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What happens when you mix what is - arguably - the world's most interesting record company, with an anarchist manic-depressive rock music historian polymath, and a method of dissemination which means that a daily rock-music magazine can be almost instantaneous?

Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Monday, 30 April 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Good Doctor gets a graphic biography

Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson
by Will Bingley (Author) Anthony Hope-Smith (Illustrator)
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: SELFMADEHERO (26 Nov 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1906838119
ISBN-13: 978-1906838119


Usually when I do a book review for these pages, I preface it with a chunk of blurb explaining that although the vast majority of what I write about here is a product of those jolly nice people at Gonzo Multimedia (I suppose, at this stage of the game, I am one of those jolly nice people at Gonzo Multimedia, but as Rob and is compadres are very much the acceptable face of capitalism, then I don’t feel that I am compromising my anarchist ideals to too great a degree, by being wholeheartedly a company man).

But this case is different. Okay, this book was not published by Gonzo Multimedia in any shape of form, but in an alternate universe (a strand of solipsistic reality in which we got to Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith first, I am certain that it would have been).

Why?

Because it is a graphic novel about the life of Hunter S Thompson, who was probably the person who coined the term ‘Gonzo Journalism’, but was most certainly the man who defined it. This book does not disappoint. No sirree. It is one of the few books that I have read which concentrates upon Thompson’s philosophy and raison d’être rather than his drug use, personality problems, and undoubted alcoholism. I am sure that he was a complete pain in the arse to be with a lot of the time, but as a writer, when he was on top of his game, he was unsurpassable.

I am not quite sure how to describe it; although it tells the bare bones of Hunter’s life up until the mid-1970s, and deals with the remaining three decades in a few pages, it acts as a trigger which inspires me to go back and read things by and about the man that I haven’t touched in decades. I intend to mount an experiment; I will give this book to one of my young relatives to read, making sure that the young relative in question has never had any more in depth introduction to the works of the good doctor, than the massively entertaining but ever-so-slightly superficial Johnny Depp movie (1998) I want to see whether this book inspires them to investigate the canon of Thompson’s work, or whether they will just see this book as a mildly entertaining narrative about a journalist who did some exciting things during the course of his career.

But that is the problem with Hunter S Thompson. Although he would probably have hated it, he has become a literary institution. And like every other artistic institution from Rembrandt to The Beatles, it is impossible to examine his life, career, and output with any degree of objectivity. Also like any of the aforementioned artistic institutions it is impossible to take them outside of space-time, and – for example – to be totally objective about Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ‘72 without knowing a reasonable amount about the American culture of the time, the Vietnam war, the Watergate scandal, and quite possibly a whole plethora of other things. I, and I suspect the vast majority of people who read these pages, are of such an age that – whether or not they realise it – we have enough shared socio-cultural inheritance to know the significance of the historical events which Thompson described in his narrative. So I would be interested to find out the effect of his writings upon people for whom these historical events are either ‘ancient history, or culturally meaningless.

This is a fantastic book. I was expecting it to be good, but it turned out to be a great deal better than I expected, and I urge you all to buy it, even if your only motivation is to find out why Rob Ayling called his company ‘Gonzo’.

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