Stripping Down to Essentials: A Review of “Gonzo”

“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)


Friends and Money

Once during a summer in high school, I was with Selena, Melissa and Amanda after having just spent the whole day at the beach. After we were  sun-baked, we decided to go to Lick’s to gorge on some yummy hamburgers.

Upon arriving there, Selena asked what I was getting. Being 15 and having literally no money on me except for bus tickets, I said, “I can’t get anything, I’ll eat at home.”

She then said, “No, what are you getting because I’m getting it for you”, in a tone that made me realize that I had misunderstood her question before.

Confused, I reiterated: “No, I don’t have money. I’ll eat at home.”

She then laughed before saying, “You’ll get me back next time! This time, I want to get this for you.”

I must’ve looked distraught at this new concept because the entire time we were in line, Selena kept comforting me by crooning in my ear, “Today I have a job, tomorrow I won’t, so you’ll get me back when I don’t.” She bought me a whole meal complete with a drink that I would never forget, because when you’re 15 and unemployed, $8 for a meal at Lick’s was more than an hour worth of working when you’re just working minimum-wage.

And she bought it for me without even thinking twice about it.

For the rest of my teenage life I would use this event as the main jumping point for all my friendships. True to her word, there came a time where I would have a job and Selena wouldn’t, and so our night-outs would always be dependent on who was working or not. If I wasn’t working, Selena would pay for my ticket. If she wasn’t working, I would. It just turned out to be a tradition that we passed on amongst our other friends until eventually, we had formed a communal process where we would always have something to give when going out together.

A typical gathering between our friends would have one bringing a dessert without being told, another bringing appetizer, another bringing liquor while the others bring ingredients to contribute to the meal that we all cook together. It just worked out perfectly every time — if you were invited to someone’s place for dinner or a party, we just naturally brought something with us to contribute to the group. There were times when my friends would come empty-handed and then a day after, I would find $10 and $20 bills stashed inside my bookshelves as payment for not having brought anything. And if I ever try to give these bills back, I would be fighting against a barrage of “no’s” and “please, please just take my money”.

This is what I love most about my friends: the fact that we never let money get in the way. In a society where  success is defined by our salaries, where small talks are grounded on what we do for a living, instead of who we are as a person, I am grateful to have found friends who doesn’t place money on as high as a pedestal as the rest of twenty-something year olds do.

My sister once warned me, when I was earning less than $20,000 a year, that I only hated money because I didn’t have any of it. Now that I’m earning enough for my lifestyle, with a couple of hundreds every month tucked away into savings, I still feel the same way.

I hate that cellphones are now considered part of the cost of living; the excitement of exploring a city has now been translated to just “getting lost” up until the moment we turn on the gps equipped in our phones. I hate that we need different types of shoes to do different activities (shoes for hiking, for the beach, for dancing, for the office, etc.) I hate that books has been reduced to digital text that can discarded and thrown at your convenience without a trace, as opposed to physical books where we feel the literal weight of the narrative bearing down on our hands as we turn every page.

I hate that money controls people: everything from their personalities, hopes and dreams, down to their relationships. People are so preoccupied with making money that they forget about their true passion. Instead, their goals are transformed from pursuing happiness to creating a comfortable lifestyle where you can manifest power through the concept of ownership, and creating your personality through the things you own, instead of the things you create.

Which is why it confuses me when I’m with other groups of people, who are so intent on separating bills when we eat out, down to the last cent. I always find myself asking: why does it matter? Aren’t we friends? Why can’t we trust that nobody is taking advantage of each other? Why is it such a chore to pay a little extra for something you don’t owe, when you know it’s going to be contributed towards the greater good?

When I’m with my group of friends, everyone just puts down $20, no questions asked, regardless of who is earning more or who ate more. If our pay exceeds our bill, then the extra goes to the waiter/waitress. It’s better to give more than what is expected of you, than to contribute less. Because by doing this, we show that we won’t take advantage of you, that we will give as much as we could, and that we trust that we are not being taken advantage of. Isn’t that what friendship is all about?