Saturday, November 7, 2020

Comic Book Mini-Reviews: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf and I'm Not Okay with This by Charles Forsman

 * My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

We know Jeffrey Dahmer as a notorious cannibalistic serial killer, but Derf Backderf knew him as a weird kid in high school. Backderf drew on his own memories of high school as well as interviewed others he knew and researched Dahmer's own accounts of the time. He puts together a timeline of Dahmer's escalating behavior (from drinking more and more to killing animals and finally killing people), what was happening at home, and how it appeared to people at school.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was how different it was to go to school in the 70's. Boundaries weren't established like they are now. The administrators were a lot more permissive and students had a huge amount of freedom. It seems like a perfect storm of permissive teachers, warring parents, and not connecting with other students left Dahmer to descend into his sick fantasies. The only way he got attention was with his offensive imitation of a man with cerebral palsy (or his own mother's seizures) or with antics like inserting himself into every yearbook club photo. His home life was messy and tragic as his parents' marriage dissolved and left Dahmer essentially abandoned. Throughout the novel, Dahmer hid himself behind binge drinking and that ableist imitation. While his crimes are abhorrent, we can still have sympathy for the teen who was failed by every person in his life who saw something wrong and ignored it.

My Friend Dahmer is even better than the film version and delves into piecing together Dahmer's own accounts of his behavior. It's agonizing to think how many times Dahmer was almost caught only to be let off by police, even after his first murder.  I recommend this as a fascinating look into the formative years of a serial killer.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* I'm Not Okay with This by Charles Forsman

Sydney is a normal 15 year old girl who lacks direction, fights with her family, listens to music with her best friend, and writes in a diary about her secrets. She struggles with her feelings for her best friend, her father's death, and her telekinesis that reveals itself at the worst moments. Her mother wants to help, but ends up pushing her away more often than not. As her support systems fall away, she doesn't know what will be there in the end.

I heard of I'm Not Okay with This because it's now a Netflix show that is apparently very different than the graphic novel. Sydney's story starts off like most coming of age fiction with pushing boundaries, skipping school, smoking pot, discovering her sexuality, and trying to find her own way. What makes this narrative different is the telekinesis. After her father's death who also had powers, no one is there to help her try to control her powers or decide when to use them and the results are tragic.

The only flaw is in the shallow relationships. The most significant one is with her friend Dina, who Syd has feelings for and wants to save from an abusive relationship. The others are paper thin. Stanley gets her pot, which helps with her telekinesis headaches. Ryan, an adult grocery clerk, has sex with her and then confronts her about not calling. Syd feels bad, but doesn't seem to realize how inappropriate their brief relationship was. Even her relationship with her mother doesn't go much beyond typical teen rebelliousness and the one with her father is seen very briefly, but the grief for his death affects each page.

I'm Not Okay with This is a pretty straight forward story drawn in a simple, cartoonish style. I expected it to be more lighthearted because of the art, but Sydney's journey is heartbreaking and dark. The narrative felt like a struggling teenage girl, but I wish some of the relationships could have been a bit more developed. However, the ending absolutely gutted me. I'm planning to watch the show, but I realize there seem to be a lot of differences.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Friday, November 6, 2020

Nocturne (2020)

Vivian and Juliet are twins, both working hard to become concert pianists. Both go to the same prestigious art high school, but Vivian has made it into Julliard while Juliet didn't and refused to apply anywhere else. An excellent violinist who also attends the school killed herself and left a notebook, detailing rituals on how she became so skilled. Juliet finds it and dismisses it at first, but delves into it when her sister outperforms her at every turn. 

Nocturne melds the world of esoteric rituals with the high pressure world of classical music performance. Juliet is the underdog in every respect and remembers that she prompted her and her sister to start piano lessons even though she's viewed as the inferior musician. Vivian, on the other hand, is a lauded pianist, has a loving boyfriend, an amazing piano teacher, and the high opinion of everyone in the school. Once the rituals come into play, Juliet shows herself to be very petty, copying her sister's audition piece and exposing jealousy for her sister's prestige.  

As someone coming from music schools, I appreciate the realism in how people treated musicians, the politics of the school, and the paths set out for students. I kind of wish it was a college instead of a high school because of the age of the actresses and the fact that few are this serious about a performance career that early. Family members around them criticize a career in the arts and question how secure it is. The politics of the school place Vivian above Juliet, even when Juliet outplays her sister because they want to go with the more reliable choice. Even in college or at the professional level, certain players are favored in auditions even if they didn't play well that day because of their reputation or who they study with or know. It's a cutthroat world that I decided not to be part of and I opted to teach and play for enjoyment. Juliet's teacher tried to show her such attainable paths and she refused to see them. 

The esoteric rituals in the film take everything from Vivian and give them to Juliet. At first, Juliet doesn't put much stock into the notebook until horrible things start happening that end up benefiting her. She goes from sympathetic and hard working to obnoxious and egotistical over the course of the film. Her dreams seem to be slipping away from her, so she goes all in on this Faustian deal in a desperate attempt to preserve it. I feel for her, but she goes too far. The most tragic thing is that she's still quite young and could have achieved her goals eventually with a different setting, different teachers, and a different outlook. 

While much of the film is light on horror elements, the anxiety and psychological tension surrounding Juliet sustained me until the end, where it steers fully into horror. I enjoyed the focus on music, the obsession with unattainable perfection, and the realities of being part of the music world. The ending is predictable if you pay attention, but I enjoyed it in all its glory. I would recommend this if you liked The Devil's Candy, Bliss, or Starry Eyes, all about risking everything to succeed in some form of art.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins