Past Friends

The final graphic novel from my library binge was My Friend Dahmer written and drawn by Derf (John) Backderf a comic artist most well-known for the indy comic The City. Backderf, in retrospect, found himself in the rather odd position of having attended high school with infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He describes Dahmer as an odd kid—which isn't exactly unexpected. What is so well done about the story is the human side of a person so often described as inhuman. There was a time before Dahmer stalked and murdered people that has generally been lost. The book, in its entirety, comes across as a notice, of sorts, to simply be more humane and compassionate for those who are obviously struggling with problems. The catalyst for Dahmer's terminal slide into depravity, Backderf notes, was likely when Dahmer's parents and high school society isolated the flawed and troubled young man who'd been resorting to alcoholism for years to control his urges. Dahmer knew what he wanted was wrong. Until this point, Dahmer is a somewhat sympathetic figure and, as the author points out, when Dahmer does act on his disturbing thoughts, he has chosen the path he will take for the rest of his life and Dahmer alone is responsible for that. This is a haunting and excellent graphic novel tracing the formative years of Jeffrey Dahmer from the perspective of a contemporary. Backderf's artistic style is reminiscent of the times he grew up in; I see hints of both Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. His attention to detail with regard to the eras being depicted as well as the story's action are wonderful. What's so great about this, when it comes to comic-style storytelling, is that the reader is able to clearly follow the story rather than dwell in the flaws of depiction. Backderf's art generally deserves a second look to absorb the details that may have been missed on the first pass.

Murder in the Emerald City

Continuing my public library graphic novel binge, we have Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case. Jensen is the son of Tom Jensen, one of the primary detectives assigned to the Green River Killer (Gary Ridgway) case. The senior Jensen's dogged perseverance and sense of duty keep him on the case longer than most others as the police track the serial killer. The novel is essentially an homage from son to father and wonderfully written. It manages to keenly depict the humanity surrounding Ridgway's string of murders and the toll chasing a serial killer can take. Det. Jensen's humor and the delicate dynamic between himself and his wife is portrayed subtly and with great impact. It is clear that Jensen's relationship with his friends and family help him to maintain his sanity as he chases down every possible lead to find and stop Ridgway. Case provides stellar illustrations and layouts to match Jensen's keen storytelling with an economy of space and lines. A consummate illustrator, he works entirely in black and white ink on this story bringing to life each era the story crosses—roughly four decades. Case's minimal and understated style is perfect for this kind of "true" storytelling. This is highly recommended reading!

The silence.

The Silence of Our Friends is a well-written and fabulously illustrated story about two families' lives, in Houston, Texas, during the late 1960s. The action is based on one of the author's (Mark Long) experiences and takes place between two families—one black, one white—around an infamous race-riot on a local campus. The riot resulted in the death of one police officer and the arrest of five students.

But none of that is important.

What's important is that, as a piece of Civil Rights era storytelling, The Silence of Our Friends is a fabulous read. It picks through the major differences in relationships between blacks and whites in a way only a graphic novel can. Nate Powell's ink wash technique can go from warm and homespun to frenetic and harrowing in one panel.

The story itself is full of tension and all the moments that make up real life as these two families struggle to connect in an environment that is vehemently opposed to such a thing. I found myself grinding my teeth waiting for what I felt was the inevitable, horrible, and saddening event that typically drives such stories. I won't drop any spoilers, but the expected horrible events did nothing but enhance the story. Well worth the read from front to back, this fictionalized account from a lesser-known event in Civil Rights history is thoroughly enjoyable.

For me, there is some small irony that it's almost always the white kids who grow up capable of committing a story like this to comic format. It serves as another damaging remnant, in my opinion, of the 500-year struggle for equal access and standing. I am heartened, however, that more and more non-whites are successfully entering the comic storytelling format.