The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story – The Man Behind the Curtain

I’ve grown up listening to The Beatles, but sadly know little more about them beyond their music. The fab four has a rich, complicated history, but none more so than their manager, Brian Epstein. This man is solely responsible for making The Beatles what they are today. While the group themselves were complex, Epstein’s story was filled with more secrecy and tragedy than anything the group endured. And no one knew about it.

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Brian Epstein was an incredibly private man, and understandably so. Being Jewish has always been difficult throughout history, even during the 1960’s. Worse still, Epstein was homosexual when it was illegal to be so in the United Kingdom. The man was forced to hide himself from the world. After a chance encounter with a sailor where he was badly beaten, he was taken to a bar where he saw the Beatles perform live. Instantly he had a vision of how they would become the biggest band ever.

I am incredibly impressed by the amount of research writer Vivek J. Tiwary put into this book. While Epstein didn’t hide from his friends, his life was still private. It wasn’t until years after he died that his sexual orientation was revealed. After hundreds of hours of research and countless interviews, The Fifth Beatle stands as one of the best comics I’ve ever read.

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The art by Andrew C. Robinson is astounding. While not photo referenced, it’s easy to tell the group apart. Epstein, who I’d never seen before, looks exactly like his photos. The art stays constant throughout, changing style a few times to depict different eras and ideas. Three sequences in particular stick out in my mind. Epstein’s interview with Ed Sullivan was odd and dark, particular interlaced with images of JFK’s assassination. His meeting with Elvis‘ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was haunting. Particularly how the man looked more gluttonous and devilish with each panel. Finally, the pages depicting their world tour were fun and light hearted, though in reality they were anything but.

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I couldn’t imagine how alone Epstein felt his entire life, forced to hide himself from the world. What better hiding spot is there than next to the brightest spotlight in the world? Better yet, the one you created. It’s easy to understand why he was suckered into a manipulative relationship with the American, Dizz. Starved for affection, who wouldn’t cling to the first bit of scraps that was thrown their way, abusive or not.

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Brian Epstein was a good, honest man with a vision. It’s maddening how others have resources handed to them, only to squander it, but the truly talented must fight tooth and nail for every bit. Epstein was obviously a man of great talent and vision. He saw the Beatles for what they were, and would become. He brought them to the world stage, costing him everything, including his life. Epstein tragically died at age 32 in 1967, two years before the band broke up.

If you have even a passing interest in the Beatles, comics, or both, The Fifth Beatle is a must read. Tiwary and Robinson perfectly capture the journey and emotions of the fab five. It’s sad how long this brilliant man has lingered in the shadows.

Was this as eye opening for you? What were your favorite sequences? Comment below!

Their songs have taken on new meanings. 

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2 responses to “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story – The Man Behind the Curtain

  1. “It’s maddening how others have resources handed to them, only to squander it, but the truly talented must fight tooth and nail for every bit.” This comment doesn’t make much sense to me because Epstein came from a very privileged background. His family owned the NEMS Music shop in Liverpool, which was how he was able to put the group on the path to success, especially by promoting the group’s discs heavily through the family business. It was the Beatles themselves who had to fight tooth and nail to achieve their success because their families all had to struggle in their early life.
    The graphic novel sounds fascinating from your review and Epstein is a very interesting person. There’s no doubt that he was a key player in the Fab Four’s rise to the toppermost of the poppermost.

    • While Epstein did have a leg up from owning the music shop, that was handed to him. Anything he wanted beyond that he needed to fight for, including the Beatles. He wanted more in life, to build something. He was rejected by the military,fashion designers, and many record companies before finding success. Even once The Beatles were popular, he still wasn’t taken seriously, having to fight for everything; including getting them on Ed Sullivan, playing in an arena, etc. He nearly went broke getting them started. So yes, while he did come from a privileged background, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to work hard for everything else.

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