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Cartoonist reflects May 4 through power of art

Cartoonist and illustrator Chuck Ayers reflected on his experiences while being on campus during the events of May 4, 1970, and how his cartoons allowed him to reflect on those events during the opening of a new exhibit in the May 4 Visitors Center.

In celebration of the opening of the exhibit, “Graphic Content: Cartoons of May 4,” an exhibit displaying Ayers and fellow artists Derf Backderf and Katherine Wirick’s May 4 centered artworks, the May 4 Visitors Center invited Ayers to speak during the Opening Dialogue.

During his time at the university, Ayers said his graphic design major prompted him to be near Taylor Hall on May 4 as he wanted to take a few pictures for his photojournalism course.

“When I heard the bell ringing and I saw the Guard marching down,” Ayers said. “I grabbed my camera thinking that’s a really cool shot… I wasn’t expecting anything.”

Chuck Ayers relives the experience he had exiting from the north side of Cartwright Hall on May 4, 1970, to Alison Caplan, director of the May 4th Visitor Center, during the Opening Dialogue series, Graphic Content: Comics of May 4th, at the May 4th Visitor’s Center on March 20, 2024. (Cadie Pierce)

As the National Guard threw tear gas and fired at the protesters, he said he chose to go inside Taylor Hall in the former Kent Stater office.

“I learned later that just as the doors of the building closed behind me, the guard turned and fired right through the area I was just standing,” Ayers said.

After the campus closed on May 4, Ayers was a part-time employee at the Akron Beacon Journal and decided to go there with the intent to have his photos used for a news story about the shootings, he said.

“I walk into the newsroom and I see this just… it’s like everything went silent and all these heads just turned and looked,” he said.

Editors and Beacon staff members interviewed Ayers about his experience and what he saw. Ayers said one of the editors was aware of his past experiences of eye-witness court drawings and asked Ayers to draw what he witnessed.

“I saw Jeff Miller’s body in the street…and I took a picture from the distance. It was real tiny,” he said. “It burned this image into my mind and… I did draw that image.”

Those instances brought upon conversations of the differences of mental health resources today compared to back then, Alison Caplan, director of the May 4 Memorial Visit Center, asked him if his cartoons allowed for him to process the events of May 4.

Ayers said since he is a visual person, his drawings allow him to express himself better than if he were to use words, as he is able to channel his emotions into them.

For the 30th anniversary of May 4, Ayers said he used his own experiences in the comic he and comic strip creator Tom Batiuk created, “Crankshaft,” through the character Pam.

“I am sort of in that strip… many of my experiences are actually portrayed through one of the female characters,” he said. “It was a lot of the stuff that I did without it being about me.”

With the “Crankshaft” comic and his other drawings on display for the new exhibit, Ayers said he hopes individuals understand the gravity of May 4 better.

“People learn in different ways and a lot of people can learn easier through images and through humor,” he said.

Adriana Gasiewski is a beat reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

Tyler Schlosser is a reporter for TV2. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Adriana Gasiewski, Staff Reporter
Adriana is a sophomore majoring in journalism with minors in Italian and creative writing. Before becoming a staff reporter, she was a general assignment reporter last semester. She enjoys writing about current events and issues that Kent students face. Adriana is a second-year member of Her Campus, where she serves as Philanthropy and Community Events Coordinator, and she is a member of the editorial team. Contact her at [email protected].
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

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    Joseph LewisMar 28, 2024 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you Chuck. I hope your wounds are healing. You didn’t have to be shot to be wounded. Love and Peace