Acclaimed cartoonist and Ohio State alumnus John Backderf will join the crowd at the advanced screening of a film based on his best-selling graphic novel “My Friend Dahmer” at the Wexner Center for the Arts on Sept. 29.

The graphic-novel-turned-film is an account of Backderf’s high school friendship with infamous serial-killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The film documents the Dahmer before there were headlines, before the world knew his name –– the story before the story.

This isn’t some sleazy, titillating tale about murder and deviant sex and heads in the refrigerator,” Backderf said. “Most people are surprised to find there is no violence…nor any of the gruesome crimes that made Dahmer infamous.”

The Wexner Center will have a special free screening of the film based on the graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, a memoir about Derf Backderf’s teenage
friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer. | Credit: Courtesy of John Backderf

The film will be screened by Cartoon Crossroads Columbus an annual arts festival that celebrates cartoon art and animation. Tom Spurgeon, executive director of CXC, praised Backderf and his ability to tell the story.

“The amazing thing [Backderf] does with his book is detail all of the little things that accumulate to shape our lives,” he said. “Where you live, your teachers, your parents, your friends, your-not-exactly friends, whether you have a car, whether you’re self-medicating; it’s an unsparing look at an America right outside our window.”

Although he wasn’t involved heavily in the film, Backderf said he made Marc Meyers, the film’s director and writer, promise he’d stay true to the book. Backderf said he admired the director’s casting ability, identifying it as one of the things he was attracted to when he was approached.

“That’s a staple of a Marc Meyers film,” he said. “He always casts his films impressively. Ross Lynch as Jeff is simply astounding. It will be a breakthrough role for him.”

Backderf’s character in the film is portrayed by actor Alex Wolff, who rose to fame after his work in the Naked Brothers Band. On Wolff’s performance, Backderf said it was spot on.

“He comes across as a bit cooler than I was in high school, but he nails that smarta** subversive thing I had going,” Backderf said. “That’s the important thing to the story, that and the growing discomfort I had with Dahmer as he became darker and darker.”

Although he knows Dahmer played a pivotal role in telling this story, Backderf said he doesn’t think he deserves any kind of thanks.

“We can’t ever forget that this man was a human parasite who horribly murdered 17 innocent people and that there are thousands who mourn those victims to this day,” he said. “But the Jeff I knew wasn’t a monster, not yet. He was just a sad, almost tragic teenager who spiraled into madness while the adults in his life stood by and did nothing.”

Spurgeon praised Backderf for not backing down from calling attention to both Dahmer and the people who didn’t care to help him when he needed it the most.

“He isn’t afraid to call out both Jeffrey Dahmer and the village that failed to help Dahmer when he might have been healable,” he said.

Backderf said it means a great deal to him to have this event take place at Ohio State and likened it to coming home.

“Ohio State is where it all began for me,” he said. “My comics career was launched here in the pages of The Lantern. It was where I first found my voice as a comics creator and where my work was noticed by a large number of readers for the first time.”

This screening is an opportunity for the Ohio State community to support local artists and catch a movie that talks about how environment and personal choices matter equally, Spurgeon said.

The story takes place in Northeast Ohio and includes scenes filmed at Dahmer’s actual childhood home in Bath Township. Spurgeon assures the audience will never look at a stretch of Ohio suburban roadside woods the same.

“My Friend Dahmer” comes to the Wexner Center on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. Admission is free for all audiences, but tickets can be reserved beginning Sept. 25.