Fear and Loathing in Comics
When it comes to counterculture journalism Hunter S. Thompson, the aptly named Dr. Gonzo takes the cake. As a marauding writer for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 70’s he invented the school of Gonzo Journalism and his cult classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, has come to be regarded as a literary masterpiece. Johnny Depp starred in the movie and Hunter S. Thompson came to personify everything Gonzo. Was it art? Was it journalism? Was it just his crazy fucked up life? It was all that and more. And now his epic story is making the transition to comics. Enter Troy Little.
A veteran artist and comic creator who has been nominated for an Eisner Troy took on the monumental task of adapting Fear and Loathing into a graphic novel. Along with Top Shelf Productions and IDW the whole process was a first class affair that sought to capture and enhance the legend of the notorious Dr. Gonzo and the crazy psychodelic escapade that Fear and Loathing is in comic form. Could it be done? Could he take the artwork in a fresh and exciting direction without replicating what the infamous Ralph Steadman had already done? Could he put an imaginative twist on an already infectious and whirlwind of a story? To get the answers we got with Troy Little to get the 411. We also got an excerpt from the comic so that you can decide the answers to these questions yourself. But here’s the interview with Troy Little-
What does Hunter S. Thompson mean to you?
I’m a long time fan of his books, and he was a really interesting person with a unique point of view on life. I tend to enjoy both of those aspects. His writing can be a fireball of hilarious vitriol that seems to mesh with his persona, but when I see footage of him in real life I can almost always tell when he’s putting on a show. He had a lot of bravado that didn’t always cover up his insecurities. For a man with a proven record of being loud and brash, there’s a lot more nuance to him then most people give him credit for. I find he’s just a pretty damn fascinating mess of contradictions, and very, very human.
What was it like getting the opportunity to adapt the book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into a graphic novel?
It was a dream come true! Fear & Loathing is one of my all time favorite books; I never ever imagined this would be in the realm of possibility. I was working on The Powerpuff Girls for IDW when I received an email out of the blue that sort of casually inquired if I’d be interested in working up a pitch for the book. Totally out of left field. And it took me a long time to finally get them something to look at. I kept psyching myself out when I tried to come up with a look and feel that would capture the energy of the book. Eventually I was given a deadline – I sent in what I had come up with and spent the rest of the night cursing loudly and pounding my fists against my skull. I was convinced I had blown it. Two days later, I find out I’m the guy who’s adapting the book. My mind was thoroughly blown.
What was your creative process like as you drew the panels and recreated the book in comic form?
My number one concern was to be true to the spirit of the novel. What I feel when I read Fear and Loathing is a manic energy, wired and running on no sleep. Everything is slightly (or extremely at times) exaggerated, and I tried to make that the core of my visual approach. The trick is, how to choose what’s the best way to interpret a scene into a sequence of images. Given the opportunity, unlimited time and resources I could re-draw that book 5 different ways. The book is rich with visuals that you could interpret in so many ways, but to actually get the book done you have to pick just one and roll on. I listened to a lot of 60’s rock to get in the right vibe and immersed myself in Hunter’s world; reading books by or about him and playing every piece of audio and documentary video I could find over and over. I even built a little model of “The Red Shark” for reference.
How close to the original did you keep it? Explain.
When I did my first edit of the novel I had added in parts here and there to bridge sequences, or maybe I added a little dialogue to help underscore a bit of narration. Everything I added was flagged, and after talking to my editors we decided that every word in the graphic novel was to be strictly from Hunter’s book. I think this was a really smart move, for as small as my additions were they were unnecessary. It also clears up an issue I personally have with adapted works – I hate when they deviate from the source material. And frankly, you can’t mess with or improve Hunter’s words, so it’s best you don’t even go there.
What was the process like getting the approvals from Hunter S. Thompson’s estate?
I was kept on the creative sidelines in that respect. My editors Ted and Denton worked with the Estate and I got feedback through them. All I can do is assume they were pleased with my take on the book – my notes and revisions were next to nothing and approval seemed to go really fast. It’s weird to know you’re drawing a book featuring a semi-fictional version of someone’s father or husband and that those people have final approval on my work. I was consciously aware of that and did my best to stick to the content of the book and not impose some outside interpretation on “Raoul Duke”. My adaptation was made with a deep reverence for Hunter and this novel that means so much to so many people, I’m not trying to trivialize him in any way but turning him into a “cartoon” of sorts.
Hunter invented Gonzo journalism how do you see your graphic novel in that regard or context?
Not terribly Gonzo, I’m afraid. No seat of your pants, drawing for 78 hours straight, wired on coffee and Benzedrine jags I’m sorry to report. It was a sit down for long hours and work your ass off job. Basically the same thing everyone does who works in comics, and it’s a pretty heavy slog some days. But it’s gratifying to see it all come together in the end. I hope at least it’s a gateway for people who haven’t experience Hunter’s books to discover him and perhaps an interesting interpretation for those who have a longtime love affair with his books.
This book is a classic work of literature and has endured the decades and Johnny Depp even played Hunter in a movie how did that all affect your approach to the graphic novel?
Depp and Bill Murray both nailed certain aspects of Hunter’s persona, just as Steadman’s art is completely synonymous with his books. You can’t deny or escape those things but I tried not to allow all of that to influence my take on the story too much. I hope this graphic novel stands on it’s own in company with them and not derivative of them in anyway. I did drop in a few nods here and there to the sharp-eyed Hunter aficionado’s out of respect for Ralph Steadman because he really set the visual tone that accompanies the Gonzo vibe.
For someone who loves comic but is not familiar with the work of Thompson what would you tell them to get them to check out your graphic novel?
“Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride” is often said in conjunction with this book and there’s a reason for that. The narrative takes off like a shot, and what ensues is chock full of sardonic mayhem and edge of your seat intensity. Man, if only more comics these days were this much fun! It is a manic ride you’d be remiss to not check out.
You are going to be at the New York comic con promoting the book where can people visit you and get an autographed copy and what else are you doing to promote the comic?
I’ll be in Artist Alley at table AA6 Thursday-Saturday at NYCC with special signing events at the IDW / Top Shelf booth (1844). (*I’ve attached a promo flyer listing all my show events while in New York) I’ll be holding a book launch in my hometown on Prince Edward Island (Come on up, everyone!) on October 28th at City Cinema where we’ll also be screening the Gilliam film version of Fear and Loathing. Then I’m off as a guest at Hal-Con in Halifax, NS for the weekend with my wife Brenda (she draws My Little Pony for IDW). IDW and Top Shelf are working on a really amazing promo tour around Southern California in November that is going to be totally Gonzo, so keep you’re eyes out for details on that because it’s going to be amazing!!