Writer: Vivek J. Tiwary
Artist: Andrew Robinson
Reviewed by Matthew Lee
It is now common knowledge that Brian Epstein was considered ‘The Fifth Beatle’. But what does this actually mean? What did he do for the Beatles, which propelled them from little-known Liverpool musicians to the worldwide cultural phenomenon they became? More importantly, what did the Beatles themselves, and their messages of love and acceptance, mean to him personally?
The Fifth Beatle is a recounting of elements of Brian Epstein’s history, from the point where he discovers the Beatles to his death in 1967. Rather than being a literal biography of Brian’s life, and the events therein, The Fifth Beatle provides an insightful interpretation of the world as seen through his eyes.
At the core of the story are the Beatles themselves, as Brian works to propel them into international stardom and beyond. And while some details on the band are revealed the primary focus is on Brian’s interaction with, and on behalf of, them. This results in conflicts on all sides, with record companies, foreign nations, and even Elvis Presley’s manager.
All of the events depicted in the book are from Brian’s real life, pulled from the recollections and memories of his friends and family. It was years of research for the author, Vivek J Tiwary, but the result is an intimate look into the mind and experiences of Brian. Which makes some of the events depicted in the book all that more heartbreaking, terrifying and inspirational.
Brian Epstein is presented as a driven, but fundamentally flawed, character. His belief in the Beatles, and that they are destined for greatness, pushes him to his physical and mental breaking points. He charms the media, launches other musicians into stardom, and brings unfathomable success to the Beatles. But at the same time he struggles with doing the right thing in business, living as a homosexual man in a country in which it is illegal, and pushes himself towards an early death.
The story is interestingly constructed. Several elements are woven throughout, including a matador motif (bull fights being of fascination to Brian Epstein), Brian’s reliance on various pills, and an ever present personal assistant. These recurring elements help to centre the story, and anchor Brian within it.
This is important, as the book quickly moves from place to place. One moment the band is in the UK, the next they are running from angered soldiers in the Philippines. Location changes are swift and dramatic, but do an excellent job of communicating the hectic and fast-paced life Brian and the Beatles must have led.
Along with a great story should go amazing artwork, and Andrew C. Robinson (with a little help from Kyle Baker) has delivered admirably. The main art style is quite loose, a mixture of delicate line work and soft water colours. Intermittedly the style will change, slightly in most cases though quite drastically in one instance. Rather than being a mistake, this is used as an intriguing story telling device. It singles out certain exchanges, or whole chapters, as being something other than the normal.
For those fascinated with the Beatles, or Brian Epstein in particular, this book is a must own. It provides an excellent sense on where the Beatles came from, and why the man behind them was affectionately thought of as the fifth Beatle.
Even for those not particularly drawn to the band, or the story of its manager, The Fifth Beatle is still worth a look. It is extremely well written and illustrated, presenting readers with a story which increases in meaning and complexity with each read. This, along with the additional WIP material and written accounts after the graphic novel portion, means readers will find themselves returning again and again.
The Fifth Beatle will teach you that you shouldn’t let being different stand in the way of what you want to accomplish or achieve. While we all have our follies, each of us has the potential to make a meaningful and lasting mark on the world. And I get the idea that this is what Brian Epstein would have wanted.