The Fifth Beatle is the story of Brian Epstein, the manager behind The Beatles. Without him, it’s likely they would never have gotten much further than Hamburg. And yet, his is the story that gets lost most often in the mythology that has surrounded The Beatles. Luckily, we have this superb graphic novel to present the story and the man behind it.
I grew up listening to The Beatles. My dad played their songs on guitar, and Let It Be was one of the first songs I learned on piano. When I was growing up, as far as music went, there was The Beatles and then there was everything else. Naturally as I have grown up, my music tastes have changed and matured (I’m a self proclaimed Indie Rocker), but The Beatles will always have a special place in my ear.
The Fifth Beatle follows Epstein’s story from his first exposure to The Beatles in the Cavern Club until his death shortly after the release of Sgt. Pepper. It tells the tale of an extremely dedicated and talented man, not without his flaws, but ultimately having a larger impact on the course of music history than anyone could have imagined. The narrative is much more creative and complex than a simple biography. By combining it with very beautiful and well thought out visuals, it creates an effect that is greater than merely the sum of the parts. The art adds emotions that resonate with the written story and creates a lasting impression with the reader of who Brian Epstein was, both as a manager and as a man.
Epstein comes across as a hard working and sympathetic character. Not above making mistakes, but always moving forward. Also, ambitious, very ambitious. From the start, his goal was to make them the biggest band in the world. I suppose thinking small was never a problem for the man. The crazy thing is that it worked, but almost feels like it shouldn’t. Epstein was manager of a record store with a few failed business ventures in his past. By all logical mean, The Beatles should not have happened as they did. And yet, through a combination of talent, luck and hard work, history speaks. The brightest flame burns half as bright. A cliche, but I think it applies to Epstein.
The story includes not only Epstein’s business life and ventures, but also his personal life, with which there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness. No small part of this is due to the fact that he was gay, which was illegal in Britain at the time. But this fact aside, even when he is shown among friends and coworkers, he seems off to himself. This is in contract to the Beatles, who always have girls and groupies around. People celebrating in their fame and success, while Epstein in the man behind the curtain, and for the longest time no one knew his name.
The art is simply stunning. It is a very beautiful book with bright, vibrant colors and intricate panel layouts. The colors are have to be mentioned, they are brilliant. The artwork brings the story to life and leads yours eyes through the book with a sense of momentum that builds and builds through Brian’s life until before you know, it’s over. Bookending the chapters are some very wonderful full page spreads as well. There is a persistent imagery of matadors throughout the comic, with Epstein portrayed at the matador to the Beatles’ bull. It is present throughout the book, even on the cover. It’s a fitting metaphor, and serves to add another layer to the book.
It’s unusual to include a video in a review of a graphic novel, but given the subject manner, I find it more than appropriate. Here is an interview with Epstein in 1964, after The Beatles’ American tour.
The Fifth Beatle is simply a no brainer for Beatles fans. It a terrific piece of art, and an important story that so often gets lost in the mix. Everything is top notch from the colors and penciling to the narrative. It could also be recommended to even non-Beatles fans, for it tells the compelling story of one man’s ambition. A man who was in the right place at the right time. It’s a very human story. Pick this one up. The Fifth Beatle will be available from Dark Horse on November 13th, 2013.
Rest in peace, Mr. Epstein.