Back in 1971, Hunter S. Thompson was hired by a sports magazine to report on the famous Mint 400, a wild off-road race through the desert outside Las Vegas. When the draft he submitted — ten times the requested length — was “aggressively rejected” by the magazine, Thompson re-fashioned it into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This “Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” serialized across multiple issues of Rolling Stone, became an instant landmark of counterculture literature, gonzo journalism, and American insight.
Last year, IDW Publishing released Hunter S.Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas a graphic novel adaptation by the three-time Eisner award nominee Troy Little . The graphic novel is being re-released as four 48 page comic books, with multiple variant covers. Entitled The Great White Whale edition, the four issues will be packed with a ton of bonus features, and should be available in comic shops soon.
I was fortunate to get a chance to sit down with Troy a little while ago, and had a chance to talk about his adaptation, Star Wars, and Las Vegas. This interview took place prior to the 2016 Eisner awards, where Little was given a nod for Best Lettering.
Graphic Policy: With the serialized graphic novel coming out in May, I wanted to ask
you a bit about that before we got to chat …
Troy Little: That whole serialization thing came out of nowhere. I’m still half in the dark much as anyone. I just found out recently that Ben Templesmith is doing a cover for it and I didn’t ever see the Jim Mahfood cover until it was like in previews, so I’m like that’s awesome because I always felt Jim Mahfood should do this book, y’know, he would be ideal to do Fear and Loathing. And they pitched him but he just didn’t answer the email. I mean here are just certain things you don’t do, but I’m the guy who didn’t say that.
GP: Where you nervous when you were asked about it?
TL: Oh god yeah. Yeah I was working on Power Puff Girls, but the big thing for me is that I’m a huge fan, so I’m the kinda guy that if I heard someone was doing a graphic novel of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas I’d be very skeptical. But then I’d having to be the guy who’s doing it, so my expectations were way up here, right, so don’t screw it up. And when I sent in my pitch, I thought I’d screwed it up, I thought I’d blew it. I was sitting there, like beating my head after I’d hit send almost like [garbled cursing noise].
GP: I’m gonna be honest; I’ve never read the book nor seen the movie, and so I have no basis for comparison, but the graphic novel is fantastic.
TL: Oh, I’m glad you liked it, that’s awesome.
GP: Oh absolutely.
TL: It’s nice to know too in the sense that without seeing the movie, which is what most people’s first exposure to it (F&L) is that that this stands without that influence.
GP: It really does!
TL: That’s reassuring, (laughs)!
Alex. (laughs) Brett, our chief, he’d said that if you’re a fan of Hunter S. Thompson that you have to get this graphic novel.
TL: I’m really pleased. I had some people ask me just the other day “where can I buy your book?” and so I sent them the amazon link because they’re from the US, and the reviews are there… but they’re all really good, and I’m like “oh… relief.”
GP: It’s… I mean obviously adapting it you’re gonna be more critical of yourself, but it’s really good.
TL: Yeah very much so, I still see the problems. But like any artist they see the problems generally more than the successes.
GP: You lettered the book too, eh?
TL: Yeah, I did everything. Basically they gave me the novel, well they didn’t give me the book, I had the novel, but they just said here’s the novel don’t fuck it up. More or less give us a graphic novel. I coloured it, lettered it, I did all that. Start to finish basically, yeah, it’s all mine, which is amazing to me that they let me do that. That they trusted me to do that, you know? That blows my mind.
GP: That was actually something I wanted to ask you about; one of my favourite things about the layouts is how you’ve got the typed text here that looks like prim and proper almost, and the lettering, I felt really goes along with the craziness of how their adventures are going, I really enjoyed…
GP: …the way you laid that out, was it intentional, or a happy coincidence?
TL: Well I like hand lettering, I’m really drawn to that just because you can do more with it, right, that just a static little text, so for me particularly in this story it just added to the manic-ness of it all and you can really just punctuate what they’re saying or emphasize something and just play with it. And then the font on there it’s actually based on the font of a typewriter that Hunter would use. The electric typewriter he was partial too, I found the font base on that.
GP: That’s really cool. It’s a neat touch.
TL: But it’s subtle, (laughs)
GP: But it does look like a typewriter font, which really gives a nice touch to the pages. So you were down in Vegas for the Mint 400. How was that?
TL: Probably a lot different than it was in the 70’s, but I mean everything in Vegas from my experience now having been there twice is way different than in the 70’s. An when I read this book years ago, it left an impression of my head of what Vegas is like and it’s very commercialized since then. A lot of that is gone or buried so you have to really look for it, y’know? And you see like the Vegas Vick sign on Freemont, the cowboy? Like he’s just out front of a 99 cent souvenir store now, it just feels kinda depressing.
GP: It doesn’t have the same… sense of danger about it, eh?
TL: Yeah, I don’t wanna say it’s been cleaned up, but its cleaned up. It’s very touristy, an souvenir… everything’s a souvenir. Nice pen, by the way.
GP: Oh, thank you. Not sure where I got it from, but I think someone gave it to me, honestly. I wasn’t going to reuse a Star Wars pen. Did you see The Force Awakens?
TL: A few times…
GP: Yeah, me too… Going back to the serialization, do you know what extras will be included within the issues?
TL: Uh… I can show you, in fact. I was doing a comic journal of the trip that I was on, like the Vegas trips. I’m not sure if they’re going to include any of the preliminary sketches or any of that stuff, the thumbnails, like that show the process – they might, I don’t know – I don’t even know who’s doing the covers, right, so it’s going to be a surprise to me as much as anyone else. But while I was on tour I was keeping a comic journal. So the first one I did, [show the pages] all that stuff, and right now I working on what just happened at the Mint. So there’s gonna be that, and probably a lot of photos too. So, because we tried to recreate a bit of the Gonzo road trip, so we rented a red convertible and we started off at the polo lounge at the Beverly Hills, and I’ve got the Hunter Thompson get up going.
GP: Right, yeah I wanted to ask you about that. One of the contributors at Graphic Policy had seen the press release picture of you in the Hunter S. Thompson get up and had wondered if it was an intentional cosplay, and I suppose that it was if you were in the get-up for the road trip?
TL: Yeah it was a little, I mean, it started out when I got this project it was really about getting into character much like an actor would in a sense, I really tried to get into the head of Hunter S. Thompson and read his books again and again, and I was watching the movies… no, I wasn’t watching Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, but I was watching the documentaries, an listening to him talk, listening to audio recordings of him when he did his journalism stuff, so I was really getting into his head space and even went so far as to build the Red Shark as a model kit, which I thought would be good for reference since I suck at drawing cars so I can use that as a quick reference. While I was at it I had this urge to get the patchwork jacket, so I found a guy in New Zealand who I commissioned to make me the jacket, and I ended up taking it to SDCC (2015) that year, with just the preview books, so we had a bunch of preview books and so I went over to the IDW booth in full get up to do the signing, and they said that was awesome.
I was kinda sketchy because I didn’t want to be a parody of Hunter S. Thompson, I didn’t want to make fun of him at all because I have a huge respect for him, so it was sort of a tongue in cheek homage to him. It is eye catchy and things like that so it sort of put the bug in their head, and I said you know what we should do, we should rent a convertible and drive across the desert, and so it sorta came to pass, you know?
GP: How was that, repeating the same road trip as Hunter after adapting the book?
TL: After drawing it, well, it was kinda like… we were on a different mission, for ure, we were doing book promotion so we were hitting book stores and we had that all organised, so we had a trunk full of books an art upplies as opposed to mescaline and ether, but again, so much has change [in Vegas] that’s it’s hard to make that same connection. It’s interesting for sure sitting in the Polo Lounge drinking for hours, and that’s where it all started, right? Although it’s hard to say with Fear and Loathing where the reality of it is and isn’t.
But it’s interesting for sure to put yourself in that place knowing that this is where it happened.
GP: The comic journal you have there, you said you’ll be including that in the serialized four issues?
TL: Yeah, what we did what we call the Great White Whale edition, it’s a little bit bigger than this and we stripped out the colour to make it just black and white line art for one, adding in the comic journal, and photos and I don’t know what else. We’re breaking it all out over four issues so they’re gonna be big thick comics books.
GP: 48 pages, I think.
TL: Yeah, so they’re gonna be packed full of stuff. I know that in book stores it’s done really really well, but it’s not something people in comic stores would pick up on right away, so it was their idea to serialize it and say “hey comic book people, check this out!”
GP: Yeah, when I read that it was being serialized I remember thinking that at the time usually when a comic book/graphic novel combination are released it’s usually the comic book first.
TL: Yeah, this whole project came about because Ted Adams, who’s the publisher at IDW is a massive life-long HST fanatic, and this was his dream project, so what’s really fascinating to me, or blows my mind I should say, is that they went after the license for this for a long, long time to convince the estate that we can do this and we can do this right and we won’t mess it up, you know? When they finally got the rights they spent a year scouring everyone to write it and draw it. Jim Mahfood, Grant Morrison, all kinds of people had this pitched to them and not one hit the mark. And somehow, with everything they saw that just wasn’t right, I was told they had a meeting and [someone] said “look if we can’t do this right, we’ll just let our license slide – I’d rather not put out the book if we can’t do it right.”
Now I’m not on their radar, right, I’m doing Powerpuff Girls, but I have published with them before and someone there Denton Tipton who became the editor on this book he suggested what about Troy Little, and people said, I guess from what I’m told, “oh that could work. Ask him.” So it was literally out of the blue I was sending in Powerpuff Girls pages, and in an email that said “oh these pages look great. How would you feel about pitching Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas?”
It was diametrically opposed to what I was doing, so I spent a lot of time not doing it, but they finally gave me a hard deadline so I sent off a page and then thought I’d blown it.
Two days later I find out I got the job.
They told me that I was the first one out of probably hundreds of people in the comic industry – probably far more qualified than me in some ways – to nail the tone of the story with one page which floors me, you know? There’s a guy on the east coast of Canada doing the definitive book about the death of the American Dream. There’s something kinda poetic about that.
Look for Part Two of this interview coming next month.