cover image Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3484-7

Backderf (My Friend Dahmer) delivers a provocative, heartbreaking account of the days leading up to the infamous tragedy of May 1970, in which National Guardsmen killed four unarmed students and injured nine others at a Vietnam War protest on the Kent State University campus. Backderf conducted extensive research to explore the lives of the four students, revealing their hopes and dreams for the future—portraits that sharply rebut the politically motivated smears politicians and media outlets inflicted upon them after the incident. Though wholly sympathetic to the student protestors, Backderf also takes care to report the grueling conditions the National Guardsmen were forced to endure; their lack of training for de-escalation versus battlefield deployment; and the failings of leaders such as Ohio governor Jim Rhodes (a Nixon loyalist) and Gen. Robert Canterbury. Both men’s anger and paranoia toward antiwar activists stoked their emotion-driven directives to the exhausted, agitated guardsmen and fueled an already highly volatile situation. Backderf’s tightly drawn, muscular figures and busy layouts anchored by choice period details are consistent with his established style, with flourishes (from hairstyles to smirks) that individualize the ensemble cast. His expertly crafted chronicle of this defining moment in U.S. history serves as a deeply moving elegy for the victims. Readers may also draw from it sobering parallels to the deep divisions of contemporary times, again dangerously rife with media noise and misinformation muddying the waters. [em](Sept.) [/em]