We’ve all heard about the imprint the Beatles left on the world. We’ve seen the footage of those four handsome boys with matching mop tops and Pierre Cardin suits performing in vain before mobs of young banshees whose sobbing, swooning, and rapture were well beyond disruptive. By the end of the 1960‘s it was clear that a sort of paradigm shift had occurred in American culture, and, chicken or egg, Beatlemania is integral to that story. The Fab Four saw an entire generation through an era unparalleled in social tumult, metamorphosis, and mythology. While it’s difficult, in the here and now, to imagine a world without the Beatles, The Fifth Beatle : The Brian Epstein Story, writer/producer Vivek Tiwary’s love letter to the band’s original manager, reveals the underlying serendipity of it all.
Casting the Fab Four as minor characters, Tiwary frames Epstein as the true hero of the story. Benefactor and puppet master, he worked relentlessly behind the scenes cultivating, nurturing, and managing the minutest facets of his Liverpool lads‘ personal and professional lives. Devout Beatles fans will be delighted at numerous nods to the band’s catalogue, and no doubt scoff at the omission of other details. But this is Epstein’s story.
Before we go any further, this is not an all ages title. This is the story of a rock n’ roll band. A British one, at that, and so sex, drugs, and f-words are inevitable. The colorful characters’ lives and times are beautifully rendered in an approach Eisner nominated artist Andrew C. Robinson describes as “a mixed media explosion.” “This book is the application of everything I’ve ever learned as an artist and a storyteller and has pushed me to go where I have never traveled before.”
While revisiting the milestones of the Beatles’ rise from lowly beginnings in Liverpool, only dreaming of a record deal, The Fifth Beatle transcends the familiar struggling rock band trope, juxtaposing the band’s success with Epstein’s decline into depression and drug addiction. Throughout the book, many a doctor refer euphemistically to his “other problem”, homosexuality, a felony offense in these times mind you, while writing yet another prescription to treat his worsening stress and anxiety. Likening him to a matador, Tiwary celebrates Epstein, face to face with a wild and dangerous beast, bearing a profound loneliness and fear, yet maintaining elaborate showmanship all the while.
Tiwary, a multi-award winning, multifaceted producer himself, would, understandably, have a special kind of appreciation for Epstein’s contributions. His admitted “ongoing and unrequited love affair” with Epstein’s story began with a case study at the Wharton School of Business when he, himself, was an aspiring band manager. Call it shameless hero worship if you will, the Beatles’ story would most certainly have had a very different outcome if Epstein had not stepped in with his shrewd business savvy and cunning publicity ploy making. It was Epstein’s unique worldview and position that afforded the Beatles their shot in the dark.
And he loved them.
“If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian,” Paul McCartney proclaimed. While long overdue, The Fifth Beatle is tour de force homage to a man who, really, single handedly, changed our world.
The Fifth Beatle has been nominated for two Eisner Awards, “Best Reality Based Work” and “Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior Art)”. M Press, A Division of Dark Horse Comics, Tiwary, and Robinson, will, no doubt, have cause for celebration this July 25th when winners are announced at Comic-Con International. This book is a triumph, on all fronts.