Review: Fear & Loathing the Graphic Novel

fear-and-loathing-front-75dpi_copy0_lgby Bradley James Weber

 “. . . an amphetamine-paced series of cartoon-like sketches, centered on two hapless acid abusers who come to seem like the bastard descendants of Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo.”
–– William Stephenson, Gonzo Republic

William Stephenson’s description of Hunter Thompson’s masterwork, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, serves equally well for the new graphic novel adaptation by Canadian comic book artist Troy Little (Chiaroscuro, Angora Napkin).

Adapting something like the Vegas book to the comics form is an inspired and ballsy move, and Little has the artistic chops to capture the cartoon nature of Duke and Gonzo: his line, layouts, and lettering showcase the antics of a pair of free-range loonies on a drug-fueled tear through Sin City.

Having strategically paired-down the original text to what could be meaningfully conveyed in a comics format, Little still hits all the big notes and set pieces.”The Wave Speech” is there, as are the ruminations on high-speed driving and the musings on the insanity of a couple of heads attempting to infiltrate a police narcotics convention.

Even so, something about the graphic novel has grounded the alternating currents of fear and loathing driving Thompson’s original work.

‘[It] fails to capture the darkness or anger . . . . The protagonists’ actions come across as pranks rather than anything subversive, let alone as emerging from existential unease or a sense of complicity in the failure of the American Dream . . . . [A]lthough vibrantly comic, it never generates a sense of peril . . . . [It’s] only devices seem to be slapstick and/or rudimentary social criticism.’
––William Stephenson on Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

UntitledMaybe the loss is due to the very nature of adaptation. No matter how respectfully and responsibly done––and Troy Little manages both quite well––that bird still needed carving. But the Vegas book, being already lean in word and sleek of build, has no fat to cut – only meat to be trimmed.

Or, similar to the calming effects of certain stimulants on hyperactive kids, by taking the cartoonish Duke and Gonzo out of the real world, by confining their actions to panels and tying their words in balloons, an unintended balance is struck between these caricatures of men and the cartoon world, thereby diminishing their power as symbols.

All of which is not to say that Troy Little’s adaptation is a  failure. The Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas graphic novel is a solid adaptation. It will find a ready audience of established Thompson fans and should serve as an entrée for a new generation of readers to all of Thompson’s work.

By that measure, one could almost call it a success.