Derf Backderf © Alain Seux.JPG

One of the most eagerly awaited graphic novels of the spring was Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, by Derf Backderf (Abrams ComicArts)It’s awaited with good reason: the author of My Friend Dahmer lays out the events of May 4th, 1970 in stunning sociological and historical detail, telling the story of four student protesters who were shot by the National Guard. It was a shocking event that helped a divided nation take stock of just why it was fighting.

The book was originally planned for release on April 4th, tying in to the 50th anniversary of the shooting, with an author tour planned, but the publisher and Derf have just announced that the book’s release be postponed until September 4th. According to Abrams:

“Due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Abrams ComicArts is cancelling Derf Backderf’s spring book tour for Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, and moving the book’s release date to 9/4/20. Abrams ComicArts is fully committed to promoting and rebooking the tour in Fall 2020.”

We reached out to Derf for more comment and he responded:


THE BEAT: Can you tell us about the reasons for postponement?

DERF: It’s the best of several bad options. By September, hopefully the pandemic has eased and the country has returned to some semblance of normality. If not, well, we’ll have bigger worries than book releases. It’s not easy to move a launch, so I’m very grateful that Abrams made that happen. Moving the date at least gives this book a chance.  I’m disappointed to not to be part of the 50th commemoration of the shootings, purely from a personal and emotional perspective, but that event is likely not happening anyways.

The issues raised in Kent State are important ones. Right now, however, no one gives a crap, because understandably it’s COVID 24/7. By the Fall, maybe people will care about something like Kent State again.

THE BEAT: Why was this book so important to you personally?

DERF: It’s something I’ve carried around with me my whole life. I grew up near Kent. Even though I was just a kid when the shootings happened, it had a huge impact on me. It’s history I’ve studied my entire adult life. I’m very proud of this book.

THE BEAT: On your blog you mentioned that this book could resonate even more in September. Why? 

DERF: It certainly seems like we’re free falling into authoritarianism. Here in Ohio, the governor just effectively cancelled an election, with only a vague promise of somehow staging it down the road. Maybe that’s prudent from a public health perspective, but it’s deeply troubling from a democracy perspective.

Who knows where we’re heading the closer we get to November? It’s important to remember the lesson of Kent State; when people threaten those in power– truly threaten– the cost of dissent can be bitter.

Abrams ComicArts has provided us with some exclusive preview pages to remind us why we need to get this book when it does come out in September.


  1. Will this book detail any of Backderf’s own perspective/life at that point during the time of the events, like Dahmer did?

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