Saturday, September 13, 2014

Beatles and Comic Books: 'The Fifth Beatle'

Last year as a present my wife gave me a book entitled ‘Beatles and Comic Books’, quite rightly reasoning that it combined two of my favourite things. While the book only contained snippets of the appearances of the Fab Four in four colour print I doubt that any of those appearances were as good as ‘The Fifth Beatle’. Writer Vivek J. Tiwary has a sincere affection for the Beatles’ late manager Brian Epstein, which combined with Andrew Robinson’s gorgeous art, makes this a wonderful tribute to and study of the ‘English music entrepreneur’. As Tiwary himself admits in the afterword, it does take some artistic licence with events (although supposedly some of the weirder incidents are absolutely true); the aim was though to capture the essence of ‘Eppy’.

If it does, then what it shows is a sad and loving, ambitious and fiercely loyal, figure. Even to Beatleophiles, Epstein feels like he has not been as clearly depicted in histories of the group as, say, producer George Martin. Of course this is in part due to his unfortunate death only a few years after his boys did indeed become ‘bigger than Elvis’. And music snobs like me will point out that, unlike Martin, he essentially contributed nothing to the music, and that his main job was to make sure the Beatles got safely in their cars from hotel to arena. But as Tivary points out, he was an important figure in terms of music management, both building and maintaining the greatest pop music phenomenon the world has seen. That takes some talent in itself, helped by passion and belief that one is creating something positive. And Epstein’s life turns out to be fascinating in itself; his homosexuality is well-known, the conflict he faced between running his family’s record store or giving it up for the four mop tops may be less so.

Tiwary and Robinson also manage to make the book feel ‘Beatles-ish’, in a similar way that the Rock Band game and the ‘Love’ Cirque du Soleil show (both of which I loved) were. By this I mean something cheeky, exuberant, English, and a little bit psychedelic, although sort of like a cleaner, sharper, twenty-first century version of 1960s psychedelica. ‘The Fifth Beatle’ also touches on some darker subject matter than a game or circus ever will, though in a strange way, because of Epstein’s partly repressive character, it is also kind of off-panel or in the background; for example John Lennon’s absence in the final scenes.

After finishing the book I read that a film adaptation is now in development. Hopefully it works; I am imagining something like Tom Hanks’ ‘That Thing You Do’ crossed with the Coen Brothers’ ‘Inside Llewellyn Davis’. In the meantime if you are a fan of the Fab Four I think the chances are pretty good you will like this book.

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