I Wanna Be Literated #239

I Wanna Be Literated #239

Wednesday, 05 May 2021

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
by Derf Backderf

Take a really good look at this book and know that to look into Derf Backderf’s Kent State is to look at the real potential in comics. I used to drink the cool-aid just like everyone else and thought that comics meant Batman and Superman, or even worse, just DC or Marvel. But eventually I put on my big boy pants and realized that comics are just a form of expression and a medium for telling a story, and that story can be anything. Sure, it can be superheroes, but it can also be something much greater. Comics have the capacity to tell a deep and relatable story and connect with their reader in a meaningful way. Kent State does that as a narration and documentary of sorts of the events that happened in Ohio in 1970.

I had been familiar with Dackderf’s storytelling from his book My Friend Dahmer. It took a little bit getting used to his art style, but once I started getting into the story, I was able to appreciate and thoroughly enjoy his experience with this serial killer who happened to be adjacent to his circle of friends in school. This time, he tackles on something much bigger by digging into the files, doing research, reading through the available archives, and even interviewing some of the subjects involved in the Kent State killings. This is a dense book, cutting back and forth between the different victims and their lives leading up to the event, while at the same time taking a step back and putting things into perspective. Backderf pauses at several places and explains the history of certain organizations and how they relate to the story because it will affect the decisions these people will make later on. So, we learn about the Weather Underground, the anti-Vietnam protests, Nixon’s decision to escalate the Vietnam war into Cambodia, the National Guard and so on. Backderf’s main focus is to clear things up as much as possible for the reader and giving them the information they need to understand the story. And of course, it all climaxes in the end. Backderf even provides notes on scenes he’s depicted in his comic for those who want to know what events inspired them. That said, I kind of wish there was a better coda at the end where we learn where these characters ended up.

The events of Kent State are tragic, confusing, and enraging. There are definite villains, but no real heroes, just victims. This is a book that shows comics’ capacity as a documentary device, both as entertainment and educational medium. It’s something that happens all the time in comics and is sadly overlooked. Backderf’s book is meticulously researched and brought to life in a very engaging way. It’s something that should be read by everyone and a subject that should be taught in schools. This is good comics.

Get it from Abrams Books.

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