Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It all began with a sketchbook

The "official" book launch date is March 1, but Amazon is already shipping out copies to those who "pre-order." It's still a whopping 35-percent off, too! Don't know how long that will last. Order HERE.

Sketchbook page, Aug. 1991

I started working on MY FRIEND DAHMER in August 1991, a few weeks after his crimes exploded in headlines and newscasts around the world.

Those old enough, no doubt remember it well. The coroner workers, clothed head to toe in bright yellow Hazmat suits, hauled barrels of remains out of Apartment #213 in Milwaukee. The lurid, ghastly revelations came one after another, each more depraved than the last. It was similar, in shock and media frenzy, to the recent Penn State scandal. And I, of course, was at the center of it.

I was, within days, fingered as one of Dahmer's teenage friends. Word of the Dahmer Fan Club got out and every media entity in the country wanted a piece of me. The phone rang day and night. Reporters pounded on my door. I remember looking out my front window and seeing three tv news trucks parked in front of my house, with crews milling about on the sidewalk and staring at my apartment in the hope I'd stupidly emerge. One local newsbabe who was particularly aggressive was a recent college grad, Kelly O'Donnell, now, 20 years later, the White House correspondent for NBC News! I didn't cooperate with anyone, except with reporters for the Akron Beacon Journal, where my wife worked and where I had a sweet part time gig in the art department, one that supplemented my income with union wages in the lean early days of my cartooning career. Thanks to me, my info and materials, and my contacts, the Beacon, Dahmer's hometown paper, owned the story from the Ohio end. But I wasn't about to help any other news outfit.

A couple weeks in, the media frenzy died down a bit. Dahmer was in his cell, had confessed all, and the police investigations were wrapped up. The bone fragments of his first victim had been collected from the grounds of his boyhood home. The story would fire up again when his trial commenced in a month, but in early August 1991, there was a lull.

Sketchbook page, Aug. 1991

During that welcome pause, I got together with two of my old friends, Mike and Neal, to discuss what had happened. It's difficult to convey what a total mindf**k this whole thing was. Not only were we hounded by the media, but we were also trying to process what our high school pal had done... right under our very noses, in the case of the first murder! The most depraved serial killer since Jack the Ripper had hung out with us at school and the town pool, had ridden in our cars and sat next to us in classrooms. Realizing that we were within but a few feet of one of the great monsters of our time was unsettling to say the least. I suffered quite a few sleepless nights in those early days. There were very few people who could understand exactly what I was going through. Mike and Neal could.

We met at Neal's house, which, it so happened, was about 200 yards from Dahmer's boyhood house in our hometown. The Dahmer property was still ringed by yellow police tape. We sat together in Neal's den on that warm summer afternoon and exchanged stories about our strange friend, who none of us had seen, or really heard much of at all, since our graduation 13 years earlier. As I moved into adulthood, I'd stayed close with several members of the Dahmer Fan Club. We frequently got together and often the conversation would turn to old times and the various weirdos who had crossed our paths. We'd recall various episodes and laugh at the re-telling. Dahmer's name came up once in awhile. But there were many stories of Jeff that each of us had in our memory banks that we never bothered to share. They just seemed random and irrelevant. Now, in 1991, those untold stories had been redefined in a totally chilling way. Suddenly, we all had clarity and we realized just what Dahmer was thinking when he was doing those things. So I heard some things that afternoon at Neal's thatI hadn't heard before.

I had a small sketchbook with me, as I often do, and made doodles and notes as we chatted. It was Neal's story of the fishing trip with Dahmer (the top sketchbook page above) that flicked on the lightbulb in my head. Suddenly I realized what an incredible story this was, and it had dropped from the sky into my lap! This, I thought for the first time, would be an incredible graphic novel! That, friends, is the genesis of MY FRIEND DAHMER.

It would take over 20 years for that graphic novel to take shape. But that is a tale for another post.

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