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Derf Backderf spent the first 40 years of his life aiming, and ultimately succeeding, to become one of the top cartoonists in alternative newspapers. However, he then realized that niche industry was failing, and he needed something else; that’s when he found graphic novels.
Since switching his focus from newspaper strips to graphic novels in 2000, Backderf has transformed from a virtual unknown to a curiosity to an international star, with books like Punk Rock & Trailer Parks and his most famous work, My Friend Dahmer. He’s now working on on a graphic novel for Abrams about his time working as a garbageman, as well as a pseudo-sequel to Punk Rock & Trailer Parks that explores his time growing up in the Midwest punk scene.
Backderf’s opinion on comics as a fan and as a professional has changed over the years as he’s witness the decline of the once-thriving alternative weeklies, the rise of graphic novels and the changing face of American comics. I spoke with Backderf about his experiences, his acceptance in Europe, and his own opinions on comics.
Derf Backderf, author of My Friend Dahmer, has a poignant post on his blog marking the 11th anniversary of the end of his cancer treatment:
On that grey day in November when I walked out of the Radiology Department in the basement of University Hospitals for the final time, I was exhausted, sporting several ghastly scars and missing a few chunks of my body, battered and roasted to a crisp, but happy. I’d made it.
Cancer messes with your head. I always thought I’d live to a ripe old age like my grandfather, who lived to 105 (his brother lived to 108!), but my body started to fall apart at age 35 like a Chevy Vega. On that November 18th, I was determined to make the most out of whatever time I had left.
And he did; in the past 11 years he has completed three graphic novels, including the award-winning My Friend Dahmer, published five minicomics, two webcomics and numerous other works, traveled to France and Belgium, won multiple comics awards, and, on a personal note, watched his children grow up and his parents grow old.
Derf Backderf, creator of the acclaimed memoir My Friend Dahmer, has ended his weekly comic strip The City after 24 years.
“I’m ending the strip so I can concentrate full-time on graphic novels,” he announced today on his blog. “It’s all good. I’m not slinking away from a failed endeavor as a washed-up has-been. I’m leaving it behind in a blaze of glory, as a newly minted, internationally-best-selling comix creator. The past couple years have been the best of my career. After 30 years of toil as a (at best) cult favorite to suddenly find success? I’m loving every fucking minute of it! I simply no longer have the time, nor, quite frankly, the desire, to devote to The City. Typically, it takes almost two full workdays to write and draw one strip. That’s time better devoted to other projects.”
My Friend Dahmer cartoonist Derf Backderf is a longtime fan who, while downsizing his collection, wandered upon the uniquely placed Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). The avowed comic fan who followed his hobby into a career was shocked at the degree to which comics collecting had subsumed the readability of comics, especially given that “true collectors” would hermetically seal their comics in CGC “slabs,” leaving them unable to be read — you know, the original intent for the comic.
“For someone who has devoted his life to making comics, and who takes several years to painstakingly craft each one … to be FUCKING READ! … this is an abomination,” Derf wrote in a long post on his blog. “For baseball cards, fine. because you can still read everything on the card. With a comic book, 90 percent of the contents are lost forever! Most of these “collectors” wouldn’t know the difference between Wally Wood and Wally Walrus. They’re just collecting a number. It’s an affront to everything I hold dear.”
Derf, who has been reading comics since the mid-1970s, covers the growth of the secondhand comics market and the rise of collectability through the Overstreet Price Guide and now through CGC. Because of this severe leaning toward collectability limiting the readability of comics, the cartoonist has started what he calls a “one-man crusade against slabbing” by buying CGC books and “then free[ing] them from their plastic coffins.”
“This past summer, I took down most of the Trashed Webcomic, announced it was permanently retired and instead unveiled an entirely new webcomic, The Baron of Prospect Ave.,” he wrote on his blog. “What I couldn’t reveal at the time was that Abrams had approached me about turning the Trashed Webcomic into a full-fledged graphic novel! I already had a couple new episodes written at that point, with the intention of starting the project up anew this past summer. So those became part of the new book. I spent the remainder of 2013 writing and drawing.”
Trashed, in its original form, was released in 2002 by SLG Publishing; it’s a comic memoir of the year he spent as a garbageman in his rural hometown. When he revisited the project in 2010 as a webcomic, he added fictional characters and situations. As he explained on his website, “It didn’t really happen but, trust me, it’s all too real.”
Last fall, SLG Publishing announced it was being forced to relocate its office space and Art Boutiki gallery, with Publisher Dan Vado mentioning there likely would be some fundraising efforts to help pay for the move. We now have some details of at least part of those plans.
John Backderf (My Friend Dahmer) recently posted some art to his Facebook page, noting that it’s his contribution to SLG Stories, Volume 2: Too Stupid to Die, an anthology to help raise the money the publisher needs. I contacted Vado for for information about the project, but he says he’s still ironing out the details. He did say, however, there are some creators he’s published for whom he no longer has contact information. Former SLG creators who would like to contribute, but haven’t yet heard from Vado can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any help in spreading the word would also be appreciated.
Publishing | No comic cracked the 100,000-copy mark in the direct market in October, with the top title, Marvel’s Uncanny X-Force #1, selling an estimated 96,500 copies. Diamond’s graphic novel chart was led by DC Comics’ Superman: Earth One hardcover, which sold more than 16,000 copies. Retail news and analysis site ICv2.com notes that was the best number for a graphic novel since new volumes of Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead shipped in July. The website also pursues John Jackson Miller’s recent analysis of comics that don’t make it into Diamond’s Top 300, concluding: “Sales below the Top 300 may be growing in importance, but when we look at a fairly long period (10 months) either they aren’t big enough in the aggregate to make much difference, or their sales are changing at about the same rate as the Top 300’s. If anything, looking at year to date numbers, sales on titles below the Top 300 are shrinking faster than sales in the Top 300, at least in periodical comics.”
Conventions | Wizard Entertainment has announced its acquisition of Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Johanna Draper Carlson also picks up on rumors that the company is adding Mid-Ohio-Con to its growing stable. [press release, Comics Worth Reading]