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Surreal as It Gets

Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” still stands out as a masterpiece of gonzo journalism (never mind that it’s billed as a novel). But when it first appeared in Rolling Stone back in 1971 — in two parts, under the pen name “Raoul Duke” — what instantly drew readers’ attention were the illustrations by Ralph Steadman. Like Thompson’s prose, they were nightmarishly brilliant, trippy drawings of the author and his “attorney” driving through the desert and the hallucinations that kicked in when the drugs took hold: bats swooping overhead, a lizard lounge full of actual lizards.

Since then, the late Thompson has certainly received his due, and now it’s Steadman’s turn. “For No Good Reason,” set to opens in theaters on April 25, pays tribute to the British pen-and-ink master with great examples of his work and generous praise from friend and number-one fan Johnny Depp. The documentary reveals quite a bit about Steadman’s technique, which combines detailed line drawing with Pollock-style splashes of ink, but not so much about the artist himself. Although he didn’t shy away from gunplay with William S. Burroughs, Steadman comes across as mild-mannered and approachable. Of course, appearances can deceive. When Thompson and the illustrator collaborated in the 1970s, says Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, “Hunter realized that Ralph was crazier than him.” —John Birmingham

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