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The Serial Killer Drama You Likely Didn't Know Was Based On A Graphic Novel

No moviegoer would be too misguided to think exclusively of superhero films when they hear a movie was based on a graphic novel. After all, most capes and tights adventures are based on comics of some sort. But that doesn't mean that graphic novels and their film counterparts are confined to only telling stories about being with superpowers. 

Just like non-visual literature, graphic novels explore just about every type of story you can imagine from romances and high school politics to fairies and dragons. As much as Hollywood has proven to love adapting superhero comics into films and series, it has also done the same for other types of graphic novels. Notable entries in this somewhat rare genre include "The Mask," "V for Vendetta," "Ghost World," "Persepolis," and "30 Days of Night," and that's not counting the excellent television shows based on comic books.

So, what about serial killers, you may ask? They're in the mix as well, though you may not realize it. In the 2010s, amid the arrival of numerous true crime-inspired films and series, a particular title adapted the story of a notorious American serial killer in a very different way than you may expect.

Early years of a killer explored in My Friend Dahmer

In 2017 former Disney Channel star Ross Lynch turned heads by appearing in "My Friend Dahmer." The movie chronicled the high school years of Jeffrey Dahmer (Lynch) before he went on to become an infamous serial killer. The source material for such a story was the unconventional graphic novel memoir/non-fiction account of the same name by John "Derf" Backderf, a newspaper cartoonist. 

The graphic novel was released in 2012 and is told from the real-life perspective of Backderf, who was a classmate of Dahmer's when the pair attended high school in Bath, Township Ohio. The story in both the film and novel versions leads up to Dahmer's first murder — that of hitchhiker Steven Hicks in 1978. Instead, the story focuses on Dahmer's teenage years as he deals with the divorce of his parents, self-isolation, alcoholism, and his fascination with anatomy. "My Friend Dahmer" is less of a horror film or serial killer thriller; it is presented as a slow-burn psychological drama.

Alex Wolff, himself a former Nickelodeon star similar to Lynch, plays Backderf. The cast also includes Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as Dahmer's parents Joyce and Lionel, respectively. The film was written and directed by Marc Meyers, and Backderf was largely not involved with the adaptation (via IMDb).

What did audiences think of My Friend Dahmer?

A short 24-page version of "My Friend Dahmer" was self-published by John Backderf in 2002. It became fairly popular, being nominated for a prestigious Eisner Award, and was even adapted into a short play at New York University. This gave the author enough momentum to turn the short piece into a longer graphic novel and find a publisher, Abrams Books, as Backderf detailed on his personal blog leading up to the full novel's 2012 publication. 

The graphic novel has been highly praised by readers and critics. It holds a 3.94/5 on Goodreads, and various professional reviewers lauded it as being one of the most thought-provoking graphic novels of all time and challenging the narratives the graphic medium can usually tell (via Abrams Books).

The film version of "My Friend Dahmer" gained notoriety for its subject matter and for lead star Ross Lynch's previous credits as a Disney Channel actor. However, it failed to make a wide impression. In limited release, the film grossed less than $2 million in ticket sales (via Box Office Mojo). The film reportedly cost about the same amount to produce, yet it became its independent studio FilmRise's highest-grossing release at the time (via Deadline).

Despite not connecting with many audiences, reviews for the film remained overwhelmingly positive. Lynch's compelling performance and the film's historical accuracy, including being filmed in Dahmer's actual childhood home, were cited as reasons to watch on Rotten Tomatoes where the movie touts a 86% score from critics.