Graphic Novel Review: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Published on October 28th, 2015 in: Books, Comic Reviews, Comics, Current Faves, Reviews |

By Jeffery X Martin

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I’m just going to tell you flat-out, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Hunter S. Thompson is one of my favorite writers of all time. Hero status. When I first caught wind of this project, turning one of Thompson’s books into a comic book, I got The Fear. I was more than doubtful. I had some dread.

There are few pieces of American literature as brutal and beautiful as Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It is a snapshot of a forgotten time, endlessly quotable, an almost perfect blend of harsh truth and blatant lies. There is a movie version which, while flawed, captures the drug-addled visuals described in the book with a gruesome faithfulness. Songs have even been written about the book, most notably Avenged Sevenfold’s “Bat Country,” which reminded us all during that lost, far-away summer, that “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

When you love an artist, any artist, you become protective of that person’s work. You want to make sure nobody comes in and screws it up (I’m looking at you, remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog). I’m pleased to announce that we can safely add a new item to the list of Thompson ephemera: Troy Little’s graphic novel adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a beautifully rendered book that brings the noise while still holding the source material in the highest regard.

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember an odd series of books called Classics Illustrated. These were comic book versions of pieces of literature, such as Moby Dick, the Iliad, and some odd Shakespeare plays. It was your first year of college lit, all splayed out in full-color, easy to read pictures.

I think that’s the conceit behind this book, because I can’t think of a better way for youngsters to be introduced to the work of Dr. Thompson. And yes, everyone over the age of 14 should be reading Hunter S. Thompson. Little’s adaptation isn’t some watered-down, glossed-over Gonzo for Dummies. It’s faithful to a fault, clocking in at 170 pages. All the filth and foul language you expect from Thompson is here.

Little’s art is good, if maybe a little too cartoony for the subject matter. His main characters are rendered just fine. When you think about, the likeness of Thompson, particularly in this story where he refers to himself as Raoul Duke, is almost as much of the public consciousness as Snoopy or Keith Richards’ collapsed veins. There is a layer of caricature here, particularly on the main characters of Duke and his Samoan attorney, based on real-life lawyer Oscar Acosta. Little’s Duke lies somewhere between Doc Savage and Garry Trudeau’s version of Duke in the comic strip Doonesbury. That’s OK. Think about your kids drawing Pikachu or some shit. Are you going to get angry because they don’t look exactly like you think they should? Not unless you’re a heartless screwhead.

This is not saying that Little’s art is childish. Far from it. In fact, I really appreciate some of Little’s small touches. The license plate on Duke and his attorney’s car reads RD-SRK, a allusion to the fact that the car was known as the Road Shark in the book. I laughed at the checklist of the drugs in the back of their car. And if the graphic novel seems text-heavy at times, it should be. Thompson’s words need to shine through in this project, and Little wisely allows that.

Artist Ralph Steadman is somewhere in Scotland, drinking whiskey in a stone castle that is slowly sinking into the peat bogs, happy to be away from all this now. If someone is going to pick up his mantel for putting Thompson’s prose into pictures, it may as well be Troy Little. There’s a passion for the source material here that shows in the very design of the book. The panel layout is manic when it needs to be, respectful when necessary. It’s a great introduction to Thompson’s work, especially for those who claim they “don’t read,” but still pull down 12 X-Men titles from Comixology every week.

Is this book necessary? Fuck, dude, it’s art, OK? And art is always necessary. Even if you’re a hardcore Gonzo follower who has read everything from Hell’s Angels to Hey, Rube, you’re going to find something to like in this adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Collectors and completists will want to pick up the hardcover, which is well-bound and replete with embossed bats on the cover.

There’s no way to know if this adaptation will pave the way for more Thompson graphic novels, but I wouldn’t mind if it did. Hell’s Angels would be a great choice, and of course, I would love it if my favorite Gonzo missive made it to comic form. I don’t know how much of an audience there would be for a graphic novel of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, but I would sure snap it up. We are, after all, professionals.

Res ipsa loquitor.
Let the good times roll.

You can pick up a copy of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas from Topshelf Comix.

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