This graphic novel, released in November 2013, focuses on Brian Epstein’s crucial role in developing and promoting the Beatles from 1961 until his death in 1967. Tiwary, a Wharton Business School graduate and a film/TV/theater producer, was drawn to Epstein’s story not just because of his own love of the Beatles’ music or because of Epstein’s drive and business brilliance in getting the Beatles to the top of the music industry, but also because of Epstein’s personal demons and societal obstacles that threatened his professional aspirations and his well being.
The opening pages of the story show Epstein in a dark and gloomy Liverpool getting pummeled by a sailor. Epstein, who was gay in a country where being gay was a crime, mistakenly thought the sailor was interested in him. Epstein’s sexuality, his loneliness, and medical “professionals” attempts at treating homosexuality are an important theme throughout this novel. The stress of having to hide who he was took a toll on Epstein. At the same time, Tiwary shows Epstein’s business drive, intelligence and personal commitment to his work. Epstein was passionate about music and about the Beatles in particular. He was already a successful businessman in his 20s when he saw the Beatles play at the Cavern. Epstein’s family owned the NEMS record stores, and in this novel, Epstein’s family seems a close knit and supportive group when Brian is determined to make the Beatles bigger than Elvis. Brian also takes on an NEMS employee as his personal assistant. I’m not sure if Moxie is a real person or a representative of several people in Epstein’s life, but she is the one who takes him to a Beatles show at the Cavern and seems to have a crush on him.
It’s not clear if Epstein’s family knew the truth about his sexuality, but through a series of flashbacks, the reader sees that Epstein had, throughout his life, had to deal with rejection and frustration of his ambitions — at art school, in the army and then when dealing with record companies. Rather than crush him, his life experiences seem to make Epstein more determined to succeed, and he truly believed in the Beatles and their talent. Tiwary’s admiration for Epstein really shines through in those parts of the story where Epstein succeeds in getting a recording contract, then getting them on Ed Sullivan. Epstein knew how to market and how to drive a bargain. But Tiwary also shows that he was scrupulous in his treatment of the Beatles and made sure that they didn’t get screwed over financially. Epstein’s meetings with a lawyer named Nat Weiss to ensure appropriate royalties for the band and his meeting with Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’ manager) are particularly revealing. He could have taken the Beatles to the cleaners the way Parker did with Elvis, but he didn’t.
As Epstein worked to get the Beatles their recording contract, then conquer America and the world, he relied increasingly on pills to help him deal with the stress of it all. He was also the subject of blackmail by a former lover. When Epstein died in August of 1967, the Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper and were in India with the Maharishi. Tiwary’s story makes a pretty compelling argument that it was Brian’s death that ultimately broke up the band. At the beginning of the graphic novel, the quote from John Lennon sums it up well:
I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared. [When Brian died] I thought, “We’ve fuckin’ had it.”
Brian Epstein’s life and work make for a “heroic” story that would benefit from further research and development. And the artwork by Andrew Robinson is gorgeous.