The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Vivek J. Tiwary, writer; Andrew C. Robinson, illustrations; Kyle Baker, illustrations.
M Press, 2013
Captain Comics Review gave extensive coverage of this book in November, 2016. I finally got around to reading it, so these are my impressions. I think to fully appreciate the story you have to have lived through the period--but being a Beatles fan, even after the fact, would be enough to get what the creators were going for. Fans at the time all knew that Brian Epstein was the Beatles' manager, but from the outside his influence on their career was not fully appreciated. He was not only their biggest booster during the early years, but also played a pivotal role in getting them the exposure they needed to become something bigger than a regional act. His ability to order copies of their records for his family's record store might be seen as a conflict of interest nowadays, but that and other grassroots efforts to stimulate record sales and radio play likely had considerable weight.
This really is Brian Epstein's story, to such an extent that the Beatles themselves become bit players. As a musician and fan I was a bit disappointed by the minimal coverage of the music itself. There's no discussion about drummer Pete Best being replaced by Ringo Starr, for example, and nothing about their relationship to producer George Martin. And once Robinson moves beyond reference photos of Beatles performances there are guitars shown that did not exist during the period (an extremely common mistake in comics about music, along with completely inaccurate musical notation).
All that being said, the book is mostly a joy. Epstein certainly had a dark side. As a gay man and a Jew he was an outsider, despite being a central figure in Swinging London in the 60s. The book does not shy away from his struggles with his identity, nor from the drugs he increasingly relied upon to cope. It was finally an overdose of drugs combined with alcohol that caused his premature death--there is a hallucinogenic imagining of his experience while dying. Yet the story manages to still emphasize Epstein's joy at the Beatles' success, and his role in achieving it. No Beatles fan should miss this.
I loved this book! The art alone makes it worth the entry fee, but the story makes it twice as good. I didn't know anything about Brian Epstein when I first read this, but since I've read it, I've heard his name spoken many times over.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
I finally read this the other day. I mostly liked it, although the sequence drawn by Kyle Baker did not work for me at all.
The sequence with "Colonel" Tom Parker made me want to go take a bath in bleach, and I'm sure Brian Epstein felt the same way when he had the misfortune of meeting Parker in person. It's a huge contrast between one man who wants to wants to help the musicians under his charge reach their full greatness and his opposite number, who is a thorough parasite.
Since this is not the Tom Parker story, it doesn't get into why he never let Elvis Presley tour overseas or joined him at that Army base in Germany or visited his movie sets -- it's because Parker was an illegal alien from Holland and was afraid if he left the U.S., he wouldn't be able to get back in.
I didn't know that about Tom Parker...never been an Elvis fan.
I thought the Kyle Baker sequence worked, in context. The Philippines tour was pretty surreal, from what I know about it. It needed a contrasting visual style, and Baker certainly captured the crazy energy.