Thursday, May 31, 2012

Weirdest fundraiser EVER

Last Sunday I went to a cookout at the Dahmer House.

Yeah, yeah, insert Dahmer cannibalism joke here. That was the point, actually. The house has been owned for some time by musician Chris Butler. Great guy and one of pioneers of the Akron Punk Scene, which I wrote about in my last book, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, which if you haven't read, you should!  As I've written before, I tried to talk Butler out of buying the place, but him doing so in spite of my warning was an incredible stroke of luck for me, as it afforded me access to a major setting in My Friend Dahmer. I went in with my sketchbook and made numerous reference drawings, ones that helped me recreate a space I hadn't seen since 1978. Without that access, I never could have drawn an accurate version of the house.

Above: a 1950 photo speed on the house from the Akron Beacon Journal. The
Dahmers didn't move here until 1969. This is the living room. The house has been remodeled several times, so it took a little detective work and shaking loose some memories to recall what was where when Jeff lived here. 

Purely as a design object, it's a neat pad. Built in 1950, it's a fab mod abode with a lovely, wooded lot. Even so, this is a house that really should have been torn down in 1991, when Dahmer was caught and confessed his crimes. Only his first victim was murdered here. The rest of his spree took place in Milwaukee, most in his infamous apartment, which was demolished by the city. Now, I don't know what the financial circumstances in 1991 the then owners of this house faced. Very likely, they were just middle-class working folks and would have been bankrupted had they walked away from the place. It's a neat house, and Butler doesn't believe in ghosts, but it will always have its infamy. On the other hand, who better to live here than musicians? Fill the place with musical karma!

The living room today, with the "house copy" of MFD.

So what's the deal with this strange fundraiser, you ask? Butler got involved with the latest pledge drive for legendary college station WRUW, at Cleveland's Case-Western University. Cleveland's designation as the Rock-n-Roll Capital of the World is specious, but one thing it has never lacked is important and influential radio, from Alan Freed to The Mad Daddy to arena-rock inventors WMMS the Buzzard to ground-breaking, commercial-free stations like WRUW and Cleveland State's WCSB, "amateur" radio that ushered in the college rock era. I started listening to college stations in 1980 or so, when the then-all-powerful commercial stations refused to play punk rock. I'm still a fan, and often have WRUW playing as I draw. WRUW relies on listener donations for part of its budget and every year station folk put together various prizes that are auctioned off on air. This year one of those prizes, donated by Butler, was a cookout at the Dahmer House! Butler asked me to attend as a "celebrity" guest and since it was for a great cause and the whole thing was so delightfully weird and indefensibly tasteless, I agreed at once.

Also in attendance, were members of various Rubber City punk bands, musicians I looked on with awe and admiration as a snotty, 18-year-old fanboy from Dahmer High School, when their bands packed the legendary Bank Punk Club back in the Seventies (and folks I've since befriended). So, from my perspective, it was a mash-up of My Friend Dahmer and Punk Rock & Trailer Parks! Now how could I pass that up?

All in all, a very strange afternoon. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jeff the football hero

I thought I had found all my high school drawings of Dahmer. But two weeks ago, while cleaning out my Mom's basement, I pulled a box from under the stairs, one that was buried beneath a pile of other things. The box was full of old sketchbooks and drawings from high school. And as I leafed through these things, the hair stood up on the back of my neck again. Sure enough, there were several drawings of my old pal Jeff.

The above drawing is a preliminary sketch for one of the many football posters I drew during my senior year. A cheerleader came up to me in the art room one day and asked me to draw a poster for the upcoming game, one that would be hung at the main entrance to to school to "inspire" the players as they trudged in from the bus in the morning. Stunned that the cheerleader even knew my name, I agreed. That day after school, I created a 6-foot high poster with marker, rolling out the paper in the hallway outside the art room. It proved to be so popular with my fellow students, I was dragooned into drawing one before EVERY game for the entire season. 

The poster above is from halfway through the season. That's our "star" running back trampling a hapless opponent, who is, of course, Dahmer, yelling out his trademark bleat. Jeff usually lurked around school after hours, as I detail in the book. Mostly to drink in the woods near the school, but also to hang out with various members of the Dahmer Fan Club. I spent HOURS on these stupid posters and Dahmer often kept me company as I drew in the hallway. As the self-appointed Minister of Propaganda for the Fan Club, I was inserting my cartoon Dahmer into almost everything I drew: cartoons for the school paper and yearbook, student council posters etc. So naturally, I put him in these football posters, too.

The name "Footstool" on the back of his jersey is another related inside joke. Dahmer imitated his Mom's interior decorator, who suffered from cerebral palsy, as part of his bizarre spaz schtick. Jeff often joked that the only thing this guy added to the decor was one solitary footstool. Thus the jersey name.

Outside of the Fan Club, no one else in school got the inside gags. That was typical. We were simply amusing each other. But now, years later, these goofball drawings have a re-defined, utterly sinister, meaning. 

In the case of this drawing? "Crush the Comets"... that was the Coventry High Comets. Coventry is where Steven Hicks, Dahmer's first victim, lived. 

Look for some other recently discovered drawings in future posts.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The viral yearbook

This one went viral last week. A kid was leafing through his Dad's yearbooks and found a couple notes from Jeff Dahmer. He posted them online and it went viral.

Yes, these are authentic, yes, these are our yearbooks, and yes, I know who the dad in question, Ted, is. From what I hear, media people who inquired on this, were re-directed by Ted to me. This is not unexpected, given my book. I knew I was very likely turning myself into the local "Dahmer expert" when I decided to finish the project. Such is the price I must pay.

Everything associated with Jeff is spooky, of course, but what strikes me about these notes is the obvious disintegration. The above note is from the 1974 yearbook, from our freshman year. The handwriting is neat and steady. To be precise, we usually received out yearbooks at the start of the following year, so the precise date this was written was September of our sophomore year.

This one above is from our junior yearbook, two years later. Look at that shaky scrawl. It's very likely Dahmer was drunk when he wrote the second note, since by 11th grade he was in an alcoholic haze for most of the day. This serves as proof for what I describe in the book. Again, this book was distributed to students the following Fall, the precise date this was written was September of our senior year. Dahmer was lost by that point. There was very little of him left, except the monster.

The "Jeff Dahmer" signature was obviously added at a later date by Ted, probably in 1991 when all of us classmates were trying to figure out what artifacts we had in our possession. I think signing it "You know who" makes it even creepier!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book touring

Here's a video of a recent talk I gave at the Akron Main Library.

This was a notable event for several reasons. First off, the small town where My Friend Dahmer is set, is a rural suburb of Akron. Bath, Ohio, in the 1970s was a bedroom community for Akron professionals: doctors, lawyers, executives, etc. Most of our major media– tv and radio– all came from big-city Cleveland, twenty miles to the north. But Akronites clung stubbornly to their identity and those of us in my hometown always turned our eyes to the Rubber City. That's where we shopped and went for entertainment. And our library system was centered in downtown Akron. This is where I spoke.

So of all the appearances I've made so far and will make in the future this one had the potential to be the strangest. And indeed it was. Several hundred filled the auditorium. Dozens from my hometown: schoolmates and neighbors and townspeople. Dozens of people who knew Jeff and the Dahmer family. And many who are characters in the book!

Several members of the Dahmer Fan Club were there. And one of the neighbor kids in the creepy opening scene. And, oddest of all, one of the cops from the scene at the end of the story (I won't give it away for any who haven't read it yet) stood at the back of the auditorium! A couple of my friends recognized him. He left after my presentation, without speaking to me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kindle eBook available at last

Finally. Amazon has released the Kindle ebook of My Friend Dahmer. About time, and who knows why Amazon moved at such a snail's pace. The Nook and iTunes eBooks were released a month ago. So take your pick. 

I've thrown all sorts of extras into the eBook, to cruelly tempt you completists who already own a paper copy. There are three complete, deleted scenes (see the above page)... tons of photos, sketches and other source material... the entire first short story from 1995... even a collection of drawings and photos from high school. It's a nice package. Especially for $10.