Brian Epstein the manager of the Beatles who was responsible for the band’s meteoric rise from a lounge band in Liverpool to one of the most influential bands in history was announced as a member of the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class on December 16, 2013. The announcement confirmed that Epstein was chosen for the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which recognizes recording industry professionals "who have had a major influence on the development of rock and roll."
Without Epstein Beetlemania may never have been born. Paul McCartney in 1997 told the BBC, “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”
In “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story,” Dark Horse Comics has published a graphic novel that tells the tale of Epstein’s involvement with the band that radically changed the world of popular music. The story is beautifully written by Vivek J. Tiwary, with artwork by Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker.
The story is one that is near and dear to the heart of the graphic novel’s writer Tiwary who began studying Epstein’s career while at the Wharton School of Business as he dreamed of managing bands himself. What he discovered was the unsung story of Epstein which for as high as he took the Beatles was still surrounded by tragedy.
What comes across in this story is a truly personal account of the man himself. As Epstein took his own beliefs in the band and by sheer determination he willed them into the spotlight. Epstein is running his family’s record store, NEMS, one of the largest in England, when he gets turned onto this local band. He cajoles the boys into signing with him despite him never having managed before. He tries to sell the Beatles to every record producer in England and is refused at every turn. Through marketing strategies unheard of at the time he gets the Beatles noticed propelling them to stardom.
But as Epstein helps the Beatles sell millions of records, he is dealing with his own tortured emotions. Epstein was gay which was illegal in England. He would do jail time if discovered, wherever he went he was given drugs to “quell” these emotions that were inside of him. His life was full of bitter loneliness as he wrestled with who he was as he tried to conceal the truth about himself. Tiwary brings his struggles to life in the pages that are as heartbreaking as his successes are uplifting.
“The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” covers the time period when Epstein first discovers the band in 1961 until he dies in 1967. It conveys the trust the Beatles placed in him and even though his dreams for the band were big and were fulfilled it shows that Epstein was a poor business manager, which only added to his internal turmoil.
While Tiwary, by his own admission, does take some artistic license with timelines and events, the book is a touching look at an often neglected chapter in the history of the Beatles.
Robinson’s artwork is outstanding in this book. It gives the feel of an idealized 1960s with a stylized artwork that brings out the exuberance of the era. Robinson brings out an uncanny likeness of the Beatles to make John, Paul, George, and Ringo instantly recognizable.
The artwork conveys much of the tone of the story, with a jolly and good natured Epstein as the focal point. The energy of his personality comes through on the pages fitting the narrative that is being told.
“The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” is a vibrant biography that captures the heart of the man it covers. The words and artwork come together to bring a record store manager in Liverpool up to being the manager of the biggest rock and roll band of all time. It is an inspiring tale of the triumph of one’s will and self-determination that can be torn down by self doubt and a world not ready for differences. Tiwary pays tribute to a school hood idol in a fitting way. It is a story that will receive more attention as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions on April 10, 2014 get nearer.
There are three different editions of this book. From the Dark Horse Comics website:
The standard hardcover edition will be available for $19.99 in an oversized library format.
A collector’s-edition hardcover of this groundbreaking graphic novel will also be available, featuring a wraparound, textured cover and a section of bonus materials including Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia, artist sketches, and alternate covers, for $49.99.
The limited edition (1,500 copies) features a tip-in sheet signed by creators Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker, along with a twenty-four-page bonus section including rare Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia and behind-the-scenes sketches, a unique, textured cover, and a special slipcase, for $99.99.
Reviewer's statement: A copy of this book was provided by Dark Horse Comics for purposes of this review.