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Living (or surviving) with Hunter Thompson

Local cartoonist included in book about ‘gonzo’ journalist

 Tom Durkin

Nevada City Advocate 

RL “Bob” Crabb’s past has caught up with him.

While most people know Crabb as a sharp-witted, mild-mannered editorial cartoonist for The Union newspaper, the “Crabman” once lived a hell-bent lifestyle of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and underground comics.

As revealed in a new book authored by San Francisco writer Warren Hinckle titled “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?: An Inquiry into the Life & Death of the Master of Gonzo,” Crabb ran with the big dogs of San Francisco underground comics in the 1980s. 

“It was something I did. I’m proud of the fact that I got into this book and added to the legend of Hunter Thompson, but my life is changed quite a bit since then,” Crabb said in a Jan. 23 interview.

“I’m not the same person I was then.”

Around 1993, “I just said, you know, this lifestyle is not going to serve me well,” said the 67-year-old cartoonist.

“So, I quit.”

Forty-six pages of the hardcover book are devoted to Crabb’s stories and graphic art about his experiences with the notorious “gonzo” journalist Hunter Stockton Thompson. 

Best known for his book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Thompson was an outlaw journalist who was not only known for defying conventional journalism but for defying most conventions of polite society in general.

Despite the book’s querulous title, it is well documented that Thompson killed himself with a shotgun in 2005. Actor Johnny Depp shot his ashes out of a cannon.

Hinckle, a renowned San Francisco editor and columnist in his own right, wrote and edited “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?”

In addition to Hinkle’s 200-page “introduction,” the book is populated with the writings, graphic art, cartoons and photographs of some of Thompson’s “closest friends and co-conspirators.”

Those friends and co-conspirators include Gov. Jerry Brown, actor Johnny Depp, cartoonist Gary Trudeau (“Doonesbury”), counterculture clown/activist Wavy Gravy and more than three dozen other notables from various walks of life and literature.

The book consists of five “books.” Book Four, “They Came for Blood … We Gave Them Ink,” is entirely devoted to Crabb’s graphic and literary descriptions of his two major interactions with Thompson.

The O’Farrell Theatre near the Tenderloin in San Francisco was a pioneering striptease joint, pornographic theater and film studio (“Behind the Green Door”).

Run by the infamous Mitchell Brothers, Jim and Artie, the “theatre” was a hangout for an elite corps of underground cartoonists, including Dan O’Neill, R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso and “Crabman.” 

For a time, Thompson was the “night manager” of the theatre, ostensibly for the purposes of writing a book that never happened. What did happen was sex, drugs and cartoons, and Crabman had a front-row toke of the goings-on. 

“I did drugs with him. He really lived up to his reputation,” Crabb recalled. “The guy had the constitution of an elephant. I could never keep up with that pace.”

Crabb’s second close encounter with Thompson occurred in 1990. Thompson had been arrested in Colorado for alleged sexual assault. 

According to Crabb’s story in the book, the Mitchell Brothers used money to convince Crabb to chronicle an expedition from San Francisco to Aspen, Colorado, to protest the charges against Thompson.

They set out in a caravan of two Tioga motorhomes and a replica of the “Great Red Shark,” the 1971 Chevy Impala convertible used in the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” 

The expedition included two O’Farrell strippers, Roxy and Gigi, as eye candy to attract the media, Crabb wrote.

Shortly after they arrived in Aspen, charges were dropped, dismissed and plea-bargained out, Crabb reported.

“There really wasn’t much of a story there, but I’d been paid to do a story about it, so I wrote a story about it,” Crabb told the Advocate.

“I sort of wrote it in the spirit of gonzo, so you have to take some of it with a little grain of salt,” he confessed with a chuckle.

In 1991, Jim Mitchell shot and killed his brother Artie in a drug-fueled misunderstanding, and Crabb began to realize the party was over.

Crabb “bounced around” for a couple of years in the early ‘90s, spending some time in Seattle and Yakima, Washington. He worked as a cartoonist and “repo man,” as chronicled in his 2014 graphic book “Scablands.” 

“I’m glad I wrote it, because now I can say, yeah, I did document the fact that that I gave up that lifestyle and decided to be a fairly straight person – but not ever completely straight,” he said with a sly smile.

Crabb settled down permanently in his hometown of Grass Valley in 1993 for “the life of a small-town editorial cartoonist ... and the rest is history.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Contact him at tdurkin@vfr.net or www.tomdurkin-writer.net. 

About the Photo: 

Bob Crabb reads his story in “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?” at a reception and book signing at The Book Seller in Grass Valley. Crabb, a cartoonist from Grass Valley, is among those featured in the book about Hunter S. Thompson, the original “gonzo” journalist. Hunter Thompson