(Raging Pages) Vivek J. Tiwary/The Fifth Beatle; The Brian Epstein Story
published: 6 /
In 'Raging Pages', her books review column, Lisa Torem reflects on 'The Fifth Beatle', Vivek Tiwary's graphic novel about Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein
Even if you’ve never heard of the Beatles legendary manager, you will become just as obsessed with Brian Epstein’s dramatic legacy as Vivek Tiwary did twenty years ago when you read the collector’s edition of ‘The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story’ (M Press/Dark Horse). The book has already won an Eisner Award, and, just this month, two Harvey Awards and will soon be developed into a major film for which Tiwary will write the screenplay.
The New York-based Broadway producer, screenwriter, actor, comic book aficionado and longtime Beatles fan quickly became engrossed in the man and his motivations after exploring his business ideas, and decided that the graphic novel format was the best way to unfold the simmering largely untold and unsung story.
Tiwary’s research skills are impeccable but never dry or pedantic. He keeps the discourse natural sounding and demonstrates a keen understanding of dialectic rhythm; primarily the Liverpudlian one. In the early sections, the sometimes awkward, sometimes brash lads banter back and forth in a disarming manner that will make diehard Beatles fans especially nostalgic. That said, the conversations are palpable, witty, tragic and true to the period, which begins in 1961 and ends with Epstein’s overdose.
Tiwary pits Epstein against some truly cryptic characters like Colonel Parker and a boorish army officer. Other disturbing shady characters threaten Epstein’s sanity and status too, and the chilling scenes convey masterfully the disturbing cycle of stress Epstein endured continually with little outside support.
This graphic novel threads the seamy docks and smelly, sexy Cavern Club of Liverpool to Bible-belt burnings, political hysteria in the Philippines and to New York paparazzi. Through the turbulence and calm, Epstein is depicted as a smouldering rock, whose psyche is subject to sporadic melting.
The artwork includes illustrations by Andrew C. Robinson, whose depictions of the early mop tops are heartwarming, boyish and insightful, and cartoons by Kyle Baker, whose ‘1966 Chaos in the Philippines’ is whimsical and hallucinatory. The contrasting styles add great depth and imagination to the story lines. Baker’s zany caricatures offset Robinson’s dodgy landscapes, down-to-the-last detail partying pop icons: Mick, Keith, Donovan and more. At the book’s conclusion, Robinson takes the reader through the creation of rough drawings and final versions, discusses colour choices and how he created a vivid sense of motion.
Billy J. Kramer, another Epstein client and pop star, adds a touching recollection of his own Brian Epstein experience, as does first Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Tiwary also includes memorabilia from his private collection and from well-known archivists.
The regular edition doesn’t include the textured cover, bonus materials and artist sketches, but the sharply told story is all there so you definitely can’t go wrong with either edition. And, just for the record, this is not supposed to be a biopic written in stone. Tiwary readily admits he took liberties – and, as a graphic novelist, why wouldn’t he? In one case, he consolidated various characteristics of multiple people to create an unforgettable life force in the imaginary character of Epstein’s secretary Moxie, and he also added a few fantastical touches of his own creation – check out the extraordinary matador inferences.
The essential story does give the reader a strong grounding in this era of Epstein’s life, which was stymied by the rampant anti-Semitism and homophobia of post war England. That Epstein rose above these obstacles to launch the success of the world’s greatest rock band is admirable, yet Tiwary drives home the point that Epstein, like a hungry kid in a candy store with no spending money, nose against cold glass, never reaped the rewards of love and respect that his coveted clients and audiences enjoyed so freely. Vivek Tiwary’s ‘The Fifth Beatle’ acknowledges that Brian Epstein changed the world. We just need the courage to embrace it.