The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Based on the large amount of publicity, creating The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story was a labor of love for author Vivek J. Tiwary. Unfortunately, while his affection for the subject shines through, he may have spent too much time in Epstein’s life, since it’s not always explained clearly to the casual reader.
In short, this is one of those Beatles books where you already need to know the story of the Beatles and the details of the incidents referenced in order to completely follow what’s going on. Brian Epstein was the Beatles’ manager, a closeted gay man with a drug problem (two facts said here to be related). After finishing this volume, I feel I know more about Epstein’s poor taste in men than his relationship with the band. (Since homosexuality was illegal in the UK, it’s not really his fault that he winds up with guys who beat him or otherwise abuse or manipulate him. He had a lot of internalized self-loathing.)
Perhaps, in the general scheme, one can assume that readers know the basics of the importance of the Ed Sullivan appearances. but I was lost during, for example, the Philippines visit. That seven-page sequence, drawn in cartoon form by Kyle Baker (his only contribution), has the band chased by the military in a wild jeep ride reminiscent of one of their caper movies, but I had to have my Beatles fan husband explain the historical background to me. It’s also unclear when and how Ringo joins the band, or how Epstein snookered Martin (who’s referenced but not shown) into their record contract, or how much at the end is true and how much metaphorical.
The dialogue can be overwrought, trying too hard to be artsy and poetic. At times, these characters don’t sound like people, but like mythic figures, having their origins retold. That’s what the author seems to be aiming for, based on his afterword, but on a craft level, there’s simply too much dialogue for the panels. Andrew C. Robinson’s art is absolutely gorgeous, though, particularly with the soft coloring, expressive faces, and close-enough likenesses to be recognizable. Muddled storytelling aside, The Fifth Beatle is worth reading just for Robinson’s portraits of that time and place. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)