Troy Little Brings Hunter S. Thompson to Comics with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

Troy Little has done a little bit of everything in his comics career. His book "Chiaroscuro" earned him a Xeric Award in 2001, long before it was completed and published in 2007. His webcomic "Angora Napkin" earned a 2010 Eisner nomination, and he was the leading author of IDW Publishing's "Powerpuff Girls" comic when the Chemical X-powered trio from Townsville returned to comics in 2014.

A renowned journalist and writer, Hunter S. Thompson was famed for his "gonzo journalism," a style of reporting that is written without objectivity and often involves its writer as part of the story. In 1971, Thompson released "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream." His most famous work, the book chronicled his thinly veiled fictional alter ego Raoul Duke and his associate Dr. Gonzo on a journey into a drugged abyss of consumerism and excess. Thompson died in 2005.

In October, Little's comic book adaptation, "Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," arrives in stores from Top Shelf and IDW. Produced with the approval and oversight of the Thompson estate, Little's "Fear and Loathing" presents Thompson's novel in a visually striking manner -- and, at Little tells CBR News, steers clear of the visual cues of Terry Gilliam's film adaptation.

CBR News: Thompson can be a visual writer and this book certainly has powerful imagery that an artist can sink his or her teeth into, doesn't it?

Troy Little: Absolutely! When I got the job, my mind was pinballing all over the place, imagining how I might interpret different scenes. I wish I had years to dedicate to this book so I could try different things until I felt I'd nailed every sequence, but I did my best with the reality of the time constraints I had. My mind still wanders back thinking about how I could have done such-and-such differently; the book is just so rich and vibrant!

When adapting prose to comics, is it important to keep as much of Thompson's language as possible when composing the captions and dialogue?

It was paramount, in fact. Every word in the book is Hunter's words. Anytime I inserted a line of dialogue into a scene, my editors, Ted [Adams] and Denton [Tipton], flagged it. I think they were right on the money with that -- the best way to honor the book is to keep the text pure Gonzo.

What does this comic book adaptation bring to "Fear and Loathing" that Thompson fans may not have seen before?

I think it's a fantastic jumping on point to get to know Hunter's work. I'm sure many people have seen the Gilliam film; I'm a big fan myself. When I re-read the book, I felt I wanted the action and dialogue amped up more then came across in the movie, also including scenes that never made the final cut. We stayed true to the text and I tried to bring a dynamic cartoony flair and appeal to the artwork that I hope underscores the manic energy of the story.

Speaking of the film version (can you believe that was nearly 20 years ago already?), while not a box office success, it has attained a cult status. Was it difficult to approach this story visually without falling back on cues from the film?

I love Terry Gilliam, and he really did a great film version of the book. I'm super familiar with it, having watched it over and over in the past, but I had to keep away from it so as not to be overly influenced. I didn't want to recreate shots from the film. I drew my inspiration straight from the text; I only sourced visual reference from the film if I couldn't find anything else specific from that era elsewhere.

I remember reading how Bill Murray couldn't "turn off" Thompson after making the film "Where the Buffalo Roam." Is there a mental shift required to get into this world?

When I began the book, I totally immersed myself in Hunter's world. I was listening to '60s rock, audiotapes that Hunter recorded, watched and rewatched every bit of documentary and video footage I could find. I built a model of "The Red Shark" for reference, and had a patchwork field Jacket similar to his made for me. I held back when it came to indulging in any sort of alcohol or narcotic binges, or I'd never have finished the book on time. You have to draw the line somewhere.

You also handled the full art chores, including coloring and lettering.

IDW and Top Shelf have been very kind to indulge and trust my desire to control so many aspects of this book. It's murder to try and do basically everything, but it's also one of the things I love most about comics -- the ability to create a world or a vision unique to a single individual. It becomes very personal, and giving a creator that amount leeway is almost unheard of in most mediums. It's why I got into comics in the first place; I was tired of "Content by Committee" and wanted the freedom to do things my own way. IDW, now including Top Shelf, is an amazing group of people to work with -- hiring the right people for the job and then stepping back and letting them work their craft.

How involved was the Thompson estate in the process of making the book?

So far as the execution of the book, I pretty much had free rein to do as I pleased. I personally didn't have any direct involvement with them; that's where Ted and Denton come in. The Estate has final approval on everything and from my perspective they've been wonderfully supportive. The book breezed through without much more than text corrections on final edit. I hope they're pleased with the final outcome of the book; I did my best to stay true to the heart of the novel.

How familiar were you with Thompson's writing -- this book in particular -- before this project? How did it come about?

Before I came on the scene, [IDW had] secured the rights to publish "Fear & Loathing" with the Thompson Estate. Ted's a big fan of Hunter's work, and he spent a long time looking for the right person to take on the task of adapting the book. From what I'm told, it was a big job finding the right fit, and I feel pretty damn lucky that my pitch seemed to hit the mark!

I'm a long time fan of Hunter's work. His books take up a large chunk of space on my shelf. "Fear & Loathing" has always been one of my favorite novels -- I love the manic energy of the story, and it just shoots off like a rocket and never lets up. This was a total dream project!

Was there any thought to adapting another, lower profile book of Thompson's?

Early on, it was mentioned that something like "Hell's Angels" or "The Curse of Lono" would make great adaptations, but so far as I'm aware that's all still just in the "For Consideration" file. One can hope!

What else are you working on?

At the moment -- bathroom renovations. "Fear & Loathing" was a brutal, savage book, and it took up all my time for a year. I have neglected much that now needs attending to!

But I'm looking forward to getting back to comics, I have some ideas kicking around that I'd like to develop, and the guys at IDW have been very encouraging for me to pursue one of my own ideas. Pitching is new realm for me; I'm used to just making stuff and trying to find a home for it, but that's sort of a backwards way of doing things, I've learned. I'm not exactly sure what's next at this point, but I'm looking forward to getting back to the drawing board to find out!

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