“No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
I picked up “Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson” by Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith on a whim: I was actually looking for “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, but the bright orange cover caught my eye and being a fan of Thompson’s work, I figured it would at least make for an interesting read.
The readers get a sense of the minimalist approach the illustrator (Anthony Hope-Smith) and author (Will Bingley) use throughout the graphic novel from the cover art itself. Bright and daunting, “Gonzo” features a cartoonified Thompson, holding unto a suitcase, in mid-leap/mid-run, while smoking a cigarette. This image is Thompson personified: the gun-toting, manic journalist who was passionate about politics, the counter-culture of the 60’s and whose peak equalled the talent of Fitzgerald and Faulkner.
After reading the bittersweet, sentimental foreword by Alan Rinzler, Thompson’s long-time friend and editor, I knew I was about to experience a memoir like no other. Everything about this graphic novel was written with the same spirit and angst Thompson carried in his life and in his writing. The theme is dark, and it will strike the “fear and loathing” in you — whether its directed to your government, society or literature — but that is what Hunter Thompson represented — intense love and passion for an idea, along with its imminent degradation and decay.
“Gonzo” may be a fast read – a biography that totals to 180 pages will take you no time — but it’s a reading laboured with heaviness. I can only describe my experience of reading “Gonzo” as a fist that kept closing in on my chest each page I consumed. Bingley and Hope-Smith encapsulated the essence of Thompson’s inner most struggles well — and it is manifested through the narrative, through the black and white starkness of the illustration, and the visible blank spaces in each panel that solidified the sense of emptiness, with random bursts of hopefulness, present in Thompson’s idiosyncratic life. The biography itself is structured much like Thompson’s writing: raw, honest and stripped down to its bare essentials.
A graphic novel certainly isn’t the first choice for a biography – but to depict such a volatile and spontaneous life in pure narration wouldn’t have done it justice. There is something truly moving and alive about illustrations that speak volumes about a life built on adrenaline and eternally “skid(ding) in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas)