minded American thing, from ignorant people who don’t understand what a wonderful storytelling form this is. This isn’t Jughead here. Comics have won Pulitzers and been nominated for National Book Awards. 

Why allow it to adapted into a film? 

I made the book I wanted to make. A film only enhances the book, and perhaps leads more people to pick it up who wouldn’t otherwise. That helps me from a commercial standpoint, sure. I’m not going to apologize for making a living. I’m a professional, and have been for 33 years. I also want people to read this story, because I think it has value. With every mass shooter or guy who kills his family, I see the same things I saw with Jeff. The same missed signs, the same lack of intervention. There are lessons in My Friend Dahmer, ones we as a society seem to have no interest in learning, true, but I hold out hope. 

My Friend Dahmer, at its heart, is a story about failure. EVERYbody fails. His parents, his teachers, the school administrators, his friends, and Jeff himself, who fails about as spectacularly as someone CAN fail. The result of that across-the-board failure is a pile of bodies and thousands who mourn his 17 victims. I’m sure those thousands don’t like this book. I get that. Not only because it deals with a man who caused them so much pain, but, frankly, because it humanizes him, and that’s not something they want to see. 

But that, too, has value, in my opinion. It’s easy to write off someone like Dahmer as a just a monster. And he certainly was. But not always. At one point in his life, he was just a sad, lonely boy struggling against a welling madness. To label him nothing but a monster absolves everyone else in this story of any responsibility, because he was ALWAYS a monster, and what he did was inevitable. Nothing could have been done. Well, I don’t believe that. Mistakes were made. MANY mistakes.

Filmmaker Marc Meyers wasn’t the first to approach me. I had turned down several offers previously, from filmmakers who I didn’t think would stay true to the story. I watched Marc’s first film, Harvest” which won the top prize at the Cleveland Film Festival, and I saw a talented director who made made quiet, smart films for adults. I decided to give him a chance. There’s risk involved in any endeavor like this. I’m passing off a very personal, very finely crafted story to another artist to interpret in his own way. I’m sure there will be things I like, and things I don’t and things I disagree with completely. Heck, we’ve ALREADY had those disagreements. But if he makes a good film, and I’m confident he will, it will only enhance the book. If he boots it, well, people will say “damn, this is nowhere near as good as the book.” I essentially have nothing to lose, and much to gain. The pressure, which I frequently remind him, is on him.

People who think I’m doing this just to cash in, well, they are clueless about the economics of independent film. I’m not partnering with Joss Whedon here! I made a little money, and I won’t apologize for that, but my motivation is to spread the story to new audiences and to sell more books. Period.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Buying Punk Rock & Trailer Parks

I've been getting a lot of inquiries about where to purchase copies of Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, my first book (from 2010), especially as its follow-up, The Baron of Prospect Ave. webcomic picks up steam this summer. You can read that HERE

Unfortunately, SLG Publishing, the publisher of PR&TP, really isn't in the comics game anymore. It was the victim of the corporate conspiracy between Diamond and the big comics companies to force smaller companies' books right off the racks and out of mainstream comic book shops. It sucks, but that's the way it is.

SLG now only re-supplies Amazon. They don't sell copies in their online SLG Store anymore, and bookstores can't get it wholesale either. So it;'s Amazon or nothing. The 1st edition is gone. It started selling briskly after My Friend Dahmer and then, alas, a roof leak at the SLG warehouse destroyed the remaining copies. But a nice 2nd edition has been printed, with much better paper, and the horrendously bad trim has been fixed. Trust me, you're better of with the 2nd edition. Buy it HERE

Comixology also offers a sweet digital version. Buy it HERE

Now, French readers will have no problems getting a copy. Punk Rock et Mobile Homes is, I'm told, still selling briskly and remains in print from the fine folks at 
Editions çà et là, with additional printings scheduled. Pick up a copy at your favorite BD Librarie.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Eisner Award speech!

Finally got a copy of this. here's the acceptance speech I wrote about in the lengthy Comic-con blog post below. I can not-so-humbly report that it brought the house down at the ceremony. The rest of the weekend, I was congratulated more for this speech than for the Eisner!

Excuse the shaky hand of my editor, who was filming this with his phone. It gets steadier as it goes along, so no barf bag will be required.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hot Damn, That Looks Good!

Comic-con Notes

Processing my first San Diego 

I’ve avoided this con for years, despite the entreaties of pals like Shannon Wheeler and Keith Knight and a few others, all of whom have attended every year for the bulk of their respective careers. My experiences with mainstream cons have not been good ones. Creators like me are ignored by the superdude crowd and usually shunted off by con organizers to some indy comix gulag in a corner of the venue, next to the aged Playboy Playmates signing copies of their pinups for sweaty middle-aged fanboys. Mainstream cons are crowded, noisy and corporate. The rep of San Diego is that it’s all of those things in abundance, and what was once a celebration of comics has now been hijacked by Hollywood as a showcase for tv and movie franchises. By the time I had the resources and rep to come to San Diego, this transformation had already taken place. I missed the window, I thought. But I got the invite to be a special guest, all expenses paid, and I was up for an Eisner Award, so I figured, hell, why not?

I’m glad I did. What a week!

With Sergio Aragonės

My favorite cosplayer. Genius!

With Chester Brown.

The Hollywood area in the center of the convention hall boasts massive displays of various tv and movie franchises, as well as the Big Three.

With Gilbert Hernandez.

First off, I was wrong about Comic-con. It is still very much about comics. Yes, there are giant displays for Star Wars and the Walking Dead in the “Hollywood section” of the vast convention hall, but there are comics everywhere. Artist Alley is the usual array of mainstream comics wannabees and old pros, but there is a large Small Press section full of SPX types and a large presence by publishers of fine comics, like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and my very own Abrams Comicarts. The panel schedule is packed with sessions on comics. The big reveals in the massive Hall H get all the press– all the mainstream press, I might add– but it almost feels like this is a separate convention altogether, since it’s sealed off from the main venue. Everywhere I went, I encountered fellow creators like Chester Brown, Hope Larsen, Gilbert Hernandez and Nate Powell. We were very much welcome and had plenty of fans lined up to buy our books. It’s not the uplifting experience of an SPX or TCAF, but I was resigned to an soul-sucking experience like New York Comic-con with its crazy I-can’t-breathe crowds and explosions and blaring music and superdudes über alles. I was pleasantly surprised.

There was also a large back-issue dealer area. This, of course, was once the only reason for cons. It’s the only reason I went to them, from my very first con in an empty storefront on the near westside of Cleveland when I was 13. Speaking of that particular con, that’s where I picked up a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 for $20! Ditko Spider-mans were my passion and that book is the Holy Grail. I could have grabbed a higher grade copy of Spider-man #1, but it was $35. I only had $40, and it took me months to save up that much, on the paltry wages my Old Man paid for mowing the lawn. So that would have blown my wad. I had a couple other books on my want list, so I opted for the cheaper AF #15 and still had the cash for a copy of Human Torch #13 (I wanted a Golden Age war comic and that was a great one with the Torch roasting Nazis alive) and New Gods #1, my favorite title, which was impossible to find as the dealers had cleaned out the loading docks at the distributors and copies never made it to the spinner racks. Never did score a Spidey #1, as the price shot up the next year to unaffordable highs, and kept going. That AF #15 was stolen from my room a few years later, along with nice copies of Golden Age Capt. America Comics #13 and X-men #94. A thief, likely one of my brother’s stoner friends, who sure knew what he was doing. So imagine my groan of dismay when I saw the price tag on THIS copy of AF #15 (above) in San Diego. It’s about in the same condition as mine was. Throw in the other two books, and that stoner motherfucker pinched about $30,000 from me. He probably traded them all for a couple bags of weed, too. 

Me and my boyhood comix dealer, Terry Stroud

I dug through some bins, but didn’t find much. It’s all horrifically overpriced. Who pays price guide for books anymore? And dealers remain… well… dealers. Being in that business just has to suck all the joy out of comics, which is sad, since most entered the field because they were fans. There were a couple friendly ones, most who were all business and a few who had axel grease dripping from every pore. The exception… and one of the nicer surprises of the week… was Terry Stroud. I started buying off Terry and his American Comic Book Co. when I was a teenager in the Seventies! He was one of the guys who took out small ads in the back of Marvel and DC comics. Send him $1 and he’d send you a large catalog. I ordered tons of books off him then, and again in the Nineties as I rebuilt a collection of favorite titles, when I discovered he was still at it and advertising in the The Buyer’s Guide. He was old school. No website, no email. Just a PO box. Send in a money order and a list of alternate picks in case the first selections were already sold. But his books offerings were great, always undergraded and reasonably priced. Then one day in the late Nineties, I sent in a large order and the letter came back as undeliverable. I tried again and the same thing happened. He had obviously closed up shop. I stuck exclusively to eBay after that. He was my last connection to the comics of my youth.  So to stumble across him here, with piles of boxes haphazardly stacked in a cramped booth, just like his catalogs, I almost burst into tears! He’s retired and just cleaning out his warehouse now, exclusively at California shows. I bought a few treasures off him, but I didn’t see a lot of traffic at his booth, sandwiched as it was between large dealers with large wall displays of slabbed investment copies. However, the only other customer at the time was none other than underground great Denis Kitchen, who snapped this photo of me and Terry! So obviously the customers were discerning ones. 

The view from my hotel room! Yeah, that's the stuff.

The con itself treated me like royalty. All expenses paid, as I mentioned, a posh $700-a-night hotel room and they even assigned me my own private Man Friday, who followed me around and made sure I made it to all my panels and signing sessions. 
I didn’t table, so I was free to wander around and check out the whole thing. I was stunned how many fans recognized me. The badges are large, but are covered mostly with a Walking Dead ad. My name is unreadable from farther than a foot, so people knew me from my mug, which has certainly become distinctive in my advancing decrepitude, a cross between Joey Ramone and Herman Munster.
  People came up to me throughout the week just to tell me how much they like my stuff. I even had a few who followed me from The City days, when my strip ran in the San Diego and LA weeklies. That’s always nice, since you never really had a sense anyone was reading back in the days before social media. And to run into comics legends like Matt Groening or Chester Brown and have them say “Oh wow, nice to finally meet you.” when I was expecting blank stares, that was the best surprise of all.


The highlight of the con was, of course, the Eisner Awards.  The host was John Barrowman, of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame. His schtick was that of a gay Borcht Belt comic, with one lame dick joke after another. And he babbled on mostly about Superdude Comics, even though, for the second straight year, Superdude Comics were hardly represented in the nominations. Talk about not knowing your audience! Marvel didn’t even buy a table for the ceremony.  Took their ball and stomped home.

Barrowman’s opening monologue was mercifully short and my category was the first one up. I was nominated, for Best Lettering, but didn’t expect to win. That’s always the best attitude to have, I’ve found, at awards ceremonies. Lessens the disappointment and enhances the elation. Best Lettering isn’t exactly a showcase category, but it’s a pretty cool one, and unique to comics. No other art form, after all, draws sound effects. Besides, I’ve been nominated in bigger categories and never won. I thought I have a chance with this one, especially since, dammit, the lettering in Trashed DOES rule. But when my name was called, I could only shake my head and laugh as my editor patted me furiously on the back and a roar went up from colleague pals.

I have to say, walking up on that stage to finally have one of those little statues handed to me, after 35 years as a comics pro, a grizzled warhorse of 56 years, is on my short list of career highlights. My acceptance speech, told with hand-lettered cue cards, frankly, brought the house down. I prepared this a couple weeks ago after a flash of inspiration. The ceremony is a long and tedious affair and there’s lots of butthurt and grumbling. I decided to embrace the love of comics–  which is what it’s all about, right?–  to counter all that. It was the correct move, judging from the reaction. The rest of the evening, both colleagues and fans alike were congratulating me more for that speech than for the Eisner! “Dude, you set the bar for all  future “Best Lettering” acceptance speeches!” Matt Groening told me.

Me, Lynda Barry and Matt Groening. I wore my lucky Ramones shirt!

Speaking of Matt, he and Lynda Barry, the pair that virtually created the alt-weekly comics genre where I first found some success, were both inducted into the Hall of Fame together, which is fitting, since they are lifelong friends and emerged as comics forces hand in hand. After the ceremony all the winners clustered together for a group photo and I was able to tell thank both, at the same time, for showing me the way. They looked somewhat embarrassed, especially Lynda, but I was happy to have that opportunity. 

This years Eisner recipients are another triumph for good comics. The big winners were Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and Image. The Big Corporate Two were almost completely shut out, except for Marvel’s Silver Surfer, which  is deserving, especially for the quirky artwork of Mike Allred, a veteran of indy comics whose work I have always admired. Other than that, they won only for bullshit categories like Best Variant Cover, where they have no competition, because no one else bothers with that bullshit. Women creators, too, picked up an impressive hardware haul. Drawn & Quarterly, the publishing house big winner, is run by a woman. The comics world is changing. This isn’t the crest of the wave. This IS the fucking wave! Disney and Warner Bros. Inc. would be wise to take note…. and especially Diamond and the mainstream comics retailers that service their wares at the virtual exclusion of everything else. If you stick with the same old, same old Superdude schlock, if you dismiss the new comics that are winning Eisners by the boatload and hearts & minds of the new generation of readers, enjoy that swan dive into the tarpit.  Disney and Warner Bros. won’t care much, of course, because it’s all about tv and movies and toy lines for them. For comics lovers, however, it’s a thrilling Golden Age of groundbreaking comics of all genres, outside of the petrified world of corporate superdudes.
After the high of the Eisners, I still had the busy weekend days of the con. I had a few more panels and signings, and spent the rest of time walking the floor, doing a little shopping and talking to colleagues. I’ve read a lot of laments on social media from other of my ilk about how out-of-place they felt, but that wasn’t my experience at all. I avoided the Hollywood area and hung out with old friends Shannon Wheeler and Keith Knight at their booths, shooting the shit and talking comics. I chatted with Gilbert Hernandez, Chester Brown and Sergio Aragonés, just to name a few. Everywhere I walked, people were calling out my name and congratulating me on my Eisner. I had an absolute blast! I understand fixating on the Hollywood and corporate aspect of 
Comic-con, and certainly the media does,  but you can diminish those things with just a little effort.

Hanging out at Shannon Wheeler's booth.

The view from the microphone at one of my five panels.

The panels went well, for the most part. They were well attended and fun. I was especially “on” at the Historical Comics panel with Kate Beaton and Chester Brown. That’s a formidable pair, but thank God I brought my A game, judging from Twitter. Whew. Glad my pithy remarks went over well, because I’m easily the stupidest of the three. None of the panels had visuals, which was a puzzler. It’s a visual medium, so who wants to see four people sitting at a table TALKING about it. Why not show it? I had a slideshow for my Spotlight panel and the tech was surprised I wanted to hook up. 

The Inkpot is a handsome little devil.

Speaking of the Spotlight, I did it “in conversation” with Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter and (more recently) the grand poobah of the new Cartoon Crossroads Columbus fest, which is going to be huge. We did a similar event at the debut CXC and I enjoyed it so much I asked him to reprise it and was thrilled he agreed. He’s whipsmart, knowledgeable and always prepared and I just plain enjoy talking comics with him. I wondered, however, why we were wrapping it up 10 minutes early. Then the Comic-con folks swept in and awarded me an Inkpot Award! Spurgeon was clued in, of course, but I was caught completely unawares. I didn’t think the week could get any better, and then it did! It’s a handsome statue, too, just like the ones previously given to Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Dan Clowes, just to name a few.

Then came 5 pm Sunday and it was over. Few things are sadder than breakdown at a great con. A bulk of the attendees hopped in their cars, or headed to the airport and raced home with their hauls, leaving the area around the convention center in a state of rather eerie calm. I took my 21-year-old son, who I brought along as my plus-one, and who had the time of his life, to dinner in the hotel restaurant. We looked out over the bay and talked about our experiences of the week and comics in general. That, too, was a highlight. 

I have the greatest job in the world!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Derf at Comicon

Here it is, the complete schedule of the six panels I'm doing at Comicon next week. All but one will have signings afterwards, most at the Abrams Comicarts booth. Pray for me.
Thursday, July 21 • 10:00am - 11:00am
Room 29AB
What makes a book a graphic novel? The unique combination of text and art, word balloons, text boxes, and more makes comics a unique format. Authors Derf Backderf (Trashed), Peter Kuper (Ruins), Hope Larson (Compass South), Sydney Padua (The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), and Maximilian Uriarte (The White Donkey) discuss the medium and their own recent work. Moderated by Evan Narcisse (io9).
Signing to follow at 11:30 at the Abrams Comicarts booth, #1216 (down at the Gaming Exhibition end)
Friday, July 22 • 11:00am - 12:00pm
Room 28DE
From life as a trashman to life as a Michael Jackson impersonator, there's no topic graphic novels can't cover. But how do creators shape their ideas into narratives that thrill and chill? Five of the best talk about their craft with PR's senior news editor Calvin Reid and an all-star lineup.
Signing to follow at 12:30 pm at the Abrams Comicarts booth, #1216 (down at the Gaming Exhibition end)
Saturday July 23, 2016 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Room 4
Angoulême Prize-winner Derf Backderf appears in conversation with Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter) about Derf's long career in comics, from failed political cartoonist to alt-weekly staple, to graphic novels about punk rockers, Jeffrey Dahmer, and garbagemen.
Signing to follow at 3:30 in the autograph area
Sunday, July 24 • 11:00am - 12:00pm
Room 24ABC
You love comics, but are you fan enough to make comics? The comiXologist podcast crew Tia Vasiliou and Matt Kolowski they discuss the triumphs, sorrows, tricks, and craft of illustrating comics with an amazing lineup of talented artists and cartoonists, including Derf Backderf (cartoonist, Trashed, My Friend Dahmer), Megan Levens (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10), Denis Kitchen (cartoonist/publisher/agent, The Best of Comix Book), Cara McGee (Over the Garden Wall), and Shannon Wheeler (The New Yorker, Too Much Coffee Man). What's the hardest thing to draw? What inspires their work? Who are the artists they admire most? How can artists also write in comics?
Sunday, July 24 • 1:00pm - 2:00pm
Room 28DE
Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer), Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), and Chester Brown (Louis Riel) have produced a body of work that, between them, is wholly unique and visionary. Their efforts have brought to life the Middle Ages, key moments of Canadian history, and the adolescence of a complex and notorious killer. Calvin Reid (senior news editor at Publishers Weekly) leads a discussion on researching and writing comics inspired by history.
Signing to follow at the Abrams Comicarts booth, , #1216 (down at the Gaming Exhibition end)