Thursday, July 25, 2013

Welcome to my world, bro.

Here's an interesting item. This blogger– age unknown, but I'm guessing quite a bit younger than me– writes about his experience reading MFD for It was especially unnerving for him, you see, because he's from my hometown and went to the same high school as Jeff and I!

It's an interesting, quick read that gives you an idea how surreal it is to be caught up in this tale, even only peripherally, especially when you ponder things a bit too long.  HERE

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lost in Translation

Just got an interesting email from the translator working on MI AMIGO DAHMER, the Spanish version due in early 2014. 

Dear Mr. Backderf
I'm in the process of translating "My Friend Dahmer" for the Spanish edition. So far I haven't had any problems with your excellent graphic novel (congratulations for such a fine work) but there is one panel I would like to consult with you, because I want to make sure that I nail everything. It's the old cartoon on page 118, the one with lots of balloons. The ones I'd like to know about are the following:
Also, I would like to know if there's any sense to the recurring "pile of sticks" gag.
If you could help me with this, I'd greatly appreciate it, and I think it'd improve the quality of the Spanish translation.

The cartoon, one of the ones I drew in high school is this one, which appeared in the senior yearbook:

It's the spookiest of my surviving high school drawings, because each and every member of the Dahmer Fan Club is in there somewhere, as is Jeff himself, and virtually everything in the word balloons are "Dahmerisms"– things Jeff said and which became repeated catchphrases by my friends and I, or were phrases of our own invention that we Dahmerized, by saying them in his spaz voice. And now here's someone asking me how to translate this gobbledygook! This project never ceases to be weird, I'll tell you.

Here's what it all means.

WHAT HO! 'TIS THE HIGH LARD! One of our friends, not a member of my inner circle or involved with Dahmer, was big into the teenage branch of the Masons. He sat one table over from us in the cafeteria, ruling over a collection of bizarre high school characters. Yes, it was the Freak Table. He was a nice enough guy, but we teased him about this Mason thing mercilessly, calling him the High Lord of the Masons. He was overweight, so this mutated into the High Lard. Yeah, comic genius on display. It mutated again, as we were all Monty Python fans and the Seventies were the peak of their rockstar popularity, and we said it in English accents. My advice to the translator was to forget about this one.

GIMME FWAPPE. A favorite hangout after a movie on a Friday or Saturday was an ice cream parlor in suburban Akron, Barnhill's. We'd all pile into the place, 10 or 12 of us. As the waitress went around taking orders one evening, she came to Kent and he bleeted out in a Dahmer voice "Gimme Fwappe!" (a Frappe). We all cracked up and this quickly became a favorite catchphrase. 

CHOWALE. We were all in the band. Kent was, in fact,  a musical prodigy, and would go on to have a 20-year career in classical performance. In high school, he was the student conductor. The piece he directed for the Spring concert was Chorale (I forget who the composer was). Naturally, we quickly Dahmerized this to Chowale and would bleet it out in unison in Dahmer voices whenever he took the podium in rehearsal.

CHEW GLASS. One of the few balloons that is NOT a Dahmerism. It was a bandie thing, as I recall. "Chew glass", as in "go chew some glass." A favorite insult we lobbed at each other.

Finally, the recurring PILE OF STICKS gag. One of our number, while looking up dirty words in the huge dictionary (this guy was actually an honor student!) in the school library, noticed that the 2nd definition for "faggot" was "a pile of sticks." He found this so hilarious that he incessantly started calling all of us a "pile of sticks." So much so, his nickname quickly became Sticks. 

Not a shining moment in tolerance, I'll grant you, but, again, this was a different time. Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks & Geeks, who, of course, saw his surname Feig turned, by his junior high tormentors, into Fag, describes it best in his hilarious book, Kick Me:
I would come to find out that every guy was called a "fag" at one time or another. The only time you weren't a fag, is when you were calling some other guy a fag. The irony was that few of us had any idea what the word actually meant. The word "fag" was part of the lexicon when I grew up. Guys couldn't form a sentence without it. They couldn't articulate greetings. That and the word "dick." In some ways, "dick" was more popular than "fag."
The thing was, neither word could be said within earshot of a teacher. Some of the old biddies, who longed for the era when students were clean-cropped and mannerly,  would actually recoil in  horror and disgust at the utterance of either, and the offending pottymouth would be dispatched to the office, to a farewell chorus of hoots and howls.  Ah, but "pile of sticks", later shortened to just "pile" or "sticks," conveyed the exact same sentiment in secret code! Even the insult "flaming pile" would elicit nothing but a furrowed brow of confusion from a sexagenarian school marm.

This was the sort of nonsense we filled our days with. What can I say, we were bored stiff.

My advice to the translator was that he pass on that one, too.

I passed this on to friends Mike and Neal and they were greatly amused as well. I mean, imagine if you can, your own teenage language– we all had one, the phrases and nicknames you used with your friends and will forever will be associated with that time of your life– not only attached to a monstrous serial killer.... but then translated into German, French and Spanish! 

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Friend Dahmer nominated for a Harvey Award

The Harveys are one of the big comix industry awards. Unfortunately, My Friend Dahmer is in the Best Graphic Novel category with Chris Ware's magnum opus Building Stories.... so congrats to Chris for his impending landslide win.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Interesting podcast discussion of My Friend Dahmer

A trio of reviewers debates the merits of MFD in this podcast. They're not comix fans, and don't appear to have read many comix at all up until now, but were moved for reasons that aren't clear to review Tom Gauld's excellent  Goliath and MFD together. Outside of both being graphic novels, I don't understand the combo, but whatever.

The review of my book begins at the 34 minute mark. There's also an overlong response in the comments section from yours truly.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

It was a very different time, part 3

Keeping with our theme of how different the Seventies was, and how that ties into this tale, and Dahmer's descent into madness, here's the best example of that. Despite being in a constant drunken state for two full years of high school,  Jeff was caught with booze at school only one time. 

I knew he had been caught, in our senior year, when his consumption had reached alarming levels, but didn't know the details. Jeff never elaborated. He talks about this incident in several interviews, but only says he was "punished." The logical assumption was that he was sent home and disciplined by his Dad. Turns out that's not what happened.

Here's the scene. I drew this up as an extra scene (one of three!) for the eBook. I'll give you one inked page and three pencil pages here. If you want to read the full finished scene, well, you'll just have to buy the eBook. 

Pretty incredible, huh? A kid caught guzzling booze on campus and he's not suspended, not even given detention, and his parents aren't notified. He just takes his whacks and is on his way! If this happened to a kid today in our zero-tolerance, "one strike and you're out" schools, he'd be immediately expelled. Not even calling Jeff's parents is simply mind-boggling! Would that revelation had made a difference? Hard to say. Jeff was pretty far gone at this point. It's certainly another example of the indifference of the authorities. Jeff was becoming a problem. But in a few more months, he'd graduate and then he'd be somebody else's problem, not the school's.

Well. He was indeed somebody else's problem.

I'm curious why Jeff never described what happened here, even when asked directly about it by interviewers. Stone Phillips, in the Dateline:NBC interview, asked him point blank "were you punished?"  Could it be that Jeff was too embarrassed to provide the details of this? That, after all the monstrous things he'd done, admitting he'd been spanked as a high school senior was too humiliating? The mind reels!

This story, by the way, came to me from friend Neal. The book was already out, and we were emailing back and forth about the reception and this or that detail and how the public was responding, when out of the blue he wrote: "did I ever tell you about the time Dahmer got paddled?" Of course, I immediately pressed him for the details and he provided this story. Jeff  told Neal all about it shortly after it happened, and complained how much it hurt.  It was a frustrating revelation for me. It's a fabulous scene, onbe I would certainly have included in the story, but it was too late! The damn book was already printed! This incident had simply never come up in our many hours of interviews during my MFD research. The best I could do was include it as an eBook extra. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Librarians rule.

Above: The Alex Awards. Three of the honored authors made it to the con. I'm sitting far right.

Just returned from the big American Library Association convention in Chicago, where I was paraded out as a winner of a prestigious Alex Award for MFD, one of but ten books so honored and the the only graphic novel.

I spent all day Saturday at the con and signed copies for several hours at the Abrams booth. This is my last event of the year-long My Friend Dahmer book tour. It's been a blast, but time to buckle down and get to work on my next projects. Great way to end the tour. The Alex Award is a BIG deal in the library community and librarians have really championed MFD, especially to teen readers. To be honest, I didn't purposely write a YA (Young Adult) book. I'm not that clever. I simply wrote the book I wanted to write. That it became a YA hit is a happy accident! MFD has plenty to interest teens, of course: the depiction of high school society, adult indifference, adolescent dysfunction, the ways that teenagers treat other teenagers, bullying and... a serial killer.

All day long at the con, I had librarians rush up to me and tell me how much they loved the book. I get that at comicons, too, which is great, but these are pros. They don't come any more knowledgable and well-read than these folks. This was heady praise indeed! It's especially gratifying after a recent spate of Goodreads trolls, probably all belonging to the same I Heart Dahmer chatroom,  trashed me. Nothing I enjoy more than amateur reviewers with personal agendas and bad attitudes!

The main floor at McCormick Center. Yep, those are all Librarians. Not surprisingly,
despite their numbers, it was a very quiet crowd.