Celebrating 50 years of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we looked at the legacy of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s ‘savage journey’ and spoke to Neil Gower about how he took on the mammoth task of colouring Ralph Steadman’s original illustrations.
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Rolling Stone magazine
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published in two consecutive issues of Rolling Stone magazine as a fictionalised and frank account of two road trips taken by Hunter S. Thompson. The text rages against the squandered promises of the 1960s counterculture, while the psychedelic ride is brought to life by Ralph Steadman’s anarchic, splattered drawings.
Commissioned to colour the original illustrations
We asked Neil Gower to colour Ralph Steadman’s original illustrations for a new Folio edition. He was initially apprehensive, especially as his work would need the approval of Ralph Steadman and his daughter.
‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is unique. It is probably the only illustrated book for adults where the images are so well-known.
The challenge was to add without subtracting. Ralph is a very gifted draughtsman whom I have admired since art school. His drawings have a wonderful quality of looseness combined with great skill and finesse: he draws in a gestural way but with a sense of geometry, using circles and straight lines. I wanted to bring out that juxtaposition, the elasticity between precision and anarchy.’
Hawaiian shirt now tinged yellow
Folio Art Director Sheri Gee asked Gower to produce a trial run for Steadman to approve, and the result helped set the colour palette. ‘I initially veered towards more dramatic shades, but my first effort of cacti dotted around a wide desert scene led me to the more muted watercolour wash you see in this edition – although I did find myself straying towards the pinks and purples to reflect the complexions of some of the more grotesque characters!’
From the fearsome demons of greenish hue that accompany Thompson on his hallucinogenic drug-fuelled excesses, to the image of the gonzo journalist tiptoeing away, his Hawaiian shirt now tinged yellow, Gower feels the colours bring out the story. ‘For much of the time, both Sheri and I were working on a hunch that it would all fit together, so I am genuinely very proud of how it looks now.’