Comics creator Derf Backderf was born and raised in a small Ohio town outside Akron, the son of a chemist and homemaker. At age 8, he discovered comic books at the town’s corner drug store and that was pretty much that.
After a brief stint at art school, he dropped out and worked on the back of a garbage truck, an experience that was the basis for his comix project, TRASHED.
He attended Ohio State University on a journalism scholarship and was a political cartoonist for the student paper, The Lantern, for three years. Derf began his professional career as a political cartoonist but was fired from his first job for, as the editor put it, “general tastelessness.”
In 1990, his freeform comic strip THE CITY debuted in the Cleveland Edition, beginning a 24-year run. THE CITY appeared in nearly 150 weekly papers around the country, including The Village Voice, and won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for political satire in 2008.
When weekly papers began to fail, Derf abandoned strips for books. His first graphic novel, PUNK ROCK & TRAILER PARKS (SLG Publishing, 2009), a bawdy comic account of the punk rock scene in Akron, Ohio, was cited by Booklist as “one of the stand-out graphic novels of the year.” It became a bestseller in France after its 2014 release and was awarded the Prix Bulles Zik literary prize.
That set the stage for Derf’s most famous graphic novel, MY FRIEND DAHMER (Abrams Comicarts, 2012), the haunting account of his teenage friendship at Revere High School with the future serial killer. It has been hailed as one of the finest graphic novels in recent memory by Slate, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Kirkus Reviews, Le Monde, El Mundo, The Guardian, and many more. Time listed it as one of the five best non-fiction books of the year. It received an Alex Award from the American Library Association, one of only ten books honored. It was awarded an Angoulême Prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France, as well as the Priz du Polar and Prix Litararie, the top scholastic book award, both in France. The film adaptation of MY FRIEND DAHMER premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and played in cinemas in the US and abroad throughout 2017 and 2018.
His next graphic novel, TRASHED (Abrams Comicarts, 2016), inspired by his garbage truck career, won an Eisner Award and was named book-of-the-year by the Green Party of France. TRASHED is also in development as a film project.
His latest book is KENT STATE: FOUR DEAD IN OHIO (Abrams Comicarts, 2020). The Library Journal calls it “Incendiary. Required reading for all Americans.”
His books have been translated into 17 languages. Backderf has also been nominated for multiple Eisner and Ignatz Awards, as well as Harvey and Reuben Awards. The Derf Collection, comprised of 34 years of original art and papers, was established in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University in 2009.
Derf lives in Cleveland, for reasons he can no longer remember.