Kent State, by Derf Backderf

In school and in society as a whole, so much of how we learn is the product of the time in which we experience things. In uncertain times, I find it good to look back at the history that brought us to where we are. During those travels, some stories feel relevant and paralleled with the world we face now. I was dismayed to learn that Derf Backderf‘s expertly created new title Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio (published by Abrams Comic Arts) was one such look back. Let’s get to it. [Before I continue I would like to disclose that this is my first experiences reading deeper into the details of these events, so please excuse any accidental ignorance.]

Kent State chronicles the disturbing and ultimately bloody feud between the National Guard and the students at Kent State (in Ohio) protesting the draft for Vietnam and eventually the militant occupation of their campus between April 30th-May 3rd 1970. Derf uses eyewitness reports and accumulated documentation from the time as well as more recent documentation and even comparative pictures of Kent State then and now to form an educational and engaging title that creates an environment the reader can navigate. Though labelled a dramatic re-creation the students of the campus all have their own ideologies and you can feel the force and frustrations that drive them. Through these portrayals you see the respect given not only to those who lost their lives or were injured, but also to the pursuit of an accurate portrayal. To that point, the back of the comic has over 20 pages of citations from numerous resources.

I have read almost all of Backderf’s issues and graphic novels at this point. Every one of them is illustrated with rich detail and clear action, but for me Kent State felt different. There was something about the way the government figures are drawn so realistic, like you can picture their real life appearance without seeing it. There was also something to the way the actions of the Guard are experienced by the students. The sadness and fear (and in many cases confusion) surrounding this occupation is displayed so naturally, in a way that almost stings. Additionally to the characters, Backderf recreates maps of the campus in various spots so that the reader can essentially witness the playbook for what was planned versus what actually occurred. As things begin to escalate on the campus, each page turn is a risk and often, a shock.

Personally, I found Kent State to be an informative read. I finished reading with more information and so many questions about this event. It was upsetting to see the way people were failed then and the similarities between this tragedy and certain things we have seen take place in our more recent past. I commend Derf Backderf for the way this book is presented, and though the story is hard I am glad to have this to lend to some friends who may also not be in the know, because we all should be. You can pick up this title here.

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