The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Written by: Vivek J. Tiwary

Art by: Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker

I’m a Beatles fan.  Have been ever since I was a very young kid who would take his mom’s vinyl albums and listen to them on his $10 crappy record player.  As I got older I really found a better appreciation for their music.  I’d read book after book, would seek out music I had never heard before, would find anything solo that they did, and, hell, I’d even check out music from their kids.  Now as an adult I still have a massive appreciation for the group.  I love early Beatles history and their later music.  I still watch the Beatles Anthology once a year, will read the Pete Best autobiography every so often, and still read whatever books I can get my hands on.  The last book I had read was Mark Lewisohn’s massive book Tune In: The Beatles: Volume 1 which was a monster look at the group’s formative years.  If you like the Beatles and haven’t read that book…seek it out.

Writer Vivek Tiwary and I became friends on Facebook awhile back – I believe we just had a ton of comic friends in common and one of us friended another.  We developed a friendly rapport and I always enjoyed talking with him.  The man had co-produced Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway which is quite the accomplishment.  He also had a comic that interested me…the story of The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein.  I saw artwork of the book and was really impressed with what I saw.  But I didn’t run out and pick it up.

Now I know through reading many, many books that Epstein can be seen as the primary force that made the Beatles international superstars.  It was his persistence, his record shop, and his contacts which helped The Beatles finally land their record deal.  The rest was ……history.  I can appreciate that from Epstein.  But in a world where you can read about John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe, drugs, rock n roll, turmoil, break-ups, quitting, reuniting, the complete stopping of tours, the amazing talent they surrounded themselves with like James Taylor, Billy Preston, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton…there just seems like there’s just so many more interesting things in the Beatles history to learn about other than Brian Epstein.

Was I wrong?  God yes.

I was at Barnes and Noble recently when, perusing the shelves, I came upon The Fifth Beatle.  It had a sticker on it that signed it was an autographed copy.  Autographed?  I opened up to the first page and there was Tiwary’s signature.  Well now I HAVE to buy it.  And I did.  And I went home and read it.  And it was amazing.

Now I’ll start off by saying this is not a knockdown, dragged out biography of Brian Epstein.  This is just a great overview of a man who loved music, loved his band, shunned for his sexuality, and ultimately would die very young by his own hands.  I actually think that being introduced to Epstein’s story in this sort of format is perfect.  I’m able to get to know the man, in a format I enjoy, while getting a great overview of his professional and personal life from the early to mid 1960’s.

The graphic novel isn’t about The Beatles struggle.  Epstein went through some painstaking attempts at getting the Fab Four their shot.  He wasn’t a rock and roll manager by trade, rather he ran a local record shop.  The story here unfolds as it has been told – some kids go into the record shop to try and buy The Beatles album My Bonnie which was recorded in Germany with Tony Sheridan.  Intrigued by these rock and rollers taking over Liverpool, Epstein takes himself down to The Cavern and sees the group playing.

What does Epstein do?  He signs them up.  The rest, my friends, is history.

But that history isn’t really portrayed here.  Here The Beatles finally come second fiddle to the man who helped drive them.  Epstein may have been on top of the world with his group but his private life was a mess.  He was a homosexual in the early 1960’s when it was still illegal to be gay.  Illegal.  To be gay.  IN THE SIXTIES.  I’d say, “Look how far we’ve come!” but our new White House is actually taking us a few steps back.

So being gay in Britain wasn’t the easiest for Epstein and this book tells that story.  He actually finds happiness with a man in America.  He finds solace in drugs…and then finds that his drug use may be the end of him.  And if you are at all familiar with this story…it is what did the man in.

What happened after that?  The Beatles basically fell apart.  It was the beginning of the end for the world’s most famous band.  Epstein was the glue that held that band together and without him…they couldn’t take it.

One thing I love about Tiwary’s writing is he really captures the spirit of the Beatles and their sense of humor.  It really comes through in this book which I found impressive.  Their television appearances and films showcased their sense of humor but Tiwary is able to capture that humor in what would be every day conversations.  It’s sensational writing on his part.

The artwork is BEAUTIFUL.  My God Andrew Robinson is a genius with a pencil.  I’m pretty sure to fully explain how beautiful this book looks I would need to grab a Thesaurus and just ramble with words like stunning, amazing, phenomenal, breathtaking.  Etc, etc, etc.  Kyle Baker also has a very small section that he drew in the book.  I understand what they were trying to do and normally I truly enjoy Kyle Baker’s work.  However, in this case, it just sort of took me away from the book.  Sorry Kyle.  I still love you.   Your Plastic Man is brilliant.

I’ve read a ton on the Beatles.  Listened to all their albums.  And solo albums.  And documentaries.  And films.  And whatever I can.  So I was happy to read this and perhaps learn something new about the group that I hadn’t known before.  As Epstein was the man in the shadows you sometimes miss his story.  It’s great to see this book bring him to the forefront, warts and all.

The one subject that was completely missing from this book is the ejection of drummer Pete Best from the group.  Poor Pete had been with the band since Hamburg but when the Beatles wanted Ringo Starr in the group (literally RIGHT BEFORE THEY HIT IT BIG) they had poor Brian Epstein fire him.  I’m sure it was devastating to the Beatles (who did Pete dirty), Best himself, and Epstein who had grown attached to all four of the Beatles.  I would have liked to seen that in the book but its exclusion certainly doesn’t take away from the overall story.

If you are a Beatles fan this book is for you.  If you enjoy rock n’ roll history this book is for you.  If you are LGBTQ this book is for you.  If you like comics this book is for you.  I was completely blown away by this book.  I wish it hadn’t taken so long for me to pick it up.  There’s a TV series based on the book coming as well…so I’m sure I’ll be back with a review on that as well.