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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Gonzo. A Graphic Biography Of Hunter S. Thompson

written by Will Bingley
illustrated by Anthony Hope-Smith
foreword by Alan Rinzler
Publisher: SelfMadeHero

What's It About​?
“Over the course of Hunter S. Thompson's extraordinary life he was publicly branded a bum, a vandal, a liar, an addict, a freak and a psychopath. Only some of which are true,” so states the blurb of this book, a graphic retelling of the life of the infamous “gonzo” journalist from his earliest brush with the law at the age of nine to the time of his death in 2005. On the way he covers the 1972 American Presidential election, Watergate, the Fall of Saigon and the 1970 Kentucky Derby.

What's Good About It?
Hunter S. Thompson is one of those figures best referred to as “an interesting character” much like Lord Byron, Che Guevara or Oscar Wilde who lived an eventful life that touched on numerous great historical incidents. Also like those figures, Thompson's life was comic and tragic in equal measure. Seeing incidents such as Richard Nixon's re-election and the subsequent Watergate scandal from this man's point of view mixed in with concepts from his own writings gives the reader new perspective on the matter.

In this manner Gonzo not only offers a history of mid-twentieth century America but also of the development of politics and the media in the sixties and seventies. Thompson, of course, is famously associated with the invention of gonzo journalism, a style in which the writer becomes part of the events on which they report rather than sitting on the sidelines as an impartial observer as is the more traditional form. As Alan Rinzler notes in his foreword, the actual reality of gonzo journalism has been swallowed by Thompson's reputation to become “a license to knock off any silly, intoxicated, first draft prose” as finished work. Will Bingley uses this biography to explore the incidents both hilarious and terrible that led to Thompson's invention of gonzo.

The narrative style is in the stream of consciousness vein, similar to Thompson's largely fictional novel Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. The story shifts from incident to incident, more concerned with the emotions involved than the exact minutiae of those incidents. Bingley's writing style is sparse but absorbing, filling in the emotions as Anthony Hope-Smith's art fills in the events.

Gonzo is a fascinating introduction to one of journalism's great historical characters and also provides a more rounded view of the man than the popular legend and film adaptations of Fear And Loathing would have you believe.

What's Bad About It?
The graphic novel is not usually the first choice of format for biography. From an academic standpoint its easy to see why: though Bingley includes an extensive bibliography at the end of the book and it carries a foreword by (and presumably the approval of) one of Thompson's professional and personal associates there are no stated sources, no confirmation of his research. This book is a good introduction to the man's life but if you're looking for an exhaustive and fully authenticated biography then it might be best to look elsewhere.

There is also the matter of Thompson's well-known, even infamous, drug abuse. This facet of the man's life is handled factually, neither condoned nor vilified by Bingley and Hope-Smith. At times Thompson's drug use is shown to have consequences but at other times the attitude is more cavalier.

One of Thompson's most famous articles, arguably the one that made his career, concerns a rape committed by a gang of Hell's Angels. Owing to the nature of the incident this section might be triggering to some readers.

What's the Art Like?
The art is black and white with largely flat grey scale colouring in which differing shades of grey are employed to give the illusion of colour much like monochrome films but more papery. In fact, the only colour element of the entire book is the excessively orange cover.

This first example shows how the stream of consciousness style works with the art. In the art we have the Hunter S. Thompson of 1963 hunting deer in Colorado whilst the narration muses on the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy. You can also observe on the figure of Thompson how Hope-Smith uses shadow to create depth in his work.

This next page shows Hope-Smith's talent for drawing likenesses, understandably a necessary skill for a biography. As well as his pitch-perfect Thompson we have a competent rendition of Bob Dylan (Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez I have never heard of before and so I can't speak to their likeness). Dylan and Ginsberg are just two of the famous figures who feature in Thompson's story. The narration here is more relevant than in the previous scan but still more concerned with Thompson's emotions than with describing anything taking place on the page.

(Apologies for the fading edges of the scans, the book is a little thick for flattening in the scanner).

Other InformationPublished by Self Made Hero, Gonzo: A Graphic Biography Of Hunter S. Thompson retails at £14.99 (ISBN 978-1-906838-11-9) and is available from Amazon [here]. At time of writing it is also available from high street branches of HMV discounted to £12.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know this book existed. I'm not sure I could separate an illustrated Thompson from Ralph Steadman's amazing depictions of him and the gonza world though.