Derf Backderf attended art school as a young man and dropped out before long. He decided instead to do journalism school, where he enjoyed writing, taking photos and making cartoons for the school paper. After college, he had some stints doing political cartoons and comic strips for newspapers, and eventually, he yearned for more space to tell sequential stories.
“My comic strips were not character-driven,” Backderf said. “It was all kind of stream-of-consciousness or gag stuff or weird, whatever popped into my head. Writing long-form books, you build them all around characters. I always thought that would be a fun way to write, and damned if it isn’t.”
With his latest graphic novel released this month, Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Backderf has combined copious reporting with visual storytelling to recount the Ohio National Guard’s slaughter of unarmed college students protesting the Vietnam War.