Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, By Derf Backderf, 288 pgs.

Mar 17, 2021

For those who don’t know, in 1970 a group of National Guard soldiers were sent to Kent, Ohio to hover over the anti-war protests happening at the college. After a couple of days of mild unrest, the soldiers blindly opened fire on students. Thirteen seconds later, several were injured and four students were dead. Most of the students were just walking to class.

This comic (graphic novel, if you must) covers the shooting and the events that lead up to it. We get the perspective of the four students, the guardsman, and the small government in Kent, Ohio. The story breaks with bits of history of the college, the National Guard, and whatever else was going on politically in the summer of 1970.

Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer, Trashed, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks) did years of research and interviewed eye-witnesses for this book. The details run deep, even noting what the students were eating and what they were listening to. And if you’re not familiar with Backderf’s art style, you should be. Very bold black and white surreal style where most characters are very stretchy-looking.  Everyone looks like they were run through a taffy puller and pressed back down for packaging. I mean that in the most absolutely flattering way possible.

As you can expect, this book is very heavy. I found myself shaking while turning the last couple of pages. I had tears welling up when it was over. This book is a reminder that history repeats itself in the worst ways. How fear, lies, and misinformation can lead people to make horrible decisions.

There have always been bits of education thrown in all of Backderf’s work (Read Punk Rock & Trailer Parks for a lesson on the 1970’s small town Ohio punk scene). But Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio is chock-full of information and the twenty-five pages of notes in the back are an interesting read on their own. This book should be taught in school. Shit, maybe even in church. –Rick V. (Abram Books,