Saturday, February 16, 2019

I'm back!

Hey, a new post! Been awhile. Over two years.

I dunno, I just got away from blogging. Concentrated on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. But Facebook has become ever more evil and I’m pretty rotten at Twitter, frankly, and seem incapable of improving… so here I am, back at the blog.  Starting over from scratch after all my followers here wandered off. Typical.

Anybody still out there? Hellooooooooo?

So, yeah, the past two years have been pretty interesting. Had the whole movie rollout, which was an experience I never dreamt would happen. Spent the better part of 2017 traveling and promoting the film, coupled with a heavy comics fest schedule. Too much, really. Got a little carried away with all of it and that threw me behind schedule.

The plan was to finish up The Baron of Prospect Ave. and then start on my new book for Abrams, but I ran out of time. So I had to shelve the Baron and start the new book. No, it hasn’t been announced what it is yet. Soon, I’m told. 250 pages, my biggest book yet. It’ll be out in February 2020. I’m over halfway done with the inks and working hard. 

After that one is in the can come September, I’ll just keep slamming and finish the Baron, hopefully by the time the other one hits the stands, so the Baron will be ready to go as soon as contractually allowed. That’ll cut down on the time between books.

It’s kind of nice, after the media blitz of the last few years, to take a breather from interviews and promotion. My Google Alert hardly ever goes off now. That’s the life of an author. Blasts of coverage when a new book (or film) comes out, then nothing. 

Here’s some shit that happened since last I posted:

April 2017: The Tribecka Film Fest and the premier of My Friend Dahmer! I'm the very uncomfortable looking dude at the right. Waaaaaaay out of my element.

Here's a review of the film if you missed it. You can currently watch it on Amazon prime. I imagine it'll hit the streaming channels soon.

May 2017: Appearing on a popular Swedish tv program while guesting at the Stockholm Comics Festival. Great fun, beautiful city. I usually turn down tv, looking as I do like the love child of Joey Ramone and Herman Munster, but it was a great show about literature, don't let the game show set fool you.

September 2017: Back in France for a book tour and the premiere of the film at the Deauxville Film Festival. Here's one of the many interviews I did. The whole experience was surreal. I had autograph hounds run after me on the streets! Why, I don't know. And they put us up in this stunning 5-star hotel right on the beach. The difference between indie film and indie comics is stark, man!

October 2017: The CXC Festival in Columbus, Ohio. If I get to the end of my life and have to pick a moment to serve as my highlight, I can't imagine one will top this.

I was a feature guest this year. This fest started in 2016 and is fabulous. It's centered around the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University. I'm an Ohio State guy, as many of you know. It's where I got my start as a cartoonist. The fest did a screening of the film, at the Wexner Center for the Arts on campus, followed by a Q&A with yours truly. When tickets went up in the summer, the house sold out in 10 minutes! The waiting list was longer than available seats in the Wex Theater!

Now, I usually don't watch the film. This evening, Jenny Robb, head curator at the Billy took my wife and I out to dinner. We returned  in time for the final credits. I was standing in the back of the room and when the credit "based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf" flashed, the place erupted in a roar. You can imagine the goosebumps that danced on my skin. I took the stage to thunderous applause and tried not to burst into tears. To have this happen at Ohio State, where it all began, yeah, that was my moment.

Here's a cover I drew for the Miami New Times, once one of my many client papers,  back when I was drawing The City, before the newspaper apocalypse, and before I found my way to graphic novels.

I didn't actually draw the cover here, I drew the cover story inside, an annual wrap up of the worst people who live in Florida, which as you can imagine is a HIGH bar, especially this year. The editors liked it so much they had the art director make it into a cover. I've done this Dirty Dozen story for a decade at least. It's my last weekly paper freelance client. It's a fun assignment and I do it for nostalgia's sake as much as anything. There was a time when I drew a cover a month for some weekly or another. This is likely the last one I'll ever do.

A month later, the art director got laid off. That's the sorry state of weeklies now. Breaks my heart.

January 2018: The Angoulême Festival again, my 5th straight! Here I'm at a live drawing event in the SNCF Pavilion with colleague Marcello Quintanilla, a brilliant Brazilian creator. SNCF is the national train service. That's right, in France, they even sell comics on the trains!

Here's a crazy sketch interview I did in Angoulême this year, having had not nearly enough coffee. The festival is fun, but man we work hard. Six or seven hours of signings a day, and Europeans expect a dedicace, a tight title page drawing. My hand is throbbing by the end of the day. 

I lost a couple friends this year. One was the fabulous Ralph Carney, an extraordinary musician who mesmerized me in the Akron punk era, then went on to play with the B-52s, Tom Waits, Orang Symphonette and, of course, had a long, acclaimed solo career. He died in a freak accident.  I was lucky enough to draw the cover for his final two releases, including this one with fellow Akron legend Chris Butler, which was released a few months  after Ralph's death. Available HERE

I also lost my old pal Doug. We were best friends in junior high, above, me on the left, Doug on the right. Doug was a comics fiend, too, the only teenage friend who was, and ours was a journey of mutual discovery. Together we found Spain Rodriguez, Will Eisner, Richard Corben, Moebius, Gahan Wilson, all of whom would inspire me greatly in my own art and storytelling. We read comics together, we drew comics together, hour after hour. For a few short years, he was as close a compatriot as I've had in my life.

He moved away in high school and we lost touch. Eventually, he discovered my work and tracked me down and we re-connected, enjoying many online chats about comics, picking up right where we left off at age 15. The last message I received from him was one about Ralph Reese, the great war comics artist. Doug died of a heart attack the next day.

Safe travels, pal. I'll miss you.

The final two volumes of True Stories was published, making four in all, and putting a nice period on my long comic strip career. You can get them all on the dreaded Amazon HERE

French readers will get them all in one volume, due in Spring 2019! HERE

Mainly 2018 was a year of work. I have a new book with Abrams in the pipeline. Just hit the halfway mark with inked pages. I can't reveal what it is yet, but it's my largest and most ambitious yet. In fact, as I write, this bastard is kicking the crap out of me. 2019 will be a year of even MORE intense work. It'll be released, as I wrote earlier, February 2020.

November 2018: Wrapping up another busy year at the Genghis Con Fest here in Cleveland, as is my tradition. And... wrapping up this part of my career.

I've decided to stop tabling. It's been loads of fun over the past 10 years since Punk Rock & Trailer Parks kicked off my graphic novel career, but hauling 1000 lbs. of books in and out of venues and manning a table for 10 hours a day is just taking too much out of me. I'll still guest at cons and do some signings, if others run those signings and haul the books, but my days as a road warrior have ended.

And that's what I've been up to!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bill Mauldin again

In dark times, I retreat into comics. 

Here’s a few new additions to my Bill Mauldin collection. As I’ve written before, I’m a HUGE Mauldin fan. The only cartoon book the branch library in my hometown had in its collection was Up Front, Mauldin’s bestselling collection of wartime cartoons. I checked out that thing so many times, the aged librarian Mrs. Born yelled at me to get my own copy (She yelled at everyone. She was extremely hard of hearing). Mauldin was more than brilliant, and incredibly resourceful, he was also the comics voice of his generation, probably the first to achieve that status… and, I’d argue, the first “underground” cartoonist. Before the Army brass realized he was there, he was a star and beyond their control. He was an early inspiration of mine. Still is!

The first piece here (above) is a copy of the 45th Division News from July 19, 1943. Mauldin was a member of the 45th, having joined up in 1940 before the war, a common rite of passage for Depession kids. He volunteered to work for the unit's newspaper and his cartoons proved so popular with the men, he was assigned to The News permanently and relieved of mundane soldiery. The Allies invaded Sicily on July 10, so this cartoon was produced ON the battlefield, the first action Mauldin had experienced, as fighting raged against two crack Panzer divisions, plus 200,000 unenthusiastic Italian troops. On D-day plus one, editor Sgt. Don Robinson and Sgt. Mauldin hitched into Vittoria (note the location on the masthead), the town having fallen to the Allies but still under sniper fire and aerial attack, and opened a makeshift newsroom. There was one lone print shop in the town. The News started a new volume, Vol. IV, to celebrate being the first US paper printed on Axis soil. This is issue #3! Notice the newspaper nameplate is hand lettered! They didn’t have any type to make a proper one. 

The paper was thrown together using whatever materials could be found. Engravers equipment was salvaged from a bombed out shop and a nearby chicken coop was converted into an engravers shop. . Mauldin found acid at a local chemical factory, and zinc for the plates was torn out of unused caskets at a funeral home! Ink was cut with motor oil to make it last longer. Power kept cutting out and the presses had to be hand cranked. It’s a simple one-page, double-sided “paper.” More a handout, really. Robinson and Mauldin packed the papers into cardboard boxes, hitched to the front line and passed out copies to the troops. 

Note how primitive Mauldin’s cartoon is. And no wonder, given the conditions. He was transitioning from working at a stateside army base under ideal conditions to working on the front under the worst possible conditions, and hadn’t figured it out yet. He likely drew this one right in the print shop. His earlier work featured ink washes and delicate halftones. That was unachievable in a bombed out Sicilian print shop.  So he moves to simple inked line here, but he’s still using a pen, and the lines don’t hold up that well. He would soon work only in brush, and his distinctive thick ink work would be a stylistic breakthrough, and also a technique that held up under the worst conditions. This is virtually the moment that Mauldin went from being an army base cartoonist to becoming the Bill Mauldin of legend! I haven’t seen this cartoon reprinted anywhere. It’s not included in the Fantagraphics two-volume set. Granted, it’s not a particularly good cartoon, but since Mauldin was frequently being shot at, I think we can cut him some slack.

The second piece (above) is from Feb. 1945. The war in Europe is nearly over now, and Mauldin had grown to such stature he was transferred to Stars & Stripes, and signed by a US Syndicate which distributed his cartoons to papers stateside. Note the difference in style from the earlier cartoon. Even with the lousy reproduction, it’s a powerful image. The way Mauldin casts the front of the cow in shadow highlights draws the eye right to the udders and Willie’s face. It’s a brilliant composition and Mauldin had become a master of light and shadow. Observe also how Mauldin creates so many different textures— straw, wood beams, cloth— with just a few bold strokes. It’s not just darker in appearance, but in tone. After two years of battle, Mauldin’s work reflects the weary and jaded troops in the field. This cartoon was drawn “in France,” likely on Mauldin’s jeep “studio,” a vehicle given him by Ike’s HQ, outfitted with drawing supplies and a lap board, so he could travel about the front and draw what he saw.  What’s surprising is how small Mauldin’s cartoon was published in Stripes, just two columns wide. And yet they still resonated with his dogface readers. 

Three months later, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as reported on he front page of this third piece. It was both the pinnacle of his career, and the end of that pinnacle. In early June, he returned home as a national hero to make an uneasy transition to a civilian cartoonist.

Monday, September 26, 2016

New interview on pubic radio

Here's an interview I did (way too) early this morning with Wisconsin public radio. First time I've done a Q&A with Wisconsin media, since they usually only want to grill me about Dahmer. This show wanted to quiz me about all my books, so I said ok. The host kept flubbing the title of My Friend Dahmer and made a few other gaffes, none of which I am shy about correcting on the air, but I think it went ok. Listen to it HERE

Macht Amerika groß noch einmal!

This photo popped up in my Facebook feed this morning. A young woman snapped this photo at the Bloomsburg Fair in central Pennsylvania, over the weekend. Just as it was starting to go viral, Facebook deleted the post for "violating community standards." I'm guessing Trumpians filed complaints. The photo is of a vendor at the popular fair-- can't quite make out what they're selling other than flags-- with the delightful juxtaposition of a Trump flag and a Hitler Youth flag (That's what this is. I looked it up). There appears to be a dozen Nazi flags for sale, all bunched up there.

I haven't been able to find anything else about this. It's rural Pennsylvania, so it's not as if there's a lot of media coverage there. It could also be that Fair officials put the kibosh on this pretty quick. The Facebook page of the Bloomsburg Fair is riddled with comments bashing them for the flag vendor. They can't delete the comments fast enough!

Central Pennsylvania has, sadly, become a hotbed of loony rightwing types, most famously Police Chief Mark Kessler, whose insane Youtube rants against "libtards" cost him his job a few years ago, and Eric Frein, a sovereign citizen nutjob who shot two state troopers, killing one of them, before leading authorities on a 48-day manhunt in 2014. The Southern Poverty Law Center finds that Pennsylvania is #5 for most hate groups in the US, and is #1 for anti-government groups.

This is the ugly reality in the rural Midwest, including, sadly, here in Ohio. Since I was born and raised in rural Ohio, and have witnessed firsthand the evolution of smalltown farmers to frothing gun nuts, I know the "Basket of Deplorables" is a very real thing. This county fair display isn't a rare exception. It's a reflection.

ADDENDUM: The fair confiscated the flags and closed down the vendor and has scheduled a board meeting where said vendor will no doubt be permanently banned. No doubt they are expecting a lawsuit from the vendor and his loon backers, so they have to do it by the book.

It also turns out, the vendor, who also is selling all manner of vile bumper stickers and t-shirts (example: Aids Kills Fags) is a registered sex offender perv, having been charged on 20 counts of child pornography in 2007.

“I’ve been doing this shit for 45 years,” says Lawrence Betsinger, the man with the Nazi flags. “I can’t see where it would be some tragic thing just because somebody bitched and moaned about it.” I've no doubt he has indeed been a regular seller at fairs and flea markets and gun shows. I've seen shit like this myself, although not with the delicious Nazi + Trump visual.

And now the libtards and the homos have done cost ol' Lar him some fair money! I'm betting the far-right loons all pitch in to help him out. His business will probably double.

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Friend Dahmer: the film

The movie. God, where to begin?

The story of My Friend Dahmer never ceases to astound me in new ways. It is, of course, my breakthrough work, the book that raised me up from a barely known alt-comix creator to a Eisner-winning, Angoulême Prize winning, international comics "star." There’s just something about this tale that’s magic. It resonates with people, deeply. That’s very rare. 

The latest unexpected twist with My Friend Dahmer is the film, which was shot in my hometown over three weeks in August. Not just my hometown, but the very places I and Jeff and my high school friends once trod. Much of the film was shot in Jeff’s boyhood home and in the surrounding woods where he practiced his grisly roadkill “hobby” that I depict in the book! The power that these places still emanates is palpable.

The Dahmer House.

Ross Lynch's Dahmer costume, in the woods near the Dahmer House.

I was welcomed with open arms by the cast and crew. I previously met and talked to director Marc Meyers many times. The other producers and crew members, and the cast itself, I hadn’t met. I procrastinated during the first week of shooting and stayed away. I had some work I needed to punch out, but honestly the idea of visiting a film set that’s recreating life and this very personal and troubling story was intimidating. 

The first week of shooting was on the high school set, which is the part of the story that’s least creepy. That was a re-creation of the silly everyday antics of the Dahmer Fan Club. Marc actually had the chutzpah to approach my alma mater, Revere High, and ask if he could film there. The superintendent brusquely turned him down flat. Revere is a little touchy when it comes to their most famous graduate. Another area high school happily rented out their facility. I wish I’d been able to attend the shoot. I should have made more of an effort, but I was really scuffling with a project that was due. Shooting at the high school wrapped up faster than I expected. The company was really on a breakneck pace.

The Dahmer Fan Club bonding on the set.

The high school theater. The scene with me playing Hitler in a comedy sketch!

Ross Lynch as Jeff, Alex Wolff as Derf.

I finally showed up on set in Week 2. The “base camp” was at a dreary motel in my home town, out near the turnpike entrance, something of a barren wasteland of closed eateries and weed-choked parking lots, as are so many similar stretches in America. The trailers for the cast and the equipment trucks were lined up in back, hidden from view from the road and from the handful of guests at the motel. The buzz quickly spread that I was on set at last and Alex Wolff, who plays “Derf,” bounded over to greet me, as did Harry Holzer (Mike) and Tommy Nelson (Neil), the members of the Dahmer Fan Club. I stayed the afternoon. Producer Adam Goldworm asked me to sign a stack of books for various giveaways, so I pulled out my pens and started drawing dedicaces on the title pages. “Oh my God,” Alex called out to the rest of the cast. “Derf is DRAWING!” Suddenly, I had an eager audience. I enjoyed seeing these young guys clowning around with each other and was struck how similar they were to my friends and I at the same age. Their running gag to pass time between shoots was to endlessly act out favorite scenes from Nic Cage movies. Swap Cage for Monty Python and that was my friends and I 40 years ago! Even stranger, they were all calling each other by their film names, so here was someone else answering to “Derf”!

On the set for the first time, with (l-r) Harry Holzer as Mike, Alex Wolff as Derf and Tommy Nelson as Neil.

It’s not an easy thing to make a period piece. The Seventies are all so clear in my mind, but try to find those clothes, furnishings and cars four decades later. The set and costume designers did a great job, and were having a blast doing so. They interrogated me over how things looked and whether their constructions were accurate. The cars were the most problematic. It’s almost impossible to find Seventies junkers that are still running! Most are either deteriorating in junkyards or restored as show cars. It always bugs me when films show kids driving around in gleaming cars, because we all drove battered family vehicles, in my case a 1975, avocado green Chevy Vega. I was really looking forward to driving one again, especially over the same country roads I had once piloted my own Vega. You never forget your first car, because it represents freedom and that first big step to adulthood. Alas,  a working model couldn’t be located, since Vegas were such crap, widely regarded as one of the worst cars ever made. So an AMC Gremlin was substituted as Derf’s car. Bummer. It was just not to be. Fittingly, the Gremlin kept breaking down during scenes. Yep, that’s pretty spot on. “How did you drive things like that?” Alex asked me. I guess to him it’s as primitive as a Model T was to me at the same age! 

The fleet of Seventies beaters used in the film.

It’s fascinating to witness actors playing out episodes of my life, but, frankly, watching a film being shot is actually a bit boring. Take after take, lots of standing around and setting up shots for a few seconds of filming. I was more interested in seeing the sets. Of particular interest was “my house,” which I visited the following day. I got directions from the production designer. They had converted an empty house (appeared to be a foreclosure) in my hometown to use as my teenage home. Of particular interest was the set of my room. I sent the designers photos and they flipped out over the fab wall mural I drew on my walls when I was 15. They actually hired a local high school artist to recreate that mural! She did a great job. I burst out laughing when I first laid eyes on it! What makes it even funnier is that the original mural is still in my real boyhood home, just a mile or so away from this recreated home, so now there are two of them. When I first pulled up to the set my mouth dropped open. I recognized this house! It was, in fact, the teenage home of one of the lesser members of the Fan Club! In the book, the Fan Club is four friends. In reality, it was up to a dozen guys.

Me in my teenage room.

Next, I made the short trip over to the Dahmer House. The REAL Dahmer House, as mentioned earlier. Marc rented the actual home where Jeff grew up, and where he committed his first murder. I understand why Marc did it, and it will be especially stunning in the film and obviously be of great interest to the press, but it’s problematic for me. This is, after all, where an innocent young man lost his life, and was secretly interred (what was left of him) for 13 years. I been here several times, since a friend lives there, but it always creeps me out. And the first person I encountered when I walked in…. was “Jeff.”

I had met Ross Lynch, the young star of the film, previously, when I had lunch with him and Marc before the start of shooting, to answer any questions he had. He impressed me right away with an obvious professionalism (he’s been working since he was 8 years old!) and his enthusiasm for the role. And why not? This part will be transformational for him, vaulting him from teenage Disney heartthrob into an actor that people take seriously. The crew was raving about his performance, and from what I saw, he’s going to blow minds. When I encountered him this day, he was lounging on the porch in his Dahmer costume. He greeted me with a smile and I staggered back a little. He looked JUST like Jeff. After chatting with him for a few minutes I finally said, “Dude, you have to take off those glasses. You’re really freaking me out.”  And when he flipped the switch and became Jeff when the cameras rolled, my heart was pounding. Ross nailed it. They were filming the jogger scenes, one of my favorites in the book, and certainly one of the most cinematic. It was just as I had written and drawn it and watching Ross walking like Jeff, with that odd stiff-armed gait he had, it was almost too much, especially in the driveway of that house, where I had seen the real Jeff walking that same path. 

I feared my hometown would be plenty pissed at another Dahmer invasion, with bad memories of the media frenzy after Dahmer was arrested and his crimes revealed, but that proved to be anything but the case. The film crew was welcomed with open arms. The cops stopped traffic when needed, neighbors offered their driveways for parked equipment and  locals stopped by to welcome everyone and offer their own recollections of the Dahmers. One of my classmates offered the use of his vintage car. Not much happens in this sleepy hamlet, so movie stars having a nosh at the local diner is a big deal. It was all a stark contrast to the slammed door at my high school. In fact, my curiosity piqued, I stopped by the school on the way home, to see if my photo was still hanging in the “Hall of Fame” inside the main entrance. I fancied the superintendent might have ordered it removed for my “crimes,” but, no, it was still there. I was actually a little disappointed. That would have made a great story!

The mall set.

A few days later, I visited the shoot again, this time the mall set, used for Dahmer’s Command Performance. This was the biggest challenge for the filmmakers. How do you recreate a Seventies mall, especially on an indie film budget? With the help of the Cleveland Film Council (my town has become a favorite with studios, with several superdude movies having been shot here) they found an abandoned mall in the burbs to represent the Summit Mall of 1978. The Summit Mall, on the outskirts of Akron,  is still in operation, but it’s been remodeled a dozen times since 1978 and is thoroughly modern, so it’s unusable as a set. The Euclid Square Mall, on the other hand, went under 20 years ago, and had never undergone a remodel since being built, so it’s still period. It’s currently used as a home for a half dozen fire-and-brimstone black churches! More surrealism. Wonder what the bible-clutching old ladies thought of a film about a gay serial killer being shot there? It’s too bad the designers didn’t have a few more million in budget to throw around, because they could have gone to town in this space. Instead, the sets are small and the shots will be tight with a focus on the action and the actors. I’m interested to see how this one looks on film. A few days later, I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High. THAT’S how the mall should look! But that was period, shot back in the day, 1981 I believe, so the Fast Times filmmakers just used an actual mall, just a few years after the events in my book. Man, if you could just go back in time and grab those props! How did so much time pass so quickly? I feel like Methuselah

At lunch break, I sat with Ross and Alex and we playfully debated which was the best Elvis Costello album. That could have been lunch in 1978, too!

I was scrambling to wrap up some work before I left on another tour of Europe, but I returned to the shoot one more time, because my old friend Mike, the real Mike, drove to town to visit the set. I’m glad I did. The shoot was at the Dahmer House again. It was the first time Mike had been here since high school, since, in fact, he dropped off Jeff in June 1978, the incredibly powerful final scene of the book! This day’s scenes were great ones, the first time Jeff meets Stan Burlman, his Mom’s interior decorator, whose cerebral palsy became the centerpiece of Jeff’s freaky schtick (and ours), and the opening scene of the book, one of the most chilling, in Jeff’s clubhouse in the woods. Again, both these scenes came straight from the book, unchanged.

They had just wrapped up that clubhouse scene when I arrived. The clubhouse had been rebuilt, on the exact spot of the original, the remains of which I had discovered when showing Marc the house and grounds on his first scouting visit to my hometown a couple years previous. I clambered up the hill to check it out. When I opened the door I went weak-knead. There it was, exactly as I had drawn it.The wooden shelves, lined with pickle jars containing rotting dead animals, the workbench where Jeff conducted his “experiments” on collected roadkill. The place smelled like death. I had to quickly leave. 

That’s the moment when it really hit me what a powerful film this can be. I knew the potential was there, but filmmakers, frankly,  often mess up comic book movies. The track record is not great. The Marvel and DC ones are dreadful, of course, but even a faithful adaptation, like say, Watchmen, was a disappointment. Then there’s,  God forbid, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a marvelous book that was outright butchered. There’s but a handful that have been done well. Ghost World is easily the best one. That’s why I was reticent about agreeing to a film option. I’ve turned down several offers, because I simply didn’t trust the filmmakers. Marc was the first who I thought would do the book justice. But even so, naturally, I had qualms. It’s such a personal story, after all, and here I am passing it off to someone else to make his own. And this is all uncharted territory for me. But standing there, peering into the gloomy interior of Dahmer’s clubhouse, I thought, holy crap, it’s all coming together here.

Me and director Marc Meyers, earlier this year.

Like I wrote earlier, this story is magic. It was a game changer for me. It’ll be a game changer for Ross Lynch, for Alex and the others, and for Marc. Here’s a guy with a couple films under his belt, thoughtful indie movies that have been well received on the film fest circuit, but nothing as powerfully moving as My Friend Dahmer. What I like about Marc, and what led me to give him the go-ahead, was that he coaxes wonderful performances from his actors. That’s harder than it sounds, but Marc does it consistently. Couple that talent with a story that slaps you across the face like a 2x4 and you could have a truly memorable film.  It could also be a game changer for comic book movies, and open the door to any number of great books.

Me & Mike in 1978.

It was fun spending the rest of the day there with Mike. We’re still close friends, all these years later, and I think the cast and crew got a kick out of our real-life banter. We basically interact with each other as we did back in high school, which must have been a trip for them. Mike, for you trivia buffs, is also the Mike in Trashed! He was my partner on the garbage truck, after we both dropped out of college! The Mike in Trashed is more a more accurate portrayal of him, even though that book is fiction, merely inspired by experience. I stripped my friends of most of their personalities in MFD, and those three guys are some of the quirkiest, most unique people I’ve ever met, because I promised to protect their identities. Mike doesn’t really care, which is why I used his real name, but it wasn’t really important that I give his character a lot of personality in the book, as I did in Trashed. Makes it tough on actor Harry Holzer, though, who to conjure up a character out of basically nothing. Harry was thrilled to meet the real deal. 

To Mike, of course, I’m still the same guy he’s known since we were 12 years old. So when movie star Ann Heche walked up to me and blurted out “Oh my God, I’m SO glad to meet you” and gave me a hug, he could only stare in disbelief and laugh. After she wandered off, Mike told me “you’re still an idiot, y’know.” Nothing like old friends to keep you humble!

Ann, by the way, is intense as Joyce Dahmer, Jeff’s sad, damaged mom.

I feel bad about my depiction of her, because the timeline of the book dictates that it’s Joyce at her worst, either battling mental problems or battling her husband Lionel, as their marriage imploded. Despite her issues, she was a nice lady and forged a happy life for herself, after the end of the book.  She re-married and became an AIDS counsellor, back in the “gay plague” era when that career took some guts. I regard her as a true tragic figure. She spent 20 years struggling with mental illness, then with a domineering, inflexible husband. After she freed herself from Lionel, her two sons shut her out. Jeff, in fact, didn’t speak to her for 13 years! Then after a mere decade of happiness, her life came crashing down on top of her when her son’s ghastly crimes were discovered. In addition to this unimaginable horror, she’s blamed as the genetic cause of Jeff’s madness, especially by the ex-husband she still loathes, who publicly recounts, in searing detail, her many mental problems when they were together. Then her son is brutally murdered in prison. After that, she contracts terminal cancer. Her’s was an unimaginably hard life. I wish I could have done better by her.

But I digress. 

Mike and I watched in wonder as the Stan Burlman scene was filmed. I never met the real Burlman, only heard his voice on the tapes of the prank calls we made to his office. But here he was, the source of so much of our stupid teenage schtick, right in front of our eyes. It was great having Mike with me, since he’s one of a handful of people who could experience this in the same way. Our teenage mockery of this poor man was certainly not our finest hour, don’t get me wrong, and my portrayal of it in my book is brutally honest. I’ve been beaten up about that a bit, by people who don’t recall what uncaring creeps they themselves were as adolescents. Unfortunately, Marc’s screenplay makes me even more of an asshole than in the book, and elevates me to the evil mastermind of the Burlman pranks. In reality, it was Neil behind virtually all of it. Neil, in the screenplay, is described as the “most empathetic” of the group and a reluctant participant in the gags. Both Mike and I shook our heads and laughed at that. It was Neil who, at Jeff’s urging, came to the Dahmer house when Burlman was due for a visit, and hid in the coat closet to hear Stan in action. As I write in the footnotes, adult Neil carries around a great deal of regret and shame over his teenage antics. The fourth primary member of the fan club, Kent, has been written out of the script altogether, a great relief to me since the real Kent, who I also still count as a close friend, is aghast at any link at all to the Dahmer story. Kent was also a primary force in the Burlman pranks. I really didn’t participate much in those, although I certainly parroted the cerebral palsy schtick. Like I said, not our finest hour. I’m sure this is going to be quite uncomfortable for me to watch on the screen.

A difficult set up on the back porch of the Dahmer House.

Between takes, I wandered about and chatted with the crew. There were an extraordinary number of producers, a number that was needed to bring this project to fruition. All of them shared an absolute enthusiasm for the story. I took care in pointing out to various members of the crew where in the house Dahmer killed his first victim, the young hitchhiker Stephen Hicks, who Jeff lured back to his house on that summer day in June 1978 with offers of weed and beer. It was more than just a ploy to make them uncomfortable. I wanted then to feel the eerie power of the house and know exactly what happened here.  There’s some bad ju-ju in this place. Some in the crew felt it more than others. A few told me they were having trouble spending time there. 

The following day, Neil visited the set with Mike. I had split for Europe by this point, so I missed out on this, alas. He, too, was amazed. All three of us have come to terms with our lives being sucked up into the Dahmer story. You can’t imagine what this is like for us, even after so many years, now a quarter century after Jeff’s crimes exploded in the news. We’ve all, curiously, adopted the same coping mechanism. We have TWO sets of memories. One are the ones we had before Dahmer was arrested, of our goofy high school days and hanging out, and of our silly antics with our strange friend to relieve the boredom of life in a small  town. The other set are those same memories, but re-defined in a chilling way, as this emerging fiend moves through our lives, and of the realization of what he was thinking as we doing this very antics. All three if us can move back and forth between these memory sets. But it’s a whole new, very strange experience seeing those memories re-enacted in front of you. I thought, intellectually, I had prepared myself for that experience. I was wrong.

Mike described his reaction in a Facebook post. After his first day on the set, he dreamt of Jeff that night. Mike was back on the set and he looked up and there was Jeff standing on the roof of the house, pointing down at Mike and laughing.

I'm glad I don't have dreams.

Alex Wolff and Harry Holzer.

Producer Adam Goldworm's dog, Bob, as "The Dog."

The chilling final scene in the book.

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.