"The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story" by Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker (Book Review)
Today is Wednesday, and for me that means it’s the day of the week I get to swing by my local comic shop and pick up the week’s new releases. I’m a regular at The Comic Cult in Torrance, and they have a “pull list” from me. So every week that I come in, my books are already pulled and set aside for me. However, today there was a second store I needed to visit to complete my week's comic book run.
That store was The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach. Why? Because signing copies of “The Fifth Beatle” graphic novel there was the book’s artist Andrew C. Robinson.
“The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” was released late last year. It’s a biography on Brian Epstein, the young Beatles manager responsible for guiding them from being a little-known local bar band from Liverpool to the international superstars he saw them as. I didn’t rush out to get it but it was always on my radar to pick up eventually. And holding off seems to have worked out fine because I picked it up today autographed by Mr. Robinson who also included an impressive quick little Beatle sketch to boot.
“If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”
I didn’t intend to read and then finish this book today. But when I got home I started reading it and just got caught up in the unfolding story. From the book’s promotional press, Brian “…was homosexual when it was a felony to be so in the United Kingdom...”, and that part of his life is attacked, literally, at the very start of the book. Continuing from there we’re shown that Brian had an upbeat personality who, upon seeing The Beatles his first time performing at a club called the Cavern Club, completely visualized the success and international reach of the band’s potential and immediately made it his mission to personally lead them to that goal.
I have to admit, that part seemed a bit rushed and unbelievable. But it does get the story quickly on its way to some fun and interesting bits: Brian’s first meeting with John, George, Paul and Ringo as their manager; initiating their iconic look while “the boys” provide joking commentary; the failed meetings and feedback from all the record labels; until finally the meeting with Ed Sullivan to book them on his show.
The full story is told in three parts, with the first focusing on the birth of the Beatles on to their successful introduction to America and the world. Once that’s done, the rest of the story begins to weave Brian’s personal highs and lows in the short few years of his life that follow. As is natural for a Beatles story, there’s a fair amount of surreal storytelling going on, both graphically and in prose, at just the right events, and Beatles lyrics are used occasionally to flavor other scenes further. The dialogue is terrific, grounded with British terms, phrasing and spelling, and especially when young John, Paul, George and Ringo enter, who are characterized as witty, spirited, light-hearted poets when commenting on all the rules and changes Brian orders them to make on their way to stardom.
I knew going in, having read some of the promotional press beforehand, that Brian’s was a tragic story, and it is, with emphasis on the loneliness he suffered as a British gay man during the 60’s. The band and others knew he was gay but it never appeared to be an issue. It was just an issue for him and a burden he carried while also succeeding to bring The Beatles through every subsequent big new event in their career until his death in the late 60's at the age of 32.
I wasn’t familiar at all with Andrew Robinson’s artwork coming into this. It’s very stylized. If you’re familiar with Bob Peak’s work, it’s similarly loose and whimsically flavored while featuring spot on likenesses of recognizable figures like The Beatles, President Kennedy, Colonel Tom Parker and Ed Sullivan. That's a big plus!! A short section of the book was illustrated by Kyle Baker; his work I’m more familiar with. His style is much looser and in this case, very cartoony, stylishly relating Brian and the band’s surreal experience touring in the Philippines.
In the afterward, the book’s author Vivek J. Twarty directly addresses any nitpickers of the facts in his story, saying the film version of his book (which he’s working on) might feature a disclaimer reading “…incidents, characters, and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes.” He claims everything in the book “did happen” but he also makes clear he wanted to convey “…the essence of a man.” He, with Robinson and Baker’s help, succeeded. Not only that, there’s a lot of spirit, warmth, humanity, and, when the Beatles are around, whimsy in “The Fifth Beatle”. I found it a captivating and insightful read supported by beautiful, emotional artwork.
Besides the standard hardcover, Nook and Kindle editions of "The Fifth Beatle" are two deluxe editions.
This collector's edition of this groundbreaking graphic novel features a textured cover and a section of bonus materials including unique Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia, artist sketches, and alternate covers.
This limited edition of this groundbreaking graphic novel features a signed tip-in sheet by creators Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker, along with a bonus section including unique Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia and behind-the-scenes sketches, a unique, textured cover, and a special slipcase. Limited to 1500 signed and numbered copies.
I picked up the Collector's Edition. Robinson gets an additional twenty pages in the book to share his sketches, layouts, and poster comp art, providing commentary and background notes on every page. Loved it all! The final four pages offer photos of Brian Epstein mementos, a few personal effects shared by his friends or Beatles collectors with explanations of each from Tiwary. Of the pieces, my favorite is a water-stained poster advertising the pre-Ringo Beatles performing at the Cavern Club that features black and white portrait photos of each of the young band members who are yet to sport their classic hairdos.
Not mentioned in the description above is that the book also includes a red ribbon bookmark. It plus the textured cover are classy added touches.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!