Derf Backderf, the Cleveland-based artist best known (until now) for his long-running strip “The City” and his graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, has created a masterpiece of historical cartooning in Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. Though a boy when the massacre occurred on the Kent State University campus, Derf lived in the shadows of the events, which indirectly shoved him in the direction of journalism and punk. Eric Davidson, another Cleveland boy, spoke with Derf for PKM.

I don’t need to repeat that this has been a terrible year. It’s easy to think that our personal times and struggles are the worst in history. But that’s why books like Derf Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio (Harry N. Abrams) are so worthy of our investigation.

The Ohio-based graphic novelist’s latest covers the days surrounding the terrible student shootings at Kent State University in May 1970, and eventually works as a not-so-subtle, sad, and scary parallel to our times, a reminder of how little has changed. Backderf’s research is obviously deep. He was, in fact, a 10-year-old kid at the time, living near Kent State, so he frames the story in rich regional detail. The story centers around the four students who were killed and the small batch of inexperienced and cowardly “officials” who made all the terrible decisions. It not only creates an intense human connection, but it also allows for a solid backstory on how already fucked up the campus situation was long before those 40 shots rang out on Monday, May 4, 1970.

If it seems daunting to delve into a 500-page treatise on the Kent State tragedy, this 288-page graphic novel will be a more approachable dive, though I can’t imagine any conventional history on the subject eliciting a more emotional response. The deep-black eyes of the soldiers, the wide-eyed horror of the students, the furrowed brows of suspicious locals, and even the signage of old local businesses – hanging in the background like ghosts of the crumbing industrial era – all dredge up feelings that would be pretty hard to explain with mere words. To be sure, though, the extensive epilogue and post-notes will salve any demanding scholar.

Backderf has solidified himself as one of the best of his era, first as an award-winning political cartoonist, then with the famed My Friend Dahmer (2012) graphic novel, which was turned into a hit indie film in 2017. He cements that status with the sweeping Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio, which has already been nominated for an Angoulême Prize and the Booksellers Award in France.

Having recently dealt with the terrible loss of his mother to COVID-19, we truly appreciate his willingness to talk about his latest project.

Derf Backderf by Alain Seux

Footage from that bloody day at Kent State:

PKM: In the book, it’s mentioned that your mother voted for Nixon. Did you find while growing up that you generally aligned with your parents on political matters?

Derf: Dad once joked that “your mother would vote for Dracula if he was running as a Republican,” but by the 1990s, she voted for Ralph Nader! And she loathed Trump. Who says there isn’t any hope that people will eventually see the light? My parents very seldom talked about politics around me. Which is odd, since my first incarnation in comics was as a political cartoonist. I came to politics on my own somehow.

PKM: The opening frames in Kent State about the Teamsters’ strike, do you remember the goals they were striking for? I assume it was an intense, wide-ranging strike, and it had been going on for a while, as the cops were already on edge.

Derf: It was a “wildcat strike,” not supported by the national office. The Teamster leadership had reached an agreement with the trucking companies, probably with the usual bribes and kickbacks, and the members rejected the negotiated wage increases as inadequate. In 1970, inflation was a big problem, so wage bumps were often immediately wiped out by rising prices. So the members walked in many cities. It was a godsend for the Republican governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, who was trying to win a primary election for an open U.S. Senate seat. He could play the tough guy against Teamster ruffians and pander to his union-hating base, so he sent out the National Guard to escort convoys of trucks driven by scab drivers. It was hairy duty, because the Teamsters were badass guys and they were all armed. They shot at the trucks. They threw debris off of highway overpasses. The Guardsmen were jumpy and scared. It had been going on for several weeks before protests at Kent State flared up.

This stuff is important as context, but the book doesn’t get bogged down by it. This isn’t a dry history about Sixties politics. I sprinkle it in among a fast-moving story about the four students. The narrative is tight, surprisingly suspenseful, since we all know how it ends, and the climax is a gut punch.

PKM: That opening really does give it an instant feeling of unease. I appreciate the local side details you plant in backgrounds, like the Terry Point Inn bar that the Teamsters come storming out of. Is that still there? And how about the Williams Brothers Mill?

Derf: Terry Point, a trucker bar in my hometown, was rebuilt years ago. It’s a typical suburban bar-restaurant now, clean and soulless. The Williams Bros. Mill in Kent still stands, but the business closed about 10 years back. They’re trying to figure out what to do with the giant silos. Maybe convert them to offices or apartments. They were fun to draw. They make a great visual.

PKM: “Kent State” has become an almost mythological, overarching term for the crushing end days of 1960s student idealism. You do an amazing job of showing the slow-burn lead-up to that event – the strike and the student riots at Ohio State the week before. I went to OSU, lived in Columbus for 17 years, and those riots barely ever came up. But they were more active and violent than the comparatively small gathering on May 4th in Kent.

Derf: There wasn’t a lot of idealism left by 1970. Those students were angry and mobilized from 1968 on. These weren’t dancing flower children. These were kids filling the streets to keep from being dragged off to Vietnam. You’re correct that the Ohio State protests were more violent. OSU had twice as many students, over 40,000, and it was an urban campus, surrounded by a labyrinth of dense student neighborhoods that couldn’t be easily surrounded and sealed off like Kent State. No one talked about the 1970 riots when I was at Ohio State in the early ‘80s either. It wasn’t that long after the antiwar era, but the world had completely changed. It was ancient history by then. I first learned of it through simple curiosity.

I was walking across the Oval, the large green in the center of campus. It was crisscrossed with asphalt walkways. I noticed there were bricks peeking through the asphalt in places. “What idiot would pave over brick pathways?” I thought. For some reason, I brought this up in a Journalism class, and the prof said, “Oh yeah. That was because of the riots.” Turns out protestors pried up the bricks and pelted the Highway Patrol with them! So they slapped asphalt on top so it wouldn’t happen again. That led me to research what happened at Ohio State in 1970, and I was amazed. I turned that into a class assignment. So that scene in the book has been in my pocket for a long time.

There wasn’t a lot of idealism left by 1970. Those students were angry and mobilized from 1968 on. These weren’t dancing flower children. These were kids filling the streets to keep from being dragged off to Vietnam.

PKM: Early on you lay out how the Kent State campus area was a burgeoning liberal enclave, but the towns right outside were suspicious and conservative. Boy, you watch the Ohio numbers on election night a few weeks ago and not much has changed, eh? You still live near that area, right?

Derf: Yeah, it’s the same. The bigger issue in 1970 was how extreme the generational conflict was. The WWII generation and the Baby Boom glared at each other across this huge chasm of suspicion and social mores. There’s never been anything like it in our history. I and my contemporaries had a touch of that with punk rock, and with the stoner creed of my era, but by that time the Baby Boomers were the adults. In fact, there were four or five teachers at my high school who had been students at Kent State in 1970! So that generational chasm was no longer there.

PKM: Growing up in Cleveland, it was a big union town, it’s extremely Catholic, but we had an atheist mayor at one point. The Dead Boys, DEVO, Pere Ubu, and the Cramps came from Ohio. It’s all a very hard Rust Belt mix to explain to outsiders, isn’t it?

Derf: That’s America. Those union hardhats were hardly progressives. They voted en masse for Democrats, but in everything but labor issues, they backed Nixon. Eventually that was their undoing, because the Republicans lured them over to their side with the culture war stuff, Reagan and all his bullshit, and then destroyed their unions.

The tipping point was the Hardhat Riot in New York City in late May 1970 – it was a reaction to Kent State! Mayor John Lindsay ordered the U.S. flag atop City Hall to be lowered to half-staff for Jeff Miller, [one of the students killed at Kent State] who was a New Yorker. Construction Union members stormed City Hall in an orchestrated assault, beat anyone who tried to stop them, and raised the flag. Then they surged into nearby Pace University and beat students in their classrooms! The NYPD stood by and did nothing. That was the moment the white working class went red.

PKM: Because of the coronavirus, your book’s release was delayed. Was your personal plan to have this book come out in time for the ramp up of this last election, to help in your small part to highlight Trump’s parallels with the fascistic tendencies of the Nixon administration?

Derf: Originally the release was in April and was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the massacre on May 4. That event would have generated a lot of media coverage, and it would have been nice to piggyback on that. It’s such a unique way to present this story, in comics form, it would have gotten a lot of mainstream coverage. And surprisingly, there weren’t many other new books coming out this year about the massacre. I had the field mostly to myself. And then it all fell apart.

When the lockdown hit a couple weeks before the launch, we scrambled to delay it until the fall, on the faint hope the pandemic would’ve eased by then. A false hope, it turned out. Every 2020 book is fucked. That’s just the way it is. Mine did better than many of them. I started working on Kent State in 2016. I felt the story was relevant even back then, and it became progressively more relevant with each year Trump was in power. All that was missing was protestors in the streets. Then came this summer and the BLM protests and the police crackdowns and Trump’s ravings. I thought for sure, there’s going to be another massacre and my book is sitting in a warehouse. I know that’s incredibly petty, given all that was happening, but It was torture.

PKM: Considering how much the right wing is against the “administrative state,” Nixon sure didn’t mind administrating, so to speak. I feel Trump’s autocratic moves have been almost solely self-centered; whereas Nixon really had experience and knew how to utilize the army and such to stomp on the left. In horrible ways of course. The right never wants the Federal Government involved, except when it wants to drop the hammer down.

Derf: Believe it or not, there’s no comparison. Trump is an incompetent authoritarian strongman, as he is incompetent in all things. Nixon was ruthless, efficient, and deadly. So were his underlings. Not only was Nixon a war criminal for what he did in Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as Chile, he also unleashed an illegal clandestine war here at home against the “New Left,” particularly the antiwar movement and the black nationalist movement, mainly the Black Panthers. For that he marshaled the entire intelligence apparatus, the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, and they enthusiastically went along. The number of laws that were broken was staggering, and included everything right up to political assassination. We don’t know the full extent, because some of it is still classified! All four of those entities had operatives on the Kent State campus on May 4. Trump, thankfully, didn’t have that support from the intelligence branches. He was too busy warring with them over petty slights. His unhinged narcissism saved us.

Trump is an incompetent authoritarian strongman, as he is incompetent in all things. Nixon was ruthless, efficient, and deadly. So were his underlings.

PKM: There were curfews during those protests too, if of a different nature. On page 90, there’s a mention of curfews on campus.

Derf: That was in response to the protests. After the first night of unrest, the mayor closed all the bars and issued a citywide curfew. This didn’t apply to campus itself. The mayor had no jurisdiction there. When the Guard occupied campus the next day, they issued a curfew on campus as well, and enforced it with tear gas and bayonets. So 300 kids smash some windows in downtown Kent, and 20,000 students who were hanging out in their dorms suddenly find themselves under military rule and are labelled “the worst people in America” by the governor. You can understand why they were pissed about that.

PKM: Of course. The idea that the draft lottery was broadcast on national television was another awful reminder in your book. My god, that sounds so sickening and dystopian. Do you have any memories of watching one?

Derf: No, that was before my time. I never thought about the draft. Not sure I even understood what it was, although I had a cousin who was drafted and served in Nam. The demarcation line between the ‘60s generation and my generation was the draft. For the students of 1970, it hung over them like a cloud of doom. Every young man obsessed over the draft, lived in constant fear of being dragged off to Vietnam, schemed and planned on how to avoid being conscripted. When I came of age a decade later, I didn’t even have to register for the draft! It was a completely different experience.

The draft lottery, as awful as it sounds, actually helped defang the antiwar movement. It took the mystery out of the draft. Every young man knew what his number was and how likely he was to be drafted. Before the lottery, no one really knew. Fear was a great driver of antiwar protests. Once that fear was gone, coupled with Nixon dialing back the number of call ups, many kids decided, nah, I don’t need to get my skull busted at an antiwar protest.

Every young man obsessed over the draft, lived in constant fear of being dragged off to Vietnam, schemed and planned on how to avoid being conscripted.

PKM: You were only 10 years old, but still old enough to start to form some sort of opinion, as evidenced by your recognition that the National Guard were pointing guns at some of your friends’ dads during the Teamsters strike. Do you remember your thoughts about the burning of the ROTC building?

Derf: I don’t recall the ROTC attack specifically. It was in the news, especially in Ohio, but I don’t remember having any opinion or feeling about it at the time. Lots of things went up in flames when I was a kid. Whole cities! I don’t remember a time when this wasn’t the norm, because it had been happening my whole life. That fire certainly had disastrous results, but many of the Kent State radical students are still proud of torching ROTC. Their goal that weekend was to burn that thing to the ground, and somehow they pulled it off.  You may think, how can they still feel that way knowing what it led to?

The common misperception, which I detail in the book, is that the Guard was called in because of the ROTC fire. The governor had no choice! Those college radicals were out of control and burning buildings! This is total crap. The Guard was already marching into town in force when ROTC went up. The Governor ordered them to Kent State in mid-afternoon. The ROTC fire didn’t happen until 9 p.m. The two things are not related. The Guard was coming, whether that fire happened or not. They became linked after the massacre, when the governor and the Guard were frantically trying to explain away the slaughter and, more importantly, dodge any and all responsibility. So they successfully fudged the timeline, and most people today believe the Guard came in because of the ROTC fire. It did, however, make an incredible visual. Those scenes were a challenge to draw, but they’re some of the best in the book.

PKM: For sure. When you’re drawing the soldiers’ eyes, and the intent in them, do you come at it from your opinion of the anger and insanity of these guys at that moment, or do you try to think of how they are feeling in the situation at the time?

Derf: The Guard were ordered by their officers to be badasses in these situations. Civil and campus unrest has been going on four years at that point, and the Ohio National Guard was dispatched to crush that unrest more than any other National Guard in the country. Rhodes ruled Ohio at the point of a gun. The soldiers were as mixed in attitudes as the students were. Some of the soldiers were gung-ho hardasses, some of them were total assholes, but a lot of them were just regular guys who could’ve cared less about politics. They just wanted to get the operation over with and go home.

PKM: I think you do a fair job of expressing how confused, annoyed, and just plain tired and hungry the soldiers were, and how that fueled part of their awful response. But, of course, the “planning” on the part of General Canterbury especially was just incredibly inept. I think I know which of those two partners you have more sympathy towards.

Derf: Well, again, that depends on which soldiers we’re talking about here. Most of them, yeah, you can sympathize with because they were being abused by the governor and by their clueless officers. The guys who fired into that crowd in the parking lot on May 4, however, that’s different. Those guys are murderers. The Guard leadership, however, are across-the-board villains, mostly villains of incompetence. Blithering, breathtaking incompetence. It’s great that you’re taken with my depiction of the Guardsmen, but this is not their story. My book is about the four– Sandy, Jeff, Bill, and Allison– and the story is told almost entirely through their eyes. I put the reader on the ground with them, and we walk through those four days right beside them. We learn who they were, how they moved through their days, what their hopes, dreams, and fears were. We see what they see, and experience what they did. The story is theirs. My belief is history is most poignant and powerful when it’s about people, not about great events and political forces, but about the people who got swept up in those things. This is a moving, emotional story and that’s why it’s gotten the response it has.

We see what they see, and experience what they did. The story is theirs. My belief is history is most poignant and powerful when it’s about people, not about great events and political forces, but about the people who got swept up in those things.

PKM: You wisely lay out the possible explanations of “who shot first;” and that as an art piece, journalist, and a citizen, you aim to leave it up to the reader to decide or even investigate more. But I’m going to ask you anyway: What is your final opinion on who was primarily to blame for the initial shooting itself, apart from the overall fault of poor official planning? Me, I think that group of soldiers did say “fuck these hippies,” and decided to start shit.

Derf: The members of G Troop, which was part of the 107th Armored Calvary, based in nearby Ravenna, were the ones who turned as one and shot at people. That was only eight to ten soldiers. We don’t have the exact number, because almost all of them lied about firing. They’re still lying.

The strong suspicion is that they decided, sometime during that 20-minute-long operation on May 4, we’ve had enough of this shit, pick your targets and wait for the signal. Every other possibility has fallen away over the years, despite the best efforts of the Guard to cloak it all in a thick fog of confusion. Their silence is glaring evidence. Why have they never talked? Wouldn’t the statute of limitations have long expired? Well, not if it was a premeditated capital crime, it wouldn’t. Look at the Klansmen who’ve been tried and convicted 50-60 years after their murders. The Guardsmen won’t talk because they can’t. Some have taken their secrets to the grave. That’s the only answer we’re left with now.

Now, whether it was a plan to kill from the start, or it was supposed to be warning shots and they fucked it up, that we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, because the root of it is that a small group of soldiers decided to open fire on unarmed students. There were 1,200 Guardsmen in that operation, and most of them are just as outraged at the massacre and as pissed at the guys who shot as everyone else. As a Guardsman I interviewed said, “Those guys were murderers, and they dragged the rest of us under the bus with them.” There had to be someone with command authority who was part of it too. An officer, or officers, gave that command to fire. At this point, it’s safe to say we may never know who.

It was a tricky scene to draw, but by carefully manipulating the visual narrative I can depict the shooting without specifically showing what we don’t know. That’s the power of comics as a storytelling medium.

PKM: In a way, I think this book is a good example of how yet again we need to look at the responsibilities of everything from the National Guard on down to our local police, and the added training they should receive, while adding local, unarmed offshoots of the police department to help alleviate such violence ever occurring again. There obviously should not have been bayonet-toting soldiers trying to “diffuse” protestors.

Derf: Certainly not. And you’ll notice there haven’t been bayonet-toting soldiers since Kent State. Our government, from the feds down to local yahoo one in Kent, Ohio, has spent billions of dollars creating and deploying a vast array of more effective, non-lethal weaponry, for the express purpose of crushing dissent without causing another Kent State. From heat rays to sound cannons to body armor and a wide variety of gases, on and on, all to keep us from threatening those in power the way the antiwar movement did. That, unfortunately, is the lasting legacy of Kent State.

PKM: Would you say that local police forces today are more dangerously, heavily armed than the National Guard was at Kent State?

Derf: No, I wouldn’t. The Guard were combat troops. They had no training in crowd control. They went to Army boot camp. They carried M1 rifles, the standard combat weapon of WWII and Korea, called by Patton “the most effective battle weapon ever devised.” Its copper-jacketed bullets were over an inch long, and the M1 was so powerful it could send one clean through a foot-thick tree trunk and still kill the person standing behind it. That’s what G troop used to open fire into a parking lot full of students.

Bayonets are a killing device too. I have one in my studio that I used as drawing reference. Their purpose was to run through an enemy. It’s so sharp I could shove it through the outside wall of my studio with a good thrust. The Guard drove army jeeps and M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, essentially a small tank that the Vietnamese fearfully called the “green dragon.” They didn’t have many non-lethal options. It was a recipe for tragedy.

Look at the toll that was inflicted by just eight soldiers firing 40 or so shots into a crowd. Four dead, nine wounded, five of them critically, two crippled for life. That’s how deadly those guns were. There were 77 soldiers in that group atop the hill. If 70 of them had fired instead of just eight, there would have been 40 dead students!

PKM: It is so sad and weird to me to think that, in those frames of idealistic young students at a rally, laughing along with Jerry Rubin’s pig jokes, maybe half of them might be Trump supporters today.

Derf: Well, I imagine some are; that’s inevitable. But, you know, I interviewed dozens of the activist students of 1970, and all of them, septuagenarians now, have spent their whole lives as  progressives. Some of the radical revolutionaries express regret over their actions in 1970, but they’re still activists. They’re an inspiring bunch. It’s a commonly repeated mistake that Kent State was a radical hotbed in 1970. Far from it. The SDS chapter there was very vocal, and very good at street theater, but it was small, around 200 members. There were 21,000 students on that campus. Sentiment had definitely swung against the war in the student body, but there were more radical right students than radical left ones, and the vast majority of kids fell somewhere in the middle. None of the four were radicals. Only Allison and Jeff were taking part in the protest. Half of the 13 kids who were shot were just innocent bystanders who were walking to class.

PKM: I was struck by the reminder of how omnipresent the “threat of commies” still was in 1970. It was the right wing’s blanket excuse for everything, still is it suddenly seems.

Derf: It’s a quaint belief by the right wing that it’s illegal to be a communist. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. Much of the world was aflame with revolution in 1970, and it scared the living shit out of the people running the United States. That led them to incredible excesses. They feared that revolution was imminent in the U.S. That was, of course, ridiculous. Protestors just wanted an end to the Vietnam War. The crackdown was all optics and politics, just like today. We’ve circled completely back around to that bullshit…

We had a bomb shelter on the hillside behind out house. My folks built the house in 1958, at the height of the A-bomb scare. My dad used it to store lawn chemicals.

None of the four were radicals. Only Allison and Jeff were taking part in the protest. Half of the 13 kids who were shot were just innocent bystanders who were walking to class.

PKM: I have vague memories of [Ohio Gov. Jim] Rhodes from my youth. And those memories – fueled of my parents’ complaints and local newspaper headlines – equate with today’s utter disbelief that there are so many people who would still support Trump…In the ending notes, you lay out that, rather than the Feds and local officials becoming spooked by the [Kent State Massacre], National Guard deployment actually increased at the many more student protests in the weeks following. I feel today there would be a much more heightened awareness, even if mostly for PR, to not utilize the National Guard.

Derf: You’ll notice when the Guard was called out over the summer during BLM protests, they kept a pretty low profile. It was always the cops that directly engaged protestors. College campuses across the country exploded in rage and protest after Kent State. Around 450 of them were closed to quell the unrest. The entire higher education system ground to a screeching halt. That’s another piece of forgotten history. But after summer break, when classes resumed in the Fall, passions had cooled. The much-feared youth revolt didn’t happen.

PKM: Not to be flippant, but a musical revolt was brewing around that time too. I know you’re a big music fan. In My Friend Dahmer, some proto-punk band names are dropped amongst the teens. When/how did you first discover those kind of sounds?

Derf: High school. Both Akron and Cleveland, of course, had a lot of important experimental bands. I had a friend, one of those music hipsters we all have in our lives at some point, who steered me to a lot of them. We went to a few shows in small clubs, and I was hooked.

PKM: I was thinking you might be someone who actually saw Rocket from the Tombs.

Derf: No one saw Rocket From the Tombs! They only played like four gigs before breaking up in a backstage fistfight. Although those guys all worked at a [Cleveland] record shop I visited, Drome Records. They were the clerks! Now I did first see Pere Ubu in 1977 or so, when they performed their weekly Pere Ubu Dance Party at a club on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. That was a lot of fun. It was like landing on another planet! The Styrenes were another bizarre band I saw there. DEVO, of course, and the Cramps! Most people don’t realize they were an Akron-Cleveland band.

PKM: Indeed! Of course many of those early punk bands, at least in America, were in some ways a reaction to the dissolution of the hippie impulse. Though I think it was mainly a musical reaction – being bored of long jammy songs and stadium ticket prices – there’s an argument that a part of punk was actually a diametric reaction to the tumult at the end of the 1960s hippy dream, Kent State being maybe the major period on that sentence.

Derf: In fact, some of them emerged in Kent, and many of them were on campus on May 4! Most of DEVO was there. Some of them were in the line of fire! Their theory of de-evolution was an artistic response to the massacre. Chrissie Hynde was there, too, walking to art class.



PKM: Yeah. The fact that members of DEVO were on campus that day I think is one of the most incredible, intrinsic moments of punk rock history. Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) though said that during the early CBGB scene, 1975-77, talking about politics was almost square, “something your parents did.” As opposed to our current mainstream definition of punk rock as inherently leftist political – which at first came from the British side of things – do you think that after Kent State the general mid-70s musical retreat from political involvement, including the very lite rock / AM Gold / coked-out disco diversions, was a direct outgrowth of the horror of Kent State?

Most of DEVO was there. Some of them were in the line of fire! Their theory of de-evolution was an artistic response to the massacre. Chrissie Hynde was there, too, walking to art class.

Derf: Well, certainly U.S. punk rock was usually delightfully dumb, but the Heads were singing about serial killers during the Summer of Sam, and “Don’t Worry About the Government.” Patti Smith, the Dead Kennedys emerged, a few others. Punk was, at its heart, a political statement. No, I don’t buy what Tina is saying there at all. Maybe her circle of art students in the Bowery was apolitical, but me and my friends at Ohio State were certainly not.

PKM: Maybe making art/music was the only accessible reaction that could seem to have an effect in the face of the pigs actually shooting you?

Derf: The Seventies were a stressful era. We were battered by relentless recession, our political system was pillaged by Nixon, terrorism and fear was on the rise, the Cold War was at its peak, it was awful. I’m not going to fault people for flocking to discos and hopping around to bad music. The influence of punk rock far exceeded the number of actual participants though. There were only a couple hundred of us in any given big city. Most of my contemporaries were rock meatheads who were pumping their fists to Led Zeppelin or the Boss.


PKM: I take it you still  find your particular art expression as your way of fighting the system?

Derf: Nah, I’m not that arrogant. I’m a storyteller, and my motivation is telling a great story in comics form. Sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes a tragedy, but that’s always my goal. Kent State is a story I’ve been carting around with me my whole life, and it’s such a great story. It hasn’t been told as a visual narrative before, except for a bad TV movie in 1981, so the opportunity was there to present it in a different way. I wanted to use the power of graphic narrative to make this history that would be felt, the same way the Students of 1970 still feel it. When the four are cut down at the end of the book, it packs a wallop.

The influence of punk rock far exceeded the number of actual participants though. There were only a couple hundred of us in any given big city. Most of my contemporaries were rock meatheads who were pumping their fists to Led Zeppelin or the Boss.

PKM: It definitely does. The simple boxes in the corner with their name and age is heart-stopping. Is there a chance this book gets made into a movie too?

Derf: It’s being shopped around. I don’t worry about these things. My focus is on making the best comics I can. If I do that, good things happen.