EPISODE 33: GRAPHIC NOVELS

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    3 Comments

    In this episode, the disco trio finally takes on graphic novels. Goliath by Tom Gauld and My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, both empathetic takes on infamous villains. But should they be empathetic? Opinions clash as these two very different books come under the microscope. Not surprisingly, the addition of visual art changes the entire reading experience and the discussion.

    But first, in the Bookshelf Revisit, Rider will say the name Guybrush Threepwood, Tod will narrate the inner voice of a fish, and Julia heads to Shawshank.

    Also, Baby Hitler makes an appearance. We’re not kidding.

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COMMENTS

3 Responses to Episode 33: Graphic Novels

  • bananaroo wrote on July 9, 2013 at 9:36 //

    I can’t believe you guys brought up Monkey Island. I loved that game! And I just found the iphone app. Kinda stoked about that.

  • Derf Backderf wrote on July 10, 2013 at 2:37 //

    I enjoyed your podcast. You bring up some interesting points, and a few I haven’t heard before, which is no small feat, considering how much press this book has gotten worldwide over the past year. Other points you three bring up, I have run across frequently, particularly on Goodreads or blogs or the like.

    First, the narration and whether or not it’s an effective storytelling device. It’s not something I’ve used before (this is my third graphic novel) and is likely one I won’t use again. It can, at times, read a bit heavy handed, I agree, but that’s because there were certain things I felt that I needed to hammer home, based on previous responses to my earlier Dahmer stories (this has been an ongoing project for ten or so years).

    There is a large population out there, for lack of a better term I’ll call them “Dahmer fans”, that have constructed a weird urban legend out of Jeff’s life. There are some variations, but the most common is: he was ignored, bullied, shunned and rejected by society and later lashed back at those who did these things to him. This is crap on many levels, of course. Dahmer was driven by mental illness and sexual depravity, not by thoughts of revenge. He himself concurs. And his choice of victims, predominantly gay, black men, would hardly be representative of Jeff’s past oppressors. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a demographic MORE downtrodden than gay, black men. They’re getting it from four or five different directions! But Dahmer fans are very invested in this legend of theirs, and tend to get extremely prickly when I challenge it. So that’s why I repeat these things in the narration. And enough still don’t get what I’m saying, that I’d have to say maybe I wasn’t as heavy with that hammer as I should have been. Or maybe those readers just didn’t want to hear that part of the tale.

    As for my role in this story, and whether or not I own up to my failures, my answer is simply this: My Friend Dahmer is a story of failure. EVERYbody fails, the teachers and administrators, his parents, the cops, Jeff’s friends and, of course, Jeff himself, who fails about as spectacularly as one can. Julia doesn’t like my narration and wishes I had simply let the pictures and dialogue tell the story. Yet, when I do just that in detailing my own failure as a friend, she wishes I had expounded more on those failures! You can’t have it both ways, Julia! I don’t duck this issue at all. How does the reader know that I didn’t speak up, and later pushed Jeff away? IT’S IN MY BOOK, that’s how! Hey, I could have portrayed myself more heroically. Who would have known, outside a handful of high school pals? But no, I chose to lay it out there as honestly as I could. That’s why the story resonates the way it does.

    Do I wish I had spoken up and alerted one of the adults? Of course. But I don’t feel guilty about not doing so. I was just a kid, after all, and a clueless, small-town rube to boot. I had yet to drink a beer, live outside my parents’ home or kiss a girl. Besides, you weren’t rubbing elbows with the most depraved serial killer since Jack the Ripper. That could have been ME in garbage bags in the trunk of Dahmer’s car! I’m not going to apologize for heeding the instinctual warning that was clanging in my head to get as far away from Jeff as I could. Because that was a pretty good instinct! There are no answers in this book. I never pretend to have answers, or engage in armchair psychiatry. I don’t have a clue why Jeff did the things he did, or whether he could have been stopped. But IF someone had interceded, would that have made a difference? It’s perfectly legit to pose the question.

    Finally, the issue one of you raises of whether I’m “exploiting” the story. Twenty years after Dahmer was caught? Eighteen years after his death? I could have rushed something out as quickly as possible way back in 1992 and cashed in on the media frenzy. I wanted no part of that.

    Over those past two decades, there have been three feature films made of Dahmer’s life (usually gruesome portrayals of his murders). There have been over 100 books written about him. There are three Dahmer tribute albums by death metal bands. Dahmer has been a character in Saturday Night Live skits, and on South Park. There are several Jeffrey Dahmer action figures currently on the market. Is one thoughtful, melancholy memoir really going to add to the pain suffered by his victims’ friends and families? Especially a book that ends the moment he starts to kill. My book is not about Jeff’s crimes, after all. Yes, it’s Dahmer’s story, and that’s why there’s so much interest in the book, but it’s also MY story. I was there, I experienced these things, and, sorry, but I have EVERY right to tell it. What’s the cut off there? Are authors writing about, say, the Holocaust, criticized for causing pain to the victims? Of course not. It’s curious that this question is never raised, by media or readers, in France or Germany, where translated editions have just been released.

    Why tell this story at all? Because I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do!

    Don’t want to ramble on here. Glad you’re reviewing graphic novels. I take it from your comments, the three of you don’t normally do so, or even read them. This is a Golden Age of graphic novels. There are incredible books being released each and every month. Read more!

    • literarydisco wrote on July 10, 2013 at 11:43 //

      Hi Derf,

      Julia from Literary Disco here. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. All three of us really, really liked your book, so we are absolutely honored that you commented here.

      You too raise some fascinating new points of view (not surprising, since you’ve been living with this subject matter for so long). I barely knew anything about Dahmer when I read your book– this was my first experience with his story. It didn’t occur to me that you would be intentionally hammering in some points in narration to fend off the hoards of Dahmer fanatics that you must have been dealing with over so many years. Our intention with our reviews is to ask what each book is trying to do and then evaluate the techniques by which the author tells his story, which is why we focused on our aesthetic experience of both the art and the narration. As someone who works at the Mark Twain House, i completely understand the need to be unambiguous when it comes to incorrect mythology. That makes a lot of sense and it’s something I’m going to think about for a long time.

      We just wanted to reiterate how much we unanimously liked your book. If you go back and listen, Rider lists so many fantastic things about your work while Tod and I murmer “mmm-HMM! mmm-HMM!” vigorously in the background: your artistic style, the depiction of the time period, the characterization of all of the boys and Dahmer especially, the way in which you raise more questions than you answer (we love that), and most especially, the directness with which you tackle this subject. We raised the rhetorical question of whether or not it was exploitative, but we immediately agreed that it was not. For all the reasons you mention, you have created a brave, believable, and compelling piece of nonfiction, one which I have already recommended to four different people since we recorded that episode. Really, we loved it!

      Without a doubt, we are going to read more graphic novels. Thanks again for reaching out and we can’t wait to read the rest of your work.

      Sincerely,

      Julia, Rider & Tod