Another book from the “university of life” pile (though not in the picture), “Gonzo” is the biography of Hunter S. Thompson in graphical form. In case you don’t know his work, Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist who invented the so-called “gonzo” style. This was basically to rock up at some major event and become embedded within it, usually writing up a long form piece from an outsider perspective. He was particularly famous for his work on the Hell’s Angels and Richard Nixon’s campaign for presidential re-election in 1972.

I came to Hunter S. Thompson through his novel “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” when a history teacher at school introduced me to his raggedy copy of the book, complete with the Ralph Steadman cartoons that are as much part of the work as the text. Subtitled “A Savage Journey To The Heart Of The American Dream”, it really pulls no punches at all. I wrote about it for my English Literature coursework, comparing it to “On The Road” but when I read “Fear And Loathing” again about ten years later, I realised that the sixteen year old me had not got it and had no hope of doing so either. I think a lot of people misunderstand “Fear and Loathing”, so I don’t feel so bad about it now.

Hunter’s work has also featured in films. “Fear And Loathing” was made into a film starring Johnny Depp and directed by Terry Gilliam – I need to watch it again but I don’t think it was anywhere near as good as the book. “The Rum Diary”, an account of his time in Puerto Rico, was made more recently and once again features Johnny Depp as Hunter1. More importantly Lee, who kindly comments here from time to time, appeared in the movie as an extra!

The book itself is very enjoyable and a very brisk read. The drawing is excellent and really captures the intensity and fervour of Hunter’s writing, though it is strange that so little of Ralph Steadman’s style comes across – especially when his work is such an integral part of Hunter’s. I can understand why though, it does also help to separate the writing from the cartoons that perhaps built to much of a mythology around it, “Fear and Loathing” in particular. As for the structure of the story of Hunter’s life and how that is presented, it is really straightforward and pacy, yet it somehow manages to capture that great voice that rings through his writing.

The story collects together all the elements and events that made him so driven and so crazy, and it shows how, despite the other support mechanisms he had (a wife, a child, editor’s willing to fund his writing), the principal support mechanism he had for dealing with the injustice he saw around him was to drink. As the story progresses we see that when a support mechanism is also one that corrodes, the support that it gives will eventually fall away, as indeed it did for Hunter toward the end of his life.

If you like graphic novels or the work of Hunter S. Thompson, I can really recommend this.

  1. In “Fear And Loathing”, Depp plays Raoul Drake, the fictional proxy of Hunter in the novel.