Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson

I bought this book way back when I was trying to impress this guy who, as far as I knew, was into both graphic novels and Hunter S. Thompson. By the time I got around to reading it, the thrill of the idea of talking to him about it/casually lending it to him was long gone, and also the full effect of its titular hipsterishness set in. But I read it anyway, and I’m glad I did.

I know nothing about graphic novels, and next to nothing about Hunter S. Thompson, and as pretentious and ignorant as it may seem to say this, I think it’s the perfect medium for telling his story. Of course, many liberties had to be taken, and many details had to be omitted, but that’s the art of it. (“Duh!” says everyone who is reading this who loves graphic novels.) I feel like I learned about a decent amount–a richer Cliffs Notes version, if you will–of his life, and it only prompted me to want to learn more, to revisit Fear and Loathing, to look up some of his essays. The man was fascinating, always bespectacled, and constantly in a cloud of smoke. A nerdy, adult Pigpen.

That cloud of smoke followed around 2D Hunter wherever he went in this book, as did his shorts and sandals and weird visor. Though the book never explained this bizarre, iconic uniform, it was oddly comforting to see him in it in each panel. Waldo wishes he could be as intriguing as this guy, and easier to find, at that. I do wish that the book had covered a bit more about his wife and child. They seemed like tertiary characters, and while I know space was limited, I got the sense that they weren’t the afterthought they came across as. And the section about the Hell’s Angels in Monterey was completely fascinating; as a now-ashamed Monterey resident, I admit I knew nothing of this event until I saw it in this book. Add it to the list of “things I need to ask my parents about at some point.”

I particularly enjoyed seeing Richard Nixon rendered two-dimensional (p. 159); he is maybe the truest comic book villain the world has ever seen, but only now just discovered. But the most powerful panels were those about the Vietnam War. I can’t really place whether or not Hunter would be content with a graphic biography of himself, but I can imagine that he’d give those images a pass. Pictures really are worth 1000 words, especially in the case of something as brutal and indescribable as a war. Those stark visuals honor the horror in ways that words can’t.

It’s a true accomplishment for authors Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith to be able to do artistic justice to someone with such a unique way with words, and I think they need to be given credit for that. I don’t know if these, my favorite quotes, are their words or Hunter’s, but I suppose it really doesn’t matter. His affected theirs, and so shall theirs affect mine.

p. 12 // “In a caged society, a man’s liberty is the meat of his master’s power. But even in a world of jailers, no truth can trap an honest liar.”

p. 94 // “I believed that in order to become a great writer, first you had to be a great man.”

p. 141 // “Throughout history, art and politics have always shared a very close relationship. This is because art describes a nation in a way that pure politics cannot.”

p. 171 // “Your achievements, like bricks, will come to found the walls of your mausoleum.”

So it goes.