Everyone has a high school story of the strange kid.
The one who just didn’t quite fit in.
The one who was just a little ... off.
But not everyone draws a graphic novel about that classmate, because not everyone went to high school with a future serial killer.
Ralston High School librarian Jonatha Basye leads the Ralston Readers Book Club. About twice a month after school, she and 30 or so students discuss what they’re reading.
“It’s a safe place for them to get together, hang out and talk about the books they love,” Basye said.
At last November’s National Council for Teachers of English convention, Basye met Derf Backderf — real name John Backderf — and picked up a copy of his newest book, “My Friend Dahmer.”
Backderf is a comic strip writer and illustrator, known for “The City.”
Basye said she was instantly amazed by the book.
“My Friend Dahmer” is the story of Backderf’s interactions with Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 boys and men between 1978 and 1991. His crimes included dismemberment, rape, cannibalism and necrophilia. He was beaten to death in prison in 1994.
And yet once, Dahmer was just a high school kid.
Basye said the book paints an almost sympathetic view:
“The book shows that Dahmer was human, that people just aren’t pure good or pure evil. He was an outcast, someone who needed help.”
After she met Backderf and read the book, she bought a few more copies and introduced her reading group to it.
The students liked it so much, they wanted to meet the author. They set up a video chat through Skype.
They talked for 40 minutes, asking Backderf questions about the book, the creative process and how he felt writing about someone he knew.
The book took nearly 18 years for Backderf to finish and publish, he said.
Backderf described being a teenager at Revere High School in Bath, Ohio, as a strange experience in the early to mid-1970s.
“Society was very cruel back then; there wasn’t much support if you needed help, especially in smaller towns,” Backderf said.
When asked how he felt about Dahmer’s death in 1994, Backderf said he was surprised that he was upset.
“It’s a fact of life that people you know will die, but despite everything that happened I was still sad someone I once knew was gone,” he said.
Junior Sydney Corcoran said she didn’t know who Dahmer was before she read the book and the book wasn’t what she expected.
“It was unique. I really liked it,” she said.
John White, also a junior, said he had no idea who Dahmer was.
“I thought it was a good interpretation of what happened, what it was like,” White said. “It made him more human.”