Published on December 1st, 2015 | by Ian Goodwillie0
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: The Graphic Novel
Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a classic of gonzo literature, and it has been nicely adapted to graphic novel format.
Some books just never let you go and for me this is definitely one of them. I come back to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas frequently and in a variety of forms, the latest being a graphic novel adapted by Troy Little.
One of the surprising things about much of Thompson’s work is that art is a huge part of aesthetic. And when I say art, I mean the work of Ralph Steadman. His art has accompanied many of Thompson’s books, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
There’s a reason why this duo worked together for decades.
The problem going into this adaptation is that you expect the art of Ralph Steadman, particularly if you’re familiar with his work in this context. Little’s art feels cartoonish, maybe even childish at first glance. But once you dig into his adaptation and get over your bout of “This-Art-Doesn’t-Look-Like-Steadman’s-Itis”, you settle and realize how perfect it is for the story.
A good adaptation needs to be done by someone who both understands and cares about the sources material. It’s obvious that Troy Little gets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
It starts with the imagery on the cover. The Great Red Shark tearing through bat country, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo out of their gourds up front. But it’s the bats. The shining, translucent bats on the front cover over the image that immediately let me know I was in for another wild ride.
From there, you dig into the words. The narration vs. the action vs. the dialogue. This book has an odd narrative that can best be described as frenetic. The language is carefully chosen, each word picked for a reason even if its author didn’t remember the reason. The timing and placement of every syllable mattered when the book was constructed. How the imagery is designed to match matters just as much.
Little makes all the right choices in which key elements to lay out in visual format. Creating a comic book is a lot like storyboarding a movie, another format this book has been successfully adapted to. It’s not exactly the same but it’s similar. The images he chooses to depict and how he depicts them are borderline perfect. The scene at Circus Circus is fantastically done. The art not only nails the insanity of the drug of choice for that moment as well as the ridiculousness of the casino they’re in.
And there’s the voice in your head. Or voices, as the case may be.
If you’ve seen the movie, the respective performances of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro as Raoul Duke and his attorney are hard to forget. Depp is a notoriously big fan of Hunter S. Thompson. A lot of passion went into his performance. You can’t read this graphic novel or see the images, and not hear their voices in the dialogue. Then the narration hits and Depp’s voice just starts ringing in your ears. You hear every ounce of the Hunter he studied to the part.
And it’s not a bad thing.
The fact that Little has so perfectly managed to channel the spirit of the book, and by default the movie, is a testament to the quality of the adaptation.
Some Gonzo Bonus Reading Recommendations:
Everything about this graphic novel is a perfect monument to one of the most pervasive books in American literature by one of the most unique authors. But while I can’t recommend reading this graphic novel enough, don’t think doing so excuses you from reading the actual book. If by some chance you want to learn more about the man behind it all, these are the few of the books on Hunter S. Thompson I can’t recommend highly enough.
The Joke’s Over by Ralph Steadman – Ralph spent a huge amount of time with Thompson over the years and offers some amazing insights. His book chronicles their time together, breaking it down on an encounter-by-encounter basis.
Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson by Corey Seymour and Jann S. Wenner – Corey Seymour was Thompson’s last editor at Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner is the magazine’s co-founder and he spent a lot of time dealing with Thompson. They put together this amazing oral biography by interviewing dozens of people who knew him over his life.
Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo – This is a collection of photographs the man himself took over his life. It pairs nicely with the other books about him, offering a visual representation of the stories they’re telling you.
Outlaw Journalist by William McKeen – This is the best straight up biography of Thompson you will find. It is a clear view behind the drugs, drinking, and gonzo-ness at the man and writer.