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My labor-of-love graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story was recently nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, and after coming back down to Earth (I learned what it meant to jump for joy — I was airborne!) I realized that I was equally honored by the nomination itself as I was by being a part of the category. Comics have certainly entertained me over the years — but more than that they have educated and inspired me. Many people have asked why I chose the graphic novel medium to tell the Brian Epstein story, and the heart of my answer is my steadfast belief that comics is simply one of the most powerful mediums for telling reality-based stories. Comics can capture the factual history of a tale alongside its poetic essence in a way prose biographies couldn’t dream of.
Many folks of Indian origin like myself can claim to have started reading comics when we were children. Indeed, many of us first learned our great Indian epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata through easy-to-digest (and fun), cheap comic book adaptations. These ashcan-like books may have seemed like merely disposable entertainment, but the epics they’re based on are touchstones of the Indian identity. Those comics surreptitiously taught us about who we are, where we come from, and the power of both story and history. It’s perhaps no surprise that my Indian parents loved comics, and some of my earliest memories include browsing the comics racks at Forbidden Planet with them (then going home to listen to their Beatles’ records). And even when my childhood longboxes were full of the funnies, I somehow sensed that comics were more than just “comic” books.
I’m a massive Beatles nerd. I can still remember the funny looks on the faces of the locals, some amazed, some horrified, as I gave a breathless real-time breakdown of all the references and visual puns in the “Free As A Bird” video as it played on the TV in the corner of a bar back in 1995. I’ve read countless books on the band over the years, good and bad, and have been looking forward to The Fifth Beatle by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker with a certain relish.
It’s hard to get any freshness into such a well-worn tale, but that seems to be Robinson’s job in the creative team: Every page previewed so far shows him marrying a caricaturist’s knack for capturing likenesses to Sienkiewicz-like expressionism and multimedia experimentation for this project.
Now Dark Horse has debuted the trailer for The Fifth Beatle (below) that will be playing at the publisher’s booth throughout Comic-Con International in San Diego (Tiwary and Robinson will be signing there Friday at 3 p.m.). The video features plenty of tantalizing fleeting glimpses of Robinson’s art, but there’s no sign of any of Kyle Baker’s section though. He’s provided the art for a sequence based on the style of the old King Features Syndicate cartoons, but a thorough shakedown of my usual sources has failed to produce any examples yet. I’m sure time will tell soon enough on that score.
The graphic novel will be released Nov. 19.
A famous British band once sang about how it “Just Can’t Get Enough,” which is how I feel about the work of Andrew Robinson. But luckily for me, there’s about to be a whole lot more of him this year.
Robinson has been releasing pages on his DeviantArt page from his long-awaited graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. Announced in October by Dark Horse, it’s a biography of the famed manager who acted as shepherd/friend/taskmaster for the revelatory music group the Beatles. The graphic novel is written by comics newcomer Vivek J. Tiwary, a Broadway veteran with 25 Tony Awards for his work on The Addams Family, Green Day’s American Idiot and The Producers.
The Fifth Beatle has been a three-year labor of love for Robinson, creating the 120-plus pages entirely by hand using pencils, pens, markers, acrylics, watercolors, gouache and more. The project has drawn him away from the public eye save for some cover work, but that time away looks to be paying off.