The Brian Epstein Story
Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson, with Kyle Baker
edited by Philip Simon
Dark Horse/M Press ($19.99)
by John Eisler
Amidst the recent plethora of Beatles-related publications comes a graphic novel dramatizing the eponymous “fifth Beatle,” manager Brian Epstein. While the fab four are no strangers to the comics—indeed, they are veritable pop superheroes—here they play background characters in this well-wrought dramatization of Epstein’s too-short life.
The Fifth Beatle doesn’t exactly add anything new to Beatles lore; recounted are all the familiar moments that even casual fans may know, including Epstein’s marketing savvy (he dressed those rough boys in suits), pill addiction, and tortured homosexuality. But the book excels at rendering all of this as a graphic story. Vivek J. Tiwary has clearly thought about the arc and theme of his story, rendering Epstein as a visionary outsider undone by an inhospitable world, and his artist collaborators serve him well, giving the saga the appropriate epic sweep.
Indeed, the art is almost a character in this work. Settings both moody and mod evoke the unique style of a bygone era. Expressionistic color and framing help unveil the story, occasionally reversing the feel of reality and dream sequence. And the book’s European format (larger than American) offers the equivalent of Cinemascope, allowing artists Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker (the latter of whom renders the Beatles’ infamous Philippines concert fiasco) bigger canvases on which to govern time through the magic of panel and page.
As of this writing Epstein has just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a move presciently called for by Billy J. Kramer in his introduction to this book. It’s an honor a bit belated, perhaps, but certainly well deserved. Here’s hoping that cartoonist Howard Cruse is also foretelling the future in his afterword. In it, he discusses gay people’s struggles and how the Beatles’ music “helped make an unending expansion of human possibilities feel joyous instead of scary,” framing that advance in light of the current fight for marriage equality. What a fitting legacy for Brian Epstein that would be: not just Beatlemania, but love, love, love.