Q Magazine

'The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story': A 10-Year Anniversary Conversation With Author Vivek Tiwary

The Grammy-winning Broadway producer's graphic novel 'The Fifth Beatle' tells the story of Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

Source: TEG+

Author Vivek Tiwary and 'The Fifth Beatle'

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

"Brian Epstein single-handedly changed what it meant to be a rock and roll manager." - Peter Asher

Many people have been labeled 'The fifth Beatle.' Stuart Sutcliffe, Sir George Martin. Even disc jockey Murray The K had the self-serving gumption to throw his wig into the ring. But the real person who most deserved this title lived in the shadows of his own true self. In The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, the 2013 graphic novel from author and Grammy-winning Broadway producer (Jagged Little Pill, American Idiot) Vivek Tiwary, it's more than a convenient tag. It encompasses the nearly lifelong dedication that Tiwary has spent understanding and visualizing (with illustrators Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker) a reticent personality who broke barriers by believing in something bigger than himself.

As the Beatles' manager, Epstein brought out what only he could see when he first descended the stairs of the Cavern Club: a raucous, foul-mouthed quartet that banged out hard-driving music into a fine-tuned group of unheard-of talent that would soon enough, change the future forever.

From his office in New York City, Vivek spoke with Q about the passion he brought to the project, which just celebrated (on November 21) a 10th-anniversary update.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: NEMS Enterprises

Brian Epstein inside EMI Studios, October 1964

It's been 10 years [since the book was published] and so much has changed, especially for Brian. We now have a statue in Liverpool for him. There's been more acceptance of queerness. But what's really important in the graphic novel are those first few panels. There was no roses and ice cream version way of starting this. Why was it important for you to just go right to it?

I have been researching Brian's life since I was in college. So it's been 30-plus years that I've been studying this story. One of the first decisions was that we were going to focus on the years that he spent with the Beatles, so really the story starts in 1961 and goes to 1967.

And 1961 Liverpool — the way that I thought of it — is very gray, drab, a little depressing. It's a port town. Before the Beatles, Liverpool wasn't a place that anyone was looking to for the next big cultural thing. It was very black and white. And the story ends in 1967 London, which is the "Summer of Love," it's the dawn of the psychedelic era. There was a music and art festival that year called The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream. So, to me I thought 1961 to '67 is the period of time when a black-and-white world burst into color. I thought that's what the Beatles also did for Brian. And incidentally thinking about the two forms of media that most powerfully use color as a narrative tool are comics or graphic novels and film. So that's what we set out to do.

Back then, I was not doing any of those things, and when I first decided to tell the Brian Epstein story, I had been a successful Broadway producer, and so people thought that would have been the natural thing to do: as a Broadway show. [Aside] Maybe we will one day. Anyway, that's not how I saw it. I believed it should be a graphic novel and eventually a film as well.

That's why those first few pages are black, white, gray and blue. And then when the Beatles first appear at the Cavern Club, you get your first little bits of orange and red and then by the time you get to the end of the book, especially artist Kyle Baker's pages, you're in these bright, technicolor palettes.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: © 2023 Tiwary Entertainment Group Ltd.

'The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story'

In addition to that, which of course works perfectly, there's very little literal narrative. It's all illustrated as far as how we are introduced to Brian, which is very violent. The storyline really starts off, like you said, dark and moody to match the theme.

Thank you for saying that, because that's what we intended. I think those early days when the story started and life in Liverpool, for Brian at least, was dark and sometimes violent. It was not an easy, lovely life, it just wasn't. I really wanted to convey that in the sparseness of words. And all due credit to [artist] Andrew Robinson. If we can do this without words, let's do it without words. In fact, those first few pages have lyrics from the song "Wondrous Place," so I thought this could be done through music and art.

Article continues below advertisement

This is a poignant introduction to the lifestyle of Brian. He had to be very clandestine, had to be very inward and the only outward expression of love that he seemed to find was the Beatles. He wanted to remain in the background. But he also had his leanings toward being more theatrical.

This is the great push and pull of Brian's life. He was gay at a time when it was a felony in the United Kingdom and so he had to literally kind of hide his own love away, to use a Beatles lyric. But in many ways, the career that he chose was the worst career you could think of. He decided to manage a pop band and dreamed of international success, and every time the Beatles were achieving something, he usually constructed and set it up for them. It forced him more into the public eye and greatly risked the chances of his homosexuality coming to light, which would have literally gotten him thrown in jail in his home country.

But it's also what he wanted. It was his ambition. When he first heard their music, he heard a great message of love and belonging which is a universal desire. For somebody like Brian to feel loved and to feel like he belonged was very powerful.

And that was his drive. He was like, these guys have an important message that is both beautiful and timeless and, if presented in the right way, the whole world needs to hear it and should hear it, and that's what I'm going to dedicate my life to. But it's also dangerous for him, emotionally difficult, and that's really what led him to the downward spiral and the pill- taking and all of that. It just became too much.

Source: NEMS Enterprises

Brian Epstein relaxing at London's Heathrow Airport after the Beatles return from the U.S., February 1964

Article continues below advertisement

There's this ambition of his to become widely known for what he has done, and yet there's this side of him that seeks out danger however it presents itself. It's these four guys in leather and jeans, swearing on stage...

Absolutely. The thing that Brian had most for the band was love and vision. He loved them. He called them his "boys," and a lot has been made of that in the press: Is that salacious and he might want to sleep with them? It wasn't that at all. I think actually the answer is simpler and more nuanced. They were the kids that he was never going to have and any father will move mountains in service of their children's dreams.

In those early days, he said the Beatles were going to be bigger than Elvis. That's the phrase he's most remembered for, and at the time that was absurd. But then he also said the Beatles were going to elevate pop music into an art form and people were like, 'What does that even mean?' Then when Sgt. Pepper came out, he could point to "A Day In The Life" and say, "That's what I meant."

That hyperactivity definitely comes across in the visuals, even during moments of quiet. Where did you get the energy to put this together?

This was such a joy to make. I'd like to think I still have a long life ahead of me but this is, in many ways, my life's work. Brian Epstein has been so inspiring to me. He was gay and Jewish and from Liverpool and 26 years old: the ultimate outsider. I was born in New York, but my family were immigrants of Indian origin and people who believed in me thought I would be a doctor or an engineer. That was kind of what was expected of me. The dreams that I had of life in music, writing graphic novels, producing Broadway musicals and film and television shows and working in music and technology? That wasn't in the cards at all.

But when I discovered the Brian Epstein story, I was like, wow! If this gay, Jewish kid from Liverpool could bring the world the Beatles, why couldn't a weirdo Indian kid from New York's Lower East Side pursue his dreams in music? I never met him, but I still call him one of the great mentors of my life. That's part of why it's so gratifying that here we are celebrating a 10-year anniversary. It's awesome.

Article continues below advertisement

Do you remember the chain of events that happened after it was published, as it got wider and wider exposure?

I just believed in doing it yourself. Raise a little money and start making the book. And so we did, and we never intended to publish it ourselves or distribute it ourselves. We didn't want to go into that business. Our intention was to get the book done and then give it to a publisher. It's Beatles-related and it's a Brian Epstein-inspiring human story. It's going to be great.

I had never written a graphic novel before, but Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker were very well-respected comic book artists. I had at the time some notoriety from my work in theater, having produced Raisin in the Sun and working with Green Day on American Idiot. So when word got around the comic book industry that this book was being made, we were in this wonderful situation where publishers were interested in us.

But Dark Horse was very passionate about it. Mike Richardson, the head of that company, is a huge Beatles fan and so it was very exciting to wind up there. Then I got a call from my friend Paul Levitz, who was the head of DC Comics, and he said 'Hey, how does it feel to be part of the club?' I was like 'What are you talking about?' And he was like 'You're on the New York Times Bestseller List.' So immediately, comic fans and Beatles fans found it and loved it.

But what's been most gratifying to me over the past 10 years is how the LGBTQ community and the Jewish community folks, who may or may not have been Beatles fans, really have adopted and supported the book. And those are the communities that I cared about very much. I was like, I hope we do right by them. And to know 10 years in that we did, that's been probably the most gratifying thing about the journey.

There are people who don't know who Brian Epstein is, and I'm on a mission to change that.


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More