Review – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story TP (Dark Horse)

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Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Vivek J. Tiwary
Artwork: Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker
Release Date: 19th October, 2016

John. Paul. George. Ringo. We all know the names. The Fab Four. The Beatles. One of the most influential groups – if not the most influential group – in the history of rock music. But one name that that perhaps isn’t quite as familiar as it should be is Brian “Eppy” Epstein, the Beatles’ manager. The man who took them from word-of-mouth obscurity in the pubs and clubs Liverpool and moulded them into the worldwide juggernaut they would become, sacrificing a huge part of himself in the process.

The Eisner and Harvey Award-winning The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, from writer Vivek J. Tiwary and artists Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker (the latter of whom provides a brief but entertaining sequence in the Philippines) takes us behind the music of the Beatles to tell the story of their intensely private and enigmatic manager, painting a picture of relentless ambition, unquenchable perfectionism and deeply personal tragedy that many people will be completely unaware of.

However, before I start this review properly, it’s worth clarifying something: This isn’t a story about The Beatles. It isn’t even really a story about Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. Instead, this is a story about Brian Epstein the human being, and it makes for utterly gripping reading as a result.

Tiwary’s narrative takes us from Epstein’s childhood all the way to his untimely death, and while this definitely isn’t a detailed account of the minutiae of the Beatles’ management, enough key moments are touched upon to give the story a sense of chronological perspective. Tiwary gives us an unflinching insight into Epstein’s struggles throughout his life, from his reliance on the medication he takes to “suppress his homosexual urges” to his constant, impossible pursuit of a sufficiently satisfying ending to his – and the Beatles’ – story. Along the way it’s almost impossible to not feel both inspired and saddened by this tragic character and his all-consuming sense of ambition that never allowed him to slow down to take a moment to enjoy the things that really mattered.

As strong as the narrative undoubtedly is however, it’s the sumptuous, deeply expressive artwork from Robinson that really helps this story to resonate as powerfully as it does. Rich colours and sweeping layouts encapsulate the never-ending surge of Epstein’s life, with some truly gorgeous splash pages along the way and a wonderfully utilised ‘matador’ motif surrounding the man himself. Throughout it all, Epstein’s face and demeanour remains largely unchanged, with his matter-of-fact delivery and immaculately-groomed façade providing an anchor to this wild, almost unbelievable journey.

For all the artistic ability on display, there are a couple of visual sequences in particular which really stick in the mind long after the book has been put down. The first is Epstein’s meeting with Colonel Tom Parker, with the dismissive, egotistical Elvis manager consuming a breakfast buffet in front of Eppy in a flurry of ruddy cheeks, jagged teeth and glaring red eyes. The second is the final few pages of the book, which resonate with a sense of emotional poignancy that’s difficult not to feel deeply moved by.

Those seeking a behind the scenes look at the rise of the Beatles are likely to come away disappointed, as this is instead a deeply personal character study of one of music’s most enigmatic and visionary characters. As Epstein himself says, “The bullfight is both a celebration of life and a meditation on death”, which is about as perfect a summary of the Fifth Beatle as you could possibly hope for. A powerful and fascinating book which is clearly deserving of all the praise which has been heaped upon it, The Fifth Beatle is an essential purchase for fans of music, fans of comics and for any of us who have ever been interested in the subtle nuances of the human condition.

Rating: 5/5.

You can purchase The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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