Gonzo: a Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson bears a cover that sums up both the novel and the man rather spectacularly well. It shows the Keith Richards of journalism galloping to the point where his feet don’t touch the ground. A lonely fag wobbles in his mouth while he clutches some form of briefcase and looking backwards, almost as if to see he’s not being followed.
On the 10th anniversary of his death, such a time feels fitting to look back on SelfMadeHero‘s graphic biography of the legendary journalist. Written by Will Bingley and illustrated by Anthony Hope-Smith, Gonzo paints a scrappy and breathless picture of Thompson as it follows him throughout his entire life, taking snapshots of critical moments in his career. Almost becoming one with the Hell’s Angels, running for sheriff in Pitkin County, his deep-seated hatred for Richard Nixon and more are all given pocket-sized overviews and mixed together into a cauldron of frantic and witty sharpness.
Originally published back in 2010, Gonzo not only retains an objective, fly-on-the-wall view of Thompson’s life, but provides delicate dashes of humour throughout each unfolding event on Thompson’s life, thanks to channelling Thompson himself as the book’s narrator.
Anyone expecting to find a deep, subjective meaning to Thompson’s life, his writing, and his impact in the written world may as well read on to the next book, as you won’t find any such revelations here. Gonzo feels as if it should be read as though Thompson himself were leafing through a scrapbook of his memories. Its plainly evident that Thompson lived very much like the reclusive rock star of journalism. The drug-taking, the establishment-bashing, the gypsy-like lifestyle – hell, even Bob Dylan and Cameron Crowe pop up for the odd cameo.
But Gonzo also hints at Thompson’s life being as troubled as it was adventurous. Hope-Smith’s rough, black and white artwork fails to glamorize his hectic lifestyle – if anything it illustrates how much of a strain Thompson could be on himself.
However, through using the man himself as our guide through the novel, Gonzo has a swift amount of warmth that plays well with its somewhat depressing depiction of Thompson’s life. Again, the cover plays into this, with Hunter looking like Scooby-Doo having just seen a ghost and retreating to a safe distance. That sense of the tragicomic individual is just a little bit mesmerizing, and makes Gonzo a thoroughly entertaining read. It neither heightens nor lowers the myth of the man, or the man himself – it simply shows, and does so with a little bit of a kick and a scream.