Unsung story of ‘Fifth Beatle’ told as graphic novel

Not every comic book hero needs to have superpowers. In the case of the Beatles manager Brian Epstein, one might say all he ever needed was love. 

In “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” readers are presented the short life of a man who battled with personal struggles during his successful years with one of the most famous rock bands in the world.

Through Dark Horse Comics, author Vivek J. Tiwary and illustrators Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker came together to tell the inspirational story of how Epstein became manager and mentor of the Beatles, an important yet largely unrecognized history of the group.

The narrative is broken up into three chronological parts, with the titles “Or I’ll Dress You in Mourning,” “The Great Cause” and “If Love Were All,” the first taking place in Liverpool where it all started in 1961.

While starting out with a rather dark and dim setting, things quickly turn bright when Epstein hears about the Beatles’ performance at a cellar club called The Cavern and decides to make an appearance. Here he is ultimately captivated by the young boys and considers the idea of becoming their manager with his ambitions of making them stars.

One of the more brilliant details is noticed from here on out as Tiwary’s dialogue creates a realistic portrayal of the conversations between characters. During the scene with which the Beatles meet Epstein for the first time, one can’t help but get a sense of being backstage in a documentary, taking in all of the humorous and witty exchanges between these men.

Readers truly get a sense for the amount of ambition that Epstein carried with him, as he claimed that one day the Beatles would be bigger than Elvis Presley.

However, despite his confidence in the band, he struggled with getting them a record deal for a while and Tiwary begins to hint at flashbacks of past years where he was turned down in other aspects of his life.

Not only was Epstein a Jewish man during anti-Semitism time period, but he was also homosexual when people living in the United Kingdom could be jailed for being so.

It becomes clear that he had to start taking pills for his high levels of anxiety, which would also help over time with his “homosexual inclinations” as described by his doctor.

With the use of pencil sketches and watercolor, the artwork by Robinson and Baker creates a very real feeling to the comic, especially in scenes that were replicated from historical events. The book contains extra materials after concluding, giving insight into the illustrators and their artistic process throughout certain key pieces to the story.

One anecdote in particular that had quite a lasting effect was the contrast of Epstein’s chat with Ed Sullivan while also capturing the John F. Kennedy shooting, where Robinson described having to do heavy research such as looking at film clips and photos of JFK’s motorcade, as well as the crowds of people that were attending.

Tiwary also excelled at showcasing the relationships that Epstein endured during this time in his life, in particular with a few individual members of the Beatles, his fictitious personal assistant Moxie and a man he became infatuated with named Dizz Gillespie.

Perhaps the most well done scene is when Epstein meets Colonel Tom Parker, who was the manager for Elvis Presley. The artwork and devilish dialogue coming from Parker engulfs the reader’s mind leaving one just as unsettled and disturbed as Epstein seems to be when he finishes the conversation with him.

If there was anything that felt unnecessary at all in this book, it may simply be the way the artwork transitions suddenly during the chaos in the Philippines when the Beatles are touring. The structure changes and becomes a bit confusing for readers, but for those more familiar with the background of the situation, it may sound just fine.

The Beatles were a band that aimed to spread the message of love for the entire world to hear and Epstein was the catalyst for their success that ultimately would help contribute to their downfall when he passed away a lonely man at the age of 32 from constant struggles that came with his astonishing ambition.

“The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” is both uplifting and heartbreaking at its best and is now being made into a film of the same name that will be directed by Peyton Reed and produced by Bruce Cohen, which is expected to be released in 2014.

It has reportedly obtained the rights to a few of the Beatles songs, which is a unique triumph that requires explicit approval from the remaining Beatles and that of their estates.