Derf's Childhood Memories Spark Graphic Novel About Kent State Shootings

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"Suddenly it all came rushing in.  It was as if the world just kind of roared in with the [Ohio] National Guard.  It was a very unsettling experience for me."

That’s John “Derf” Backderf’s childhood memory from 1970 as a 10-year-old living in Richfield, Ohio.

It was spring and mere days before the tragic Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970.

[courtesy: Derf Backderf / Abrams ComicArts]

A Teamsters union strike led Governor James A. Rhodes to order the guardsmen, who arrived in Richfield with helmets and rifles. 

"The guard camped on my little league field, across the street from my elementary school," Derf recalled.  "I sat there in the classroom stealing glances outside the window as these trucks and jeeps went roaring past."

[courtesy: Derf Backderf / Abrams ComicArts]

It was the same Ohio National Guard unit (145th Infantry) that would travel to Kent State University a few days later and open fire on students.

In anticipation of next year's 50th anniversary of the deadly shootings, Derf is in the finishing stages of his next graphic novel, "Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio." 

[courtesy: Derf Backderf / Abrams ComicArts]

His research has led to some surprising discoveries.

"When I began really thinking in earnest about doing this, I realized how many people I know or have met over the years who were there either as students or townspeople or reporters or photographers," Derf said.

[courtesy: Derf Backderf / Abrams ComicArts]

The book will tell the story of the four students killed - Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Allison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder and Sandra Lee Scheuer.

"I wanted to show the story through the eyes of the four," he said.  "I want to show what they saw and what they experienced because one or all of them were observers to everything that happened."

[courtesy: Derf Backderf / Abrams ComicArts]

As an artist Derf is able to fill in gaps to the visual history of May 4, 1970.

"That's the great thing about my art form - the graphic narrative. With oral accounts and a little bit of photo reference I can conjure up all these images. I can recreate them," he said.

Derf's  "Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio" is scheduled to publish from Abrams Comic Arts in the spring of 2020 in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Kent State Shootings.

Listen to the full interview:


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