Brian Epstein, “The Fifth Beatle” – An interview with Vivek J. Tiwary

Conceived by writer and producer Vivek J. Tiwary and beautifully illustrated by artists Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker, The Fifth Beatle is a graphic novel published by M Press Books, a division of Dark Horse Comics. It tells the story of Brian Epstein, the brilliant manager who discovered and guided the Beatles to international stardom, and prematurely died – lonely – at the young age of 32.

I had the pleasure to talk a bit with Mr. Tiwary in Lucca Comics, where he was a guest of Panini Comics, which is publishing the book in Italy through their Panini 9L imprint, in partnership with the italian edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Vivek J. Tiwary

Nicola D’Agostino: How did you get to do a comic book about the Beatles? And why did you choose to focus it on their manager?
Vivek J Tiwary: My mother was a huge Beatles fan. Since I was a kid I grew listening to the Beatles, but I discovered the Brian Epstein story when I was in Business School, about 21 years ago and I was dreaming about working in entertainment – which I do now – and I thought [that] if I’m going to be working in entertainment I should study the lives of the great entertainment visionaries. And growing up loving The Beatles I thought The Beatles and Brian were the team that wrote and then re-wrote the rulebook for the pop music business. So I thought I should study Brian’s life.

Twentyone years ago there was no Wikipedia, there was no YouTube, there were none of these resources. There are no books about Brian Epstein in print. Right now this is the only book about Brian – graphic novel or otherwise – in print, so I’m very proud of that.
It was a mistery to me: why is it that I can’t learn more information about this guy, so I started to track down people who knew him. Nat Weiss, who was his best friend and The Beatles’ US attorney. Sid Bernstein who brought The Beatles to the United States. Joanne… she was Joanne Newfield then now that she’s married she’s Joanne Peterson: she was his assistant and she was literally there the day they brought down his door and found that he had passed away, so she was there the entire time. […] I tracked down the people who knew him, and I uncovered a beatiful Beatles story and a wonderful business story, which was what I was initially after. How he got them a record deal when no one wanted to sign them, how he convinced Ed Sullivan to book them, one british band that never made an impact in the United States. How he tought the suits and the haircuts.

It’s a wonderful story, and untold Beatles story. It’s very interesting… however, and that’s what I wanted… I was a business student, I wanted a business story, but it was the human story, that I knew nothing about when I began the research, that really moved me. Brian was gay, and jewish, and from Liverpool. And in the 1960s those were three significant obstacles. […] I mean, it was against the law, a felony, to be gay. If it had become public he would have been thrown in jail. There was a lot of antisemitism. And Liverpool… there was nothing cultural going on in Liverpool. For this gay jewish man to run around in Liverpool saying ‘I found a local band and they’re gonna be bigger than Elvis!’ it was crazy! People thought he was crazy.

In a lot of ways he was the ultimate outsider and for me I could really relate to that. I never had in my life the struggles that Brian had . I don’t want to pretend that my life was nearly as hard as his life, however, being a first generation American – my family is originally from India – trying to do graphic novels, films, television, I also feel like a little bit of an outsider… so his story is very inspiring to me.
And that’s how I came to the story.

NDA: Didn’t The Fifth Beatle start as a script for the screen?
VJT: No, […] I accumulated all of this information about Brian and I decided that I wanted to tell his story. And when I thought about how I wanted to structure it, as a creator, for whatever reason, it came to me in color and the story really focuses on the years he spent with the Beatles, from 1961 to 1967.

[It starts] In 1961 [in] Liverpool. It’s very dark, grey, industrial, I thought about it as black and white. […] And it ends in 1967 in London, which is the Summer of love, the dawn of the psychedelic era, it’s very Technicolor. I thought of the story as the movement from black and white to Technicolor. And when you think about it in those color terms, to me that’s a graphic novel and a film. It’s very visual terms, and you’ll see we did. We played around, not as quite as we wanted to, with black and white and color, but you’ll see we started very dark, grey, blues and then the band comes and you have your first burst of orange and red and yellow. And then more color. And then a little more color. And by the time you get to the end, you’re in big, bright colors. We did that very much on purpose. And film is also a very visual medium, so we actually set to do both, a film _and_ a graphic novel and the graphic novel just took on a life of its own. I found two brilliant artists, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker, and so the graphic novel just started going.

NDA: How did you get in touch with Robinson and Baker?
VJT: I met Andrew through his agent at the time, a gentleman named Mark Irwin. He introduced me to Andrew and it became very clear right away that he was the perfect person for this book.
His talent is amazing. He’s a wonderful artist, but he’s also very collaborative. I grew up reading comics, but I’ve never written one before so it was very important for me to work with an artist that was willing to collaborate with me…

NDA: You come from screenwriting. Was it hard to adapt your writing to comics?
VJT: You know, it wasn’t. Because […] I grew up reading comics scripts and comparing them to comics, it was fun! It was maybe a little bit of a challenge but more fun than challenging. And Kyle Baker, who’s a New Yorker… I grew up in New York […] I’ve known him for _years_! We wanted to do something together for a long time. He loved the Beatles, I loved The Beatles… he’s wonderful!

NDA: How did the three of you work? Was there a full script? A loose one?
VJT: The answer is ‘both!’. There were parts of my script where I was _very_ specific and I said I wanted it to look like this, I want three panels, I want this shot, this color… and Andrew was amazing. He would give me exactly what I wanted. And Kyle [too].
Then there were other sequences where I said ‘I don’t know how to do it! Here’s the dialogue, here’s the emotion, here’s the feeling I want to convey, but you tell me how to do it in art.’ And they would deliver that for me. So it was both. And these two guys, Andrew and Kyle are amazing, so I was very lucky to work with them.
The graphic novel got done first, and it’s out now in Italy. First time anywhere in the world. […] And I’m very honored. It doesn’t come out in the rest of the world until the 19th of November. […] Italy is our world premiere. I’m very honored for that. Italian fans have been so passionate.

NDA: How did that happen? The rights were available?
VJT: Yeah, Panini was very excited about it and they approached us and they wanted some of the European rights, so we gave it to them and then they worked out this amazing partnership with Rolling Stone, [which] is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. In November they’re bundling their anniversary issue with copies ot “The Fifth Beatle”. […] Then in a few weeks Panini will make a different version, a hardcover version, a little more expensive. […]

I’ve written the screenplay as well, so the film will follow. The screenplay is in many ways adapted from the graphic novel but it does stand on its own as well. There are a number of sequences in the film that aren’t in the book, there’s a number of moments in the book that aren’t in the movie, just because the two medium are very different. The exciting news on the film is [that] we have the approval of The Beatles. Apple Corps signed off on the script, for Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison so we have access to The Beatles’ music. So […] we’re gonna use a lot of music, so there’s a number of music sequences in the film that aren’t in the book, because obviously you can’t have music in a book.

NDA: Did anyone of The Beatles or their heirs see the comic book?
VJT: Yes, Paul McCartney has […] he saw it and he loved it. And he wrote us a very nice letter about it. The way he described it is ‘A silent friend of the book’ and we’re talking to him hoping he can get more involved. But right now he has been very very supportive. He was in New York just a few weeks ago and he went home with a copy of the book in his hands. […] This was during Comicon. […]

NDA: doing the comic book helped you visualize or work out things for the movie?
VJT: Yes. […] We are not looking at this [the comic book] as a storyboard for the film. We are right now in conversation with directors and the directors we are talking to are very accomplished so they all have their own vision and I say ‘If you can use the book, great. If you wanna do something different that’s ok, too!’ but there’s no question if you read the script, the screenplay feels very much like the graphic novel. It has fantasy sequences, visual sequences, it’s very whimsical like a graphic novel. I always say [that] the film is a little bit like the Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” than it is like “Walk the line” or “Ray”. It has a little much more music and fantasy.

NDA: Which are the parts you think came out best or that are you most happy about?
VJT: I have to say I love it all [laughs]. Andrew and Kyle did such a beatuiful job. Whenever I look at it it’s like a dream come true to me. This sequence Kyle Baker did it pays tribute to the old Beatles cartoons from the 1960s and it’s perfect. It’s just brilliant. […] It’s wonderful.

NDA [Looking at the “Beatles in Philippines part] This is Kyle Baker alone, right?
VJT: Yeah. This is Kyle Baker. Purely Kyle Baker. And Andrew’s pages are all Andrew. Kyle’s pages are all Kyle’s. They pencilled, inked, painted their own pages. They never worked together. They did their own things. […]
A lot of the pages were difficult. Andrew says that […] the party sequence… it’s not the most visually arresting but it’s one of the most hardest sequences, because there’s a lot going on. And actually, if you look at all of the faces, they’re all famous people. There’s The Rolling Stones, The Who, Marianne Faithful over here, Linda Eastman (Paul’s wife). If you don’t know you don’t know, but if you’re a fan you’ll love to recognize these… little hidden wonderful things. […]
We were very very careful with our research. We wanted to make sure we got all the clothing right, the architecture correct. Even little tiny things right, like this magazine… and The Cavern looked like that and these buildings look accurate. That’s a real building. We wanted to be very careful with all the artwork.

NDA: What other extra material is exclusive to the hardcover version?
VJT: We are making a collector’s edition and in that edition there’s going to be an art gallery section, that Andrew put together, explianing a lot of his process, how he worked on some of the faces, how he got it wrong and how he worked to get it right. And I also have compiled what I call a memorabilia gallery. Since most of the research for this book were interviews, many of the people I met became friends and they gave me various Brian Epstein items. Brian Epstein’s business card, a Christmas card that he wrote to his assistant. He threw a lunch for John Lennon when John published his first book, and so I have an invitation to the lunch and the seating plan [which] is everybody from The Beatles to Brian Epstein to the German Ambassador, to Mary Quant, who invented the mini skirt. It’s really a lot of cool items. An old Beatles poster that has Pete Best in it before Ringo was in the band. Some really neat memorabilia.

NDA: What do you think are Epstein’s greatest accomplishments?
VJT: I think it’s a little bit esoteric to put it this way but he really believed that pop music was an art form. He believed that John Lennon and Paul McCartney especially were composers as brilliant as the classical composers, as Mozart and Beethoven. And what he accomplished as a manager was [that] he really allowed his artists to push the boundaries of what music and pop culture could be. There was a time when they were basically the biggest boy band on the planet. They were N-Sync, they were One Direction, they were… whatever you want to think of it. And the record label said ‘You need to go and tour, and play all the biggest venues in the world’ and Brian said ‘No, no, they’re going to study Eastern instruments. George wants to play the Sitar.’ and the recorda label said ‘This is crazy! You’re a boy band! What’re you doing playing the sitar?’ and Brian said ‘No, no, no, we need to do this’ and he convinced them to do that and as a result we got Rubber Soul, and Sergeant Pepper.

He encouraged The Beatles. They were interested in fashion and he encouraged them to do that. He never told them what to do. He didn’t say ‘This is what you should play’ or ‘This is what you should wear’, but he encouraged to do those things, in a way that most managers didn’t. Most managers said ‘This is what you do. We need to cash it in’. […] He kept very much in the background. And in large part that’s why the band never really acknowledge his presence. Because part of his management style was that he said ‘You focus on your music and your art. I’ll take care of the business. You don’t worry about the business at all.’ And – it’s in the book – he said ‘I will play the business as it’s my instrument’. And when you think about it that’s why I think he’s the fifth member of the band. His instrument was the business. And he allowed the business to play in such a way that allowed the band to reinvent themselves a number of times over.

NDA: Do you think his role was that suggested in the “A Hard Day’s Night” movie, keeping Lennon in check? That Lennon was rumbunctious…
VJT: Lennon was very rumbunctious and in fact John said two things that you can read here [in the book]. He said ‘When Brian died I thought we fucking had it’. So he knew that Brian helped keep them in check. Also Lennon said very famously: ‘There’s only two people in my entire life that I listened to and when they said ‘You do this’, I did it. And that was Yoko Ono and Brian Epstein’.

NDA: Then you agree with the theory that the end of The Beatles started when Epstein died?
VJT: […] There’s no question of that. They were incredibily talented artists and artists are volatile and Brian helped keep them together as a family. When he died they lost grounding. It was very hard for them. They all wanted to do different things and they didn’t have somebody sort of guiding them to keep ’em together. Would they have broken up anyway? Who knows! But I’ll say this: I doubt that Brian would have let them break up so publicly and full of so much hate. When they first broke they were fighting and suing each other. Brian always said: The Beatles are a family, and much like in any family you might be mad at your brother, but it’s your brother, you know? You make up. You go on. And I don’t think Brian would ever let them sue each other in public and do these other sort of things. Because he was gay, it was hard for him to imagine a day when gay people like in the United States now, can get married, in many States, not everywhere. It would be impossible for him to imagine that. He was just trying to stay out of jail. The Beatles, in many ways, were his children. He used to call them his boys. And some people said that was because they were his boytoys but I think he meant his children. They were like kids to him. They were the closest thing to children he was going to have. […] And in the same way I would not ever let my children hate each other or fight… you always try to make your kids love each other… that’s what he did for the band.

Thanks to / Grazie a Vivek J. Tiwary & Concetta Gulino – Ufficio Stampa Panini Comics

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Pubblicato il 21/11/2013 e archiviato in: articoli  
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