Evil Geek Book Report – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
It’s hard to get excited about Beatles releases anymore. As a devoted fan it often feels like every stone has long since been overturned. Their relatively small musical output has been analyzed adnausem by fans and scholars alike. Their story is so engrained into pop culture it’s almost not necessary for biographies to bother to be printed about them. So it can be refreshing when something pops up that allows us to perceive Beatlemania differently and approach it from another angle. This is precisely what Vivek Tiwary’s The Fifth Beatles: The Brian Epstein Story graphic novel does.
Many people have been referred to as the Fifth Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor etc. but none more deserving than the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein (with the exception of their producer George Martin). Epstein’s story is one of personal triumph but emotional heartbreak. This graphic novel covers roughly the few months prior to him meeting the Beatles in 1961 till his untimely death in 1967.
We see Brian exposed and honest in a way his own autobiography never could since at the time homosexuality was under strict law in Britain. This story paints him as a very tender and genteel man whose life as a closeted gay, coupled with extreme business success at such a young age led to a prescribed drug addiction and a secret shame. It’s hard not to feel for him given the circumstances especially since it seemed he rarely had anyone he could confide in. The one person he did trust went on to blackmail him for a hefty sum of money.
His entreparnural skills are also highlighted in the story and rightly so. He saw something in those 4 liverpoolian lads beyond anyone’s wildest dreams telling everyone he could that he would make them bigger than Elvis. Astoundingly, he succeeded and was also able to develop and manage a whole stable of artists. It’s difficult to steer a ship in uncharted waters, but that’s exactly what he did and professionally he was able to keep it together while his personal life fell apart. There was no template to look at and no success story for him to follow in the footsteps of. Elvis came close but he was only one person not a band and things had changed since he took the world by storm. In fact, one of the more interest and telling parts of the book is when Brian meets with Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’ manager) looking for a friend and some advice and it just turns into a disaster. Parker basically talks about swindling people for as much money as possible. The art in this scene is rendered very ugly to depict Parker’s twisted sense of morality.
Through out the rest of the book however the art is nothing short of beautiful. Andrew C. Robinson and Kyler baker shine throughout. They create different styles to correspond with different eras as well as few mini stories that break from the narrative a bit like the Beatles doomed tour in the Philippines. It’s all realistic looking with a touch of the surreal. It’s perfect.
The Beatles do appear in this story (really how could they not?) since it’s framed around them but they really aren’t the focal point. In fact, Lennon is the only one with any real screen time in an attempts to explain and illustrate his interesting relationship with Epstein. For any comic fan that is a Beatles fan or for any fan in general this is a must read. It provides an excellent through the looking glass view of the Beatles.
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