Rock and roll was as present as ever at this year’s New York Comic Con.
Among the latest video game releases, the Daft Punk collectible figures and the duo’s new Random Access Memories box set on display at NYCC last weekend, author Vivek J. Tiwary was the real star.
Tiwary, author of the forthcoming Dark Horse Comics The Fifth Beatle: The Story of Brian Epstein, a graphic novel about the life of the Beatles’ manager, was everywhere — meeting fans and press and taking part in a panel discussion about the book.
Epstein is a fascinating character in rock history. He took the Beatles from obscurity to stardom and broke ground in every area of the nascent business with his licensing, concert and film deals for the band. Yet he’s not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“The panel was wonderful,” Tiwary said. “There were people of all ages, really interested in Brian’s story. That’s very exciting to me. Brian was gay and Jewish and from Liverpool, which were three significant obstacles in the 1960s. Those things made him the ultimate outsider character, and that’s what I connected to originally.
"I think that’s what people find most interesting about him as they learn about the book. I think feeling like an outsider is a universal thing. And as unique as Brian was, I think he was also an Everyman. So given that pretty much everyone loves the Beatles — which brings them to the story to begin with — once they begin to learn about Brian, there is a lot to connect to.”
Another compelling part of The Fifth Beatle is veteran artist Andrew C. Robinson’s remarkable artwork.
“It’s the Beatles, but not necessarily as we know them,” Tiwary said. “A lot of the story takes place before they became huge stars, and the artwork is really compelling, so that definitely draws people in. It looks and feels almost like an art book that belongs in the MoMA bookstore, even though it’s true to its comic origins, so that’s really exciting.”
The Fifth Beatle project also broke news during NYCC, as it was announced that Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Silver Linings Playbook) had come on board to produce a film version of The Fifth Beatle that will have unprecedented use of Beatles songs, and that the group Freedom to Marry, with whom Tiwary has had a long relationship, had come on board to partner with the project.
“Freedom to Marry has long urged that the most effective way to continue winning over hearts and minds is talking about who gay people are, why marriage matters and the harms inflicted by the denial of the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “Vivek J. Tiwary’s The Fifth Beatle tells the compelling story of a tremendously successful entertainment executive who lived at a time that gay people were excluded from the public dialogue — not that long ago — and the costs of that exclusion. Epstein's story portrays the unnecessary, unfair and unacceptable pain and price of telling some of our friends that they cannot dream of a life of love and commitment equally respected under the law."
Tiwary agreed. “Brian Epstein lived at a time when it was illegal to be gay. He literally hid his love away, and that pain made him, ultimately, a very tragic character. I don’t think he could have imagined the world we live in now, and that’s the ultimate irony considering that the Beatles message was always about love.”
None other than former Beatle Paul McCartney — who famously said in 1999 that “if anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian Epstein” — has been a (so far) quiet advocate of the project, as have Epstein-represented artists like Billy J. Kramer and colleagues like former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, both of whom wrote forwards for the book, so Tiwary has taken the project especially seriously.
“Paul has been very supportive of the project and he did go back to London with a copy of the book in his hand,” Tiwary said, almost in disbelief that he is now so closely associated with the world’s most legendary band. “So telling Brian Epstein’s story is an honor. But it feels like it had to be done.”
Photo: Andrzej Liguz
Jeff Slate is a NYC-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He founded and fronted the band the Badge for 15 years beginning in 1997 and has worked with Pete Townshend, Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Steve Holley, Laurence Juber and countless others. He has interviewed and written about everyone from the Beatles and Kiss to Monty Python and rock musicals on Broadway. He is an avid collector of rock and roll books and bootlegs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and the Beatles. For more information, visit jeffslate.net.