The Doctor is in! Cartoon Art and Life Collide in the World of Gonzo Journalism

Hunter S Thompson Cartoon

My version of Hunter S. Thompson, which I pencilled while recently watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Hunter S. Thompson understood this universal truth and took it as his mantra for flying the freak power flag higher than anyone around. In doing so, he developed a caustic, take-no-prisoners style of writing ultimately known and revered as Gonzo Journalism. No matter what aspect of modern living Hunter covered in his lengthy career as a Doctor of Journalism, he never failed to expose the naked, awful truth. Even if he had to make it up.

That, above all else, was Hunter’s charm. You just never knew whether he was telling the whole truth, wrapping the truth in some form of allegory, or shining you on with something so outrageous that the true, mind-blowing reality of what he really had to say wouldn’t seem so odd.

Hunter lived hard and fast. Drugs and alcohol were as much tools to him as were his tape recorder, typewriter and mojo wire. As much as possible, in true gonzo fashion, Hunter would insert himself into the story. He started by riding with the Hell’s Angels in the mid-sixties when he was gathering material to write his exposé of them. It worked so well, he never looked back and worked that trick to such success that he even managed to get to ride along in a limo with Nixon to talk football during coverage of the presidential election. Hunter’s year-long odyssey within the American political machine found its way regularly into Rolling Stone magazine before being packaged in book form as Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter's grand opus.

Hunter’s most famous piece of writing is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was adapted for film by Terry Gilliam and starred Johnny Depp in the role of HST/Raoul Duke. Depp’s portrayal is regarded as the most true to form, usually favoured over Bill Murray’s turn as Hunter in the bio-pic Where the Buffalo Roam. I find both films have their strengths. Fear and Loathing sticks strictly to the source material, whereas Buffalo gives us more of a glimpse of the circus which Hunter’s life became as he was increasingly hamstrung by the public’s expectations of him as a gonzo writer.

Hunter chafed at the legend which had grown around him. He often expressed how, as the legend grew to have a life of its own, he himself had become largely unnecessary. Perhaps in some respect this was true. Certainly he was aware that too many aspects of his life/legend were beyond his control. The gonzo style, which had at one time brought him recognition and success, inevitably became a drawback. It had the effect of creating a larger than life persona which turned into a caricature. Worst of all, the caricature was what people clamoured for Hunter to be. There was no escaping his fate.

action figure cover

Doonesbury's Uncle Duke in a collected volume complete with vinyl action figure.

Hunter’s role as a cartoonish counter-culture icon was cemented by his portrayal in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip. Like Hunter, Trudeau took aim at modern American life often satirizing many of the same targets. Trudeau’s character Uncle Duke may not have impressed Hunter, but readers the world over responded and the good doctor returned as a constantly recurring character over the years. My personal favourite storyline was when Duke gets hired as the manager for the Washington Redskins. Player doping, gambling, greed and corruption ensues to hilarious effect. Eventually Trudeau had enough material for a collected version of Uncle Duke’s adventures to be published. Action Figure came with it’s own vinyl figure complete with such accessories as a martini glass and a sub-machine gun.

curse-of-lono-coverOf course, the caricature studies of Hunter all started much earlier than Doonesbury. Hunter was paired with British illustrator Ralph Steadman whose own frenetic pen and ink style easily matched Hunter’s vitriolic prose, capturing the hyper-kinetic energy so prevalent in Hunter’s best writing. They met on assignment for Scanlan’s Monthly producing an article called “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”. The pair became friends and Steadman came to illustrate many of Hunter’s antics over the years (including Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas), with one final collaboration on a book/adventure: The Curse of Lono.

Eventually Hunter wrote his own ending, committing suicide on February 20, 2005. He left a suicide note titled “Football Season is Over” and, true to gonzo form, had his ashes shot out of a canon at his funeral.

Look who’s talking about the DC Comics relaunch

DC Comics Justice League Re-launch

DC Comics kicked off its New 52 re-launch with the release of Justice League #1

This past Wednesday, the big moment finally came and went. Justice League #1 hit the racks, with many stores hosting well-attended midnight release parties. It’s still too early to determine if DC Comics’ new 52 relaunch will be a success at gaining new fans while holding on to the old ones. From a public relations point of view, however, I think it’s safe to say that DC Comics has scored a big win.

Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY, has been talking about DC’s move to reboot their existing lines with 52 new number 1 issues. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the reboot/relaunch is not simply a matter of re-numbering books. It also involves changes to characters, costumes, and plotlines. This caused a lot of chatter amongst comics fans on blogs, podcasts, and in comic shops everywhere. With the beginning of the relaunch (New 52 debut comics will be released over the next 4 weeks) major media players began adding their voices to the discussion with featured articles, reviews and interviews with key figures within DC Comics.

Media heavyweights such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times and National Public Radio ran stories covering the event. Magazines including Fast Company, PC Magazine, Wired and Christian Science Monitor gave space to discussions of DC Comics’ bold move. MTV and Entertainment Weekly shoe-horned in some coverage and ABC News ran an interview with two of the major archiects of the realunch, DC Comics’ creators/executives Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. Even non-comic websites such as Mashable, Salon and Marketplace gave their take on how the relaunch would impact DC Comics’ sales of print and digital copies.

The media coverage isn’t the only place where DC have scored a win. Not only has Justice League #1 sold out, but many of the remaining New 52 titles are also selling out before their release through pre-orders. This event has been a huge boost for DC both in sales and share of mind with consumers. A keyword search through Google revealed that “DC Comics” came up 673,000 times in online searches versus 368,000 for “Marvel Comics”.

So it seems that a lot of people are talking about DC Comics right now. Will this translate into fan interest and loyalty beyond the debut issues? It will be fascinating to see what sort of impact all this attention has both on DC Comics and the comic industry as a whole.

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