The Fifth Beatle follows the life of Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager, and his journey in bringing the famous band to the forefront of the music industry and the world. This isn’t a book about The Beatles, though. It’s strictly about Epstein and his life, his troubles, and his journey.
I’m not going to jazz this up. I love The Fifth Beatle. I love the story of Brian Epstein. I love historical work. I love Andrew Robinson’s artwork but reading the first 20 or so pages I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing from my reading experience. I took some time to contemplate this conundrum, waiting almost a week to pick the book up again. The solution was The Beatles, the music itself. I needed to listen to the music that inspired the book to fully appreciate the work.
I could have simply streamed The Beatles from my Mac to my TV but this seemed so… modern, and this was a historical piece for god’s sakes. I wanted to be as authentic as possible. How would a Beatles fan read this book? This second exacerbating problem was solved when my roommate placed his record player out on a bookshelf in our living room. I called everyone I knew who collected records, trying to find someone who had some Beatles. My friend Maddison rose to the call. She came over to my place with her collection, even tentatively lending me original pressings of the records. I finally had all I needed to dive into this book, immersing myself as much as possible. The crackling of the record began and my eyes hit the page.
It’s a journey, the story of Brian Epstein. The book is published by Dark Horse Comics, written by Vivek J. Tiwary, and drawn by Andrew Robinson. Tiwary has been in love with the story of Epstein from his college years. The book emotes this dedication. Tiwary gives consideration to not only the historical aspects of the book but dives into Epstein as a person, truly developing a personality for him, giving him a voice that has been drowned out by history and footnotes. Tiwary doesn’t seem interested in Epstein as the Beatles manager but Epstein as a person. The story doesn’t follow The Beatles, the story doesn’t follow their rise to fame, the story follows Brian, his hopes, desires, ambitions, and seemingly most important of all, his fears and failings. Tiwary depicts Epstein as the type of person that worries and doesn’t always enjoy the ride he’s on. In the book, Epstein is always looking ahead and trying to figure out what comes next for him, or The Beatles, or any of the other artists he manages.
The story also covers one of the more personal sides of Epstein’s life. He was Jewish and gay, two things that were culturally looked down upon in the 1960s. The book depicts England as a homophobic place, where gay individuals could be thrown into jail for simply being what they are. Tiwary heavily touches on this aspect of Epstein’s life, even showing Epstein’s relationships and the problems his homosexuality caused him.
Tiwary doesn’t just take from historical records of Epstein, reading a Wikipedia article and calling it good. Tiwary shows not just the notable events of events of Epstein’s life but the small parts that make him a person in between.
Here’s a quote from Tiwary about the research he put into the book and a few of the pitfalls he fell into when diving into the subject.
“…When I began my research– 21 years ago– there were also no online resources like YouTube or WikiPedia (which sadly is full of half-truths anyway). So most of the research I did for “The Fifth Beatle” came from personal, one-on-one interviews with people who knew Brian Epstein best– and as a result there truly are stories in it that haven’t been told before…”
With the music playing in the background, the mood for each page was set, giving me emotion to roll with, a sound track to a silent piece of work. The White Album hits the needle and Brian tells Moxie to order ten thousand copies of “Love Me Do” for his family record store.
Andrew Robinson’s art speaks volumes for this book. The colors match the style and tone exactly. You’ll be reading these dark pages in the basement of a Liverpool music club and then bright colors will take over, flooding your senses. Robinson takes risks with his art and those risks pay off. Robinson captures the emotions of Epstein, showing him at his best and worse and making sure you know where he is on the journey.
I love books that break the norms of the comic industry. The Fifth Beatle is an biographical piece about a man who should have been a household name but was forgotten by history. This book feels like a visual representation of a man’s life, showing the journey in bright vivid detail that only words could not.
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Collector’s Edition will be available on November 19th and I highly recommend picking it up. If you’re a fan of The Beatles or great story telling, you will fall in love.