The Fifth Beatle
The Brian Epstein Story
Hardcover | Kindle Edition
Written by Vivek J. Tiwary
Pencils by Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker
Inks by Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker
Letters by Steve Dutro
Colors by Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker
Cover by Andrew C. Robinson
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Cover Price: $19.99
The life of Brian Epstein, who discovered and managed The Beatles and who almost singlehandedly supplied the runway in which the band could propel itself to the greatest heights, is the subject of a dazzling, can’t put it down graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics, entitled what many thought Brian to be during his short and troubled, yet fascinating life, The Fifth Beatle.
The legend of who the Fifth Beatle actually was has been sussed out to be many other figures in the band’s folklore along with Epstein, figures like radio DJ Murray the K, who anointed himself as such in the most novelty and charming way, or long-time friends Mal Evans or Neil Aspinall, both of whom were with the band in their earliest makeups and wound up becoming key integral parts of the rich, sprawling history the group found themselves entailed in as the years went on. But to people like Paul McCartney, Brian Epstein always held the mantle and title of the Fifth Beatle. And the creators of this biographic tale feel the same way, in essence, that nobody could claim that title but Brian.
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story is a graphic novel that climbs out of the pulp pit, and it reaches summits akin to the finest scripted bio pics and tomes. There seems to be not only a reverence but an absolute passion, a fervent love for the myth, iconic status, and legend of The Beatles and their befallen manager. As written by Vivek J. Tiwary, it manages to avoid being just a carefully researched ball of gooey confection that it might have been in more salacious hands. All the warts and the tough roads that went with the life of Brian Epstein get tread upon here in the book, but it’s handled not only delicately, but firmly; imagine making a lawn sculpture with the daintiest of chainsaws, which means not only does attitude remain, but deftness and swiftness and it lends itself to the amalgamation of what the reader reads and compartmentalizes, that ultimately becomes absorbing. It’s that kind of a novel.
Somehow, quite successfully, and deftly, Tiwary and illustrators Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker have managed to repave and travel down a road tread by so many tomes, books, and articles, choked with hearsay and true and untrue facts, and offer a fresh take on this story, one that is vivid and full of the same kind of energy and vigor and vim that most of the central figures in the tale possess. And while of course most will be interested in following the paths of the early Beatles, when the red carpet to the world still wasn’t quite unfurled at their feet, it’s Brian that commands the most attention with this solid brain trust here that created The Fifth Beatle. He comes alive, tragic, vivid, chock full of pathos, and jam packed with a heart that was gargantuan in size, and to be relished in scope. Epstein’s tale successfully takes on a wide range of genres of surrealism, what the graphic novel can do, how far it can stretch, artistically, humorously, intellectually, cautiously, and it pretty much hits the target each and every time.
In The Fifth Beatle and through the pen and ink of Tiwary, Robinson, and Baker, we see everything from Brian’s perspective, from the quiet humble beginnings of a poor soul who was intimidated by his homosexual urges, after a sailor in the darkest, rain-soaked broken cobblestones of destitute Liverpool beat him up after first taking on Epstein’s glances, something which indirectly led to popping pills, and even though the world embraced him for bringing the Beatles on a silver platter to their doors, in his private life, he remained confused, ebbed, ashen, and lonely in the bluest hue. We follow the man on this bumpy ride, which is totally engrossing and ultimately tragic. The character of Epstein is presented in a manner of sympathy, empathy, and ultimately, someone of tragedy.
The Beatles are presented in the gregarious manner of A Hard Days Night, witty, overlapping with humor with one another, brimming with puckish, wide-eyed youth. It turned Brian on immensely, and not only did he fancy a conquest of presenting The Beatles to the world, who he claimed to many eye rolls and guffaws at the time, to be “bigger than Elvis,” but he also took a particular fancy to John Lennon; a sun-drenched trip to Spain culminated in homosexual admissions from Epstein, and a sly wink from Lennon, who even lamented he himself wasn’t gay, and thus, could only reciprocate Epstein’s gentle advances on him with friendship. It left a void in Epstein that would never be filled, right up until his deathbed.
A key recurring theme in The Fifth Beatle, Brian also had a fetish for the Matador motif and idiom; he used it as not only a metaphor for his conquering and triumphing with The Beatles and then other artists, who largely made up The British Invasion as it was termed when it successfully hit American soil, but it more than likely represented a kind of masculinity that Brian always craved, something that even led to personal downfalls for him, but never was able to attain.
Done in a sort of Wallace Wood/Jack Davis style (two instrumental artists from Mad Magazine’s earliest, yet most artistically adventurous days), the illustrations and presentation of The Fifth Beatle are colorful vivid squares and rectangles which show the story at its wonderfully leisurely pace and snappily done with the right touches, painstaking attention to period detail, and artistic details in general are a marvel to behold in itself. But even the art has a bit of an eclecticism to it as well as evidenced by the chaotic and ill-fated Beatles trip to the Philippines presented in a illustrative manner that harkens back to the old Saturday Morning Beatles cartoons of the 1960s. And juxtaposed with the writing, which is strong throughout and mannered when it needs to be, funny and surreal when it needs to be, and dramatic and cinematic when it needs to be, it never feels forced or a puff job like a lot of other Beatles projects have the propensity to be. Tiwary deftly wears and juggles all those hats at once; one can clearly glean that this was a labor of love for all involved, a passion project, done by Beatles zealots for Beatles zealots.
Tiwary has the confidence in the reader that they already know the shop-worn, oft-told tale of the Fab Four and instead, uses The Beatles as a backdrop. There’s no recreation of key events in the Beatles’ formative years, just on fringes — little snippets of Cavern Club, Ed Sullivan, Hard Day’s Night, but mostly, these are presented in one panel manners and really used as just extra weight to enforce Brian’s narrative. Most moments in the graphic novel, especially after the success of The Beatles, are dialogue-laden, Brian chatting with someone, his friends, personal assistant, and in-and-out player and lover Dizz, who winds up using Brian for his sex and money and prestige, and even though Brian had been warned not to, continued to see Dizz, and it eventually blew up in a black cloud of blackmail — just another wrenching form of stillborn anguish that boiled within the psyche of Brian Epstein, and drove ever so closer to his own personal brink, despondent that he was never good enough, feeling he failed The Beatles ultimately by his own poorly business end run volition, all fueled by amphetamine pills along the journey. It culminates with the highly premature death of a man who in that all too brief life, was able to shine a light that was white hot on the music community and helped shape generations. It’s a testament to the man, as well as Tiwary, Robinson, and Baker, and the team over at Dark Horse Comics that a project like this could be pulled off with such eye-opening and inspiring execution.
What could have been just another simplistic cookie-cutter excursion has been elevated to the highest level. This is not only an absolute must for any Beatles fanatic, but it’s also for the fan who might not know of the story of Brian Epstein. For all The Beatles’ success and good karma that they seemed to spread to the universe and still do as icons of pop culture and at the apex of the vast musical collage, there was also an underlying theme of bad luck, pain, alienation, insecurities, back-biting, and the like. The Fifth Beatle isn’t afraid to tread into a more three-dimensional skein all the while presenting a story with the boundless roads one can go in a graphic novel. Put together, what it ultimately creates is an exciting package, a great read, an incredible comic art tome that is much cause for celebration. Without question, The Fifth Beatle is one of the highlights, if not THE highlight of 2013’s graphic novel offerings.