John Backderf: From The City to the (Kent) State

An established provocateur from an early age, John “Derf” Backderf is a renowned comics creator residing in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has garnered much critical acclaim and has earned such accolades as an Eisner Award (Trashed) and an Angoulême Prize (My Friend Dahmer). His latest work, Kent State (Abrams Comicarts) is an in-depth and critical look at the events leading up to May 4, 1970 at Kent State University.

Cartoonist John Backderf is interviewed.

With The City, I finally found my voice, after a decade of struggle. As my hero, Joe Strummer, said, “It’s an amazing thing to be in the right place at the right time with the right shit.” I felt like that, not to Strummer’s level, obviously, but for the first time, people were talking about my comics, especially here in Cleveland. And that’s a real rush when it happens. Yeah, some may scoff at that. Cleveland. Big deal, right? It’s Cleveland! But it’s always been important for me to matter in my own city.

As is their habit The Comics Journal interview covers Derf’s entire career.

How do you approach structuring background information or information discovered after-the-fact into the [Kent State] story while still ensuring narrative cohesion?

That’s a tricky balancing act, because there’s so much backstory here and it’s important. The shootings were the culmination of a decade of unfolding events and political movements. I didn’t want to get bogged down in backstory, because I wanted it to be crisp and intense. I didn’t want to lose the tension. I tried to sprinkle backstory throughout the narrative, so the story wouldn’t get bogged down. Since I narrowed the story down to the May 4th weekend only, just four days total, it was a challenge to work in that backstory.