Hunter S. Thompson – writer, weirdo, addict – he was all those things and much more. From his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky to New York, Las Vegas, all around the world and back again, Hunter traveled and wrote some of the best stories we’ll ever know. Time, Rolling Stone, and The Nation all courted his literary genius and wild ways of narrating a story and he enthralled readers with his tales of debauchery and scandal, death and destruction. In their new graphic novel, Gonzo: a Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson, Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith give readers a glimpse into the complicated life of Thompson, and, hopefully, reinvigorate readers into reading Thompson’s work again or for the very first time.
Hunter S. Thompson was born in 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. His father passed away when Hunter was 15, leaving the family in financial and emotional despair. This would be the moment that would propel Hunter forward into jail, which led to a stint in the Air Force, which led to his interest and passion for writing and journalism, and, thankfully, led him to the readers of America and the world. He continued to write throughout his life for publications large and small. He also published books, most notably a book chronicling the life and doings of the Hell’s Angels, as well as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He was the purveyor of Gonzo journalism – a type of reporting that often includes the writer as a part of the story itself, as he is not only experiencing it, but also documenting that experience for the reader. Hunter S. Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2005.
Writing a graphic novel about the life of Hunter S. Thompson seems like a difficult task, but Bingley and Hope-Smith do an exceptional job of opening up his life to the reader in a way that seems like Hunter is telling us the story himself. Filled not only with narrative analysis, but also with asides, conversations, and glimpses into situations Thompson lived, this book gives the reader a fuller picture of his life story, and makes the book more enjoyable to read. I felt like I was going on a ride with Hunter leading the way, telling me about his life and occasionally going off on tangents, just like a person would if they were standing there telling you the story.
This is by no means a full biography where the reader has a clear and complete understanding of the subject’s life; I’m still just as confused as ever about Hunter and his life, but I enjoyed the story immensely. It’s like a slice of pie; just because you don’t get to eat the whole pie doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the small slice that you receive. Readers will definitely be interested in learning more about Thompson’s life, and this graphic novel gives readers the perfect slice that incorporates stories from his childhood, young adulthood, later adulthood and death to serve as an introduction.
The illustrations by Anthony Hope-Smith seem to be the embodiment of how Hunter wrote – chaotic and action filled, but also clear, warm and concise. The drawings are black and white line drawings and they perfectly illustrate Hunter, his attitude, and look. I felt as if he were brought to life in these drawings; to draw him perfect and clear wouldn’t have seemed like Hunter to me. The illustrations perfectly match the story and show a time of war and peace, confusion and clarity. This story will definitely appeal to fans of non-fiction graphic novels, but it will also appeal to Thompson’s fans and those who were too young to care about him at the peak of his popularity – in other words, a wide range of readers. A perfect addition to any non-fiction graphic novel collection, and a perfect representation of Hunter’s complicated and messy life.
Gonzo: a Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson
by Will Bingley
Art by Anthony Hope-Smith
Abrams ComicArts, 2012