Baby’s in Black

Baby's in Black

Baby’s in Black tells, as the subtitle says, the story of Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles. Stu was known as the “fifth Beatle”, playing bass for the band until he took up with Astrid, a German photographer, during the Beatles’ time in Hamburg. He passed away just a few years later.

Arne Bellstorf‘s version of this classic rock-and-roll story was published last year in Europe by SelfMadeHero. It’s told from Astrid’s perspective, and Bellstorf interviewed her as background. The book opens in 1960, with a friend’s first viewing of the young band in a rough area of town, and runs through 1962, just after Stu’s sudden demise.

Baby's in Black

We follow Astrid from meeting the band, taking pictures of them staged with her artist’s eye, and her developing a relationship with Stu (who also wanted to be an artist, leaving the band to do so). We’re told friends saw them as fated to be together, in spite of her limited English and his poor German. My favorite scenes involve her, him, and her mother, in quiet domesticity after he moved in with them.

The work is strongly shaded, with solid chunks of black used as clothes that signify being an artist and dark nights and neighborhoods. All the characters resemble each other, with the same large almond eyes, expressions, and scribbled-on blushing cheeks, although you can recognize the various members of the Beatles.

It’s a fast read, especially if you already know the story, but it gives a good feel of the era and what it felt like to live through this, before anyone knew the Beatles would change the world. I would have liked to have seen some examples of Stuart’s art, especially since that’s what he chose over music. We’re told numerous times how professors and others admire his talent, but none of his actual work is shown.

I still don’t have a good impression for any of these characters as people, because they fit too closely into roles — the artist dying young and his creative girlfriend — and the story’s been told too often. There’s something almost mythological about the lost potential of someone gone too soon and so abruptly, thus we’re drawn to this tale, especially with the connection to the world’s most famous band and their early struggles. I suspect most readers of this volume will already know the story, so I’m not sure how much more they’re going to get from this version, unless it’s enjoying the very cute renditions of the characters.

There are preview pages available at the publisher’s website. The book can be preordered through comic shops with Previews code MAR12 1075. It’s due out in early May. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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