Abrams ComicArts, US$24.99 hb, 288 pp
Editorial cartoonists gamble their all on a same-day art, their work created, read, and discarded on the day of publication. The makers of graphic novel journalism use the language of cartooning, too, but in their case it’s a marathon, not a sprint: they spend years arranging thousands of images and tens of thousands of words across hundreds of pages in order to create their books. Two new graphic novels cast a picto-critical eye on the war in Vietnam and show how it came home to roost, bringing death and imprisonment to suburban streets in Australia and the United States.
In Kent State: Four dead in Ohio, American cartoonist Derf Backderf documents the four days in May 1970 that led to Ohio National Guard troops shooting students protesting against American involvement in the Vietnam War. As in his previous graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer (2012), about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf’s own life intersects with a national narrative: in the first scene, his mother drives the ten-year-old Backderf past a platoon of National Guardsmen who have been deployed to bust a truck drivers’ strike. Four days later, these same soldiers will fire on the protesting twenty-year-olds on the Kent State University campus, killing four and wounding nine. The confrontation that the Backderfs drive past sets the scene for the physically violent clashes between the law and protesters, presented throughout the book in disturbing visceral cartooning, culminating in the day of the killings: 4 May 1970.