The lonely starmaker
A new graphic novel tells the tragic story of The Beatles’ former manager, the late Brian Epstein.
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Writer: Vivek Tiwary
Artists: Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Four names that will forever be associated with one another and who, together, form arguably the most iconic and greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time.
But it was one other person who made it all possible, the “Fifth Beatle” who never appeared on stage with the Fab Four, the one who was content to stay behind the scenes, pulling the strings, and making sure that The Beatles became the household name they are today.
“If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian,” said McCartney in 1999 of Epstein, who managed them from 1961 until his death in 1967 at the young age of 32.
Epstein’s story is a tragic but inspiring one. Having discovered The Beatles playing in Liverpool’s Cavern Club on Nov 9, 1961, he took it upon himself to bring these four young lads out of Liverpool and into the world. Epstein was more than just their manager – he was the glue that kept the four of them together. The Beatles famously trusted Epstein completely, following his advice about changing their image, allowing him to negotiate their contracts and gigs, and left all their business affairs in his hands.
Nominated for two Eisner Award this year – Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art) for Andrew Robinson and Best Reality-Based Work – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story is Broadway producer Vivek Tiwary’s first-ever graphic novel.
Together with artist Andrew Robinson, and cartoonist Kyle Baker (who also contributes to the interior art), he paints a remarkably poignant picture of a man who was the sun that the four Beatles orbited.
As far as Beatles history goes, this book ticks all the requisite boxes. From the famous Ed Sullivan Show appearance to the ill-fated and controversial tour to the Phillipines (in which cartoonist Baker takes over the artwork from Robinson to hilarious effect), it’s all here. The emotional core of the book, however, is obviously Epstein, with the lads themselves seemingly orbiting and hovering around him spouting famous lines like “To the toppermost of the poppermost” in the most earnest tone you can imagine.
Robinson’s artwork does a great job of not only conveying Epstein’s pain, triumph and loneliness, he also does a fantastic job of portraying The Beatles in all their glory (that two-page splash panel directly following their Ed Sullivan Show appearance captures the frenzy and glamour of Beatlemania). His artwork matches Tiwary’s sometimes flowery prose perfectly too, especially the page where Epstein, imagining himself as a matador (a recurring theme throughout the book), announces the impending arrival of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There are times when he draws The Beatles with these fixed, earnest Archie Comics-style smiles on their faces, which sometimes makes you wish you could reach into the panel and slap them for being so annoyingly chirpy.
That’s not a bad thing, of course – after all, The Beatles (in their early days, at least) represented all that was fun, chirpy and idealistic about rock ’n’ roll. It also gives a necessary contrast between the easygoing joy of the group and the sad and lonely Epstein, which is the real story here. Epstein is depicted here as growing lonelier and lonelier as The Beatles grew more and more popular. His struggles with his homosexuality (in an age when it was not only frowned upon, but actually illegal in Britain), his yearning for love and his dalliance with drug abuse ... all these issues in his life are documented here, and paint a picture of a man who was increasingly being isolated by the success of his charges.
After reading this book, it’s not hard to imagine how much the Fab Four actually relied on their manager and friend to keep them together. Ultimately, the effort might just have been too much for the young manager – Epstein died at age 32 from an overdose of sleeping pills.
Lennon later said that The Beatles pretty much fell apart as a cohesive group after his death – and indeed, they eventually disbanded two years later.
By the time the book gets to its inevitable, tragic end, you’re left with a sense of sympathy for the man who helped John, Paul, George and Ringo achieve everything they dreamed of, but never quite got the same satisfaction for himself. He helped The Beatles spread their message of love, peace, and rock ’n’ roll across the universe, but in the end, one hard day’s night after another, all he needed was love.
> The Fifth Beatle and The Bojeffries Saga are available at the graphic novel section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.