Derf Backderf: who is Jeffrey Dahmer's school friend, how well did he know killer - My Friend Dahmer explained

The US cartoonist’s graphic novel was made into a film in 2017 directed by Marc Meyers and starring Ross Lynch

Netflix’s latest true crime series, Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, unveils the horrifying true tale of one of America’s most infamous serial killers.

Dahmer was responsible for the gruesome murders of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with his horrific crimes earning him the nickname the “Milwaukee Cannibal”.

The 10 episode series stars Evan Peters (American Horror Story, Mare of Eastown) and tells the story of Dahmer’s life, including his early years.

One of Dahmer’s high school friends was US cartoonist Derf Backderf, after hearing about Dahmer’s chilling crimes, he went on to write a graphic novel, “My Friend Dahmer” which explored their high school friendship.

But how well did Backderf know Dahmer and what was their friendship like? Here’s everything you need to know.

US cartoonist Derf Backderf during a photo call for the movie “My friend Dahmer” in 2017 (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

Who is John ‘Derf’ Backderf?

John ‘Derf’ Backderf, who is known by his nickname Derf, is a 62-year-old graphic novelist and cartoonist from Ohio.

Backderf went to high school with the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and wrote a graphic novel called “My Friend Dahmer ‘’ which depicted their frienship as teenagera and speculates what could have caused him to commit such atrocious crimes.

Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced to a total of 957 years in prison for his horrific crimes (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

How well did he know Jeffrey Dahmer?

Speaking in 2017 with SF Weekly, Backderf explains that Dahmer had no close friends, but that as a teen in high school his friend group sometimes would let him hang around with them.

He explained: “I was always kind of wary of Jeff, honestly.”

Adding: “On some instinctual level, I just didn’t want to be alone with him too much. That was a pretty good instinct.”

Backderf never heard from Dahmer again after they graduated from Revere High School in 1978, explaining that Dahmer had “just vanished from the face of the Earth.”

Backderf said: “And the reason for that, of course, is that he had killed his first victim two weeks after high school graduation. At that point, he just went completely underground and cut off all contact with everyone.”

What has he said about their friendship?

Speaking to the Phoenix New Times in 2017, Backderf said: “There wasn’t much left of him by our senior year.

“I wouldn’t pin his fate on what happened at home. Hell, lots of kids had parents who went through nasty divorces and none of them went on to kill 17 people. What his parents’ breakup provided was cover. They were too wrapped up in their nuclear divorce to notice what was happening with Jeff.”

Adding: “But the teachers and school officials were no better. That still astounds me, because he was completely out of control and it was so apparent to us kids.”

In the interview, Backderf reflects on Dahmer’s mother Joyce, who was often blamed as the catalyst for her son’s crimes.

Backderf said: “I heard the rumours about her problems and knew she had been in a mental hospital.

“That stuff has been overblown, frankly. Yes, she had some issues with mental health, but she wasn’t just some crazed loon. I remember her as a nice lady. Joyce was demonised as the cause of Jeff’s madness, mostly by Lionel, her ex-husband... I think it’s ridiculous to pin blame solely on her.”

In an interview in 2017 with SFGATE, Backderf recalls that he could have been Dahmer’s first victim.

He explained: “I’ve had a few sleepless nights pondering that one.

“Especially because that first crime was a crime of opportunity, as opposed to his other victims, who were methodically stalked. Yeah, it could have been any of us, and that’s something that took me awhile to come to terms with.”

Upon hearing the news of his former friend’s crimes, Derf said it was “like a 2-by-4 to the head.”

Adding: “It was weeks of stunning revelations and media onslaught. It was a very disturbing time.”

What is My Friend Dahmer about?

After graduating high school, Backderf went onto study journalism at Ohio State University where he developed a passion for storytelling.

After hearing the news about what Dahmer had done, he tried to make sense of it by putting together graphic novels about their high school story.

It depicts his friendship with the serial killer as a teenager and explores what could have led towards Dahmer’s brutal actions.

His graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer was published in 2012 and was included in Publishers Weekly’s 2012 list of top comic books of the year. In 2014 it won the Revelation Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France in 2014.

Reflecting on the graphic novel Backderf explained: “What ‘My Friend Dahmer’ does is humanise him, and I think that’s important because when we write people off as monsters, that removes responsibility from everyone.

“The story of ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a story of failure. Everybody fails, particularly the adults. If you just write him off as a monster, then we learn nothing.”

The novel was made into a film in 2017 directed by Marc Meyers and starring former Disney star Ross Lynch (Austin and Ally) as Dahmer and Alex Wolff (The Naked Brothers Band) as Derf Backderf.