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'The Fifth Beatle': Bringing Beatles manager Brian Epstein's story to life

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"The Fifth Beatle" is a lushly illustrated graphic novel telling the story of the man who discovered the Beatles in a Liverpool basement club and managed the Fab Four on their rise to fame: Brian Epstein.

We spoke with "Fifth Beatle" writer Vivek J. Tiwary recently at the WonderCon comic book and pop culture convention in Anaheim. Tiwary says he connected with Epstein's outsider status.

"He was gay at a time where it was against the law. He was Jewish at a period of pervasive antisemitism."

That danger was something that continued to haunt Epstein up until his death at 32 from a sleeping pill overdose.

"Brian picked a career in managing the Beatles that was dangerous for him. Because it thrust him into the public limelight. With every success they had, there was a greater chance of it coming out in the public that he was gay," which would have gotten him thrown in jail, Tiwary said.

It's a story Tiwary has connected with for decades.

"I've been researching it literally for 21 years, so I am a historian when it comes to Brian Epstein-related Beatles stuff. I don't know if I'd call myself a Beatles historian, but I would call myself a Brian Epstein historian."

Tiwary says he never had to face the struggles Epstein did, but related to what Tiwary calls the "emotional beats" of his life.

"I can understand what it was like to feel like an outsider in your chosen field. I'm a first-generation American. My family's from Guyana, South America by way of India, and you just don't see a lot of people of my ethnicity having the kind of dreams I have, pursuing the kind of things I pursue: Writing graphic novels, producing Broadway. We're steered towards engineering, or technology, or medicine."

Tiwary says Epstein inspired him to chase his own dreams, "and to believe that, no matter how wild those dreams may be, if I'm really passionate about it, and really persistent, and quite frankly, willing to work my ass off in the face of everybody telling me I shouldn't do it or I couldn't do it, then I could realize those dreams, spectacularly, the way that Brian did."

Tiwary says he set out to tell Epstein's story, like how he got them a record deal, convinced Ed Sullivan to let a British band on his show and even designed their suits and came up with their iconic haircuts — but he also took some creative liberties, because he wanted to tell the poetry of Epstein's life.

Tiwary says he wanted to capture what it felt like when Epstein first saw the band, and doing it in a graphic novel let him focus on the emotions and details like how his feelings were reflected in his facial features.

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"The Fifth Beatle" was nominated for two Eisner awards, the comics industry's awards, including for Best Reality-Based Work and Best Painter/Multimeia Artist (interior art) for artist Andrew Robinson.

"Andrew and I talked at length about [the sequence where he sees the Beatles] and what it should look like. We spent a lot of time on that. But as writer, there're very little words there! And I believe that Andrew's artwork in those three pages will tell you more about what it was like when Brian discovered the band than any prose biography ever could."

That meeting plays a pivotal role in the graphic novel, and in Epstein's relationship with the band.

"What attracted him to the Beatles was that he believed that in the Beatles he saw a group whose message was all about love," Tiwary said, "and that that was a worthy message to share with the world."

Tiwary says that when he sat down with Robinson, he knew he was the guy to draw this book because Robinson was a Beatles fan who understood that it was Brian's story, not the Beatles' story. Tiwary also knew that Robinson had experience in comics and could help him along with his first graphic novel.

"There were moments when I knew exactly what I wanted, and I said this is what I want it to look like, and the script was very descriptive, and a panel here, a panel there, this kind of angle, this sort of tone — and then there were moments where I knew the dialogue, and I knew the emotions, and the mood, but I had no idea how to tell it in sequential art, and Andrew would take those scenes and run with it."

Artist Kyle Baker also does a sequence in the book to depict a wild time in the history of the Beatles, bringing a cartoonier style to contrast the painted elegance of the rest of the book.

The book topped the New York Times' hardcover graphic novel list and is set to move to another medium: film, directed by Peyton Reed.

"I wrote the screenplay myself, so hopefully I've done my job in taking the heart of the graphic novel and translating it into a film script. The film — we say it's an adaptation of the graphic novel, because that's an easy way to kind of wrap your head around it, but really I think of it more as an expansion of the graphic novel, because there are a number of sequences in the film that don't exist in the book, and vice versa."

Tiwary's also secured music rights for the movie.

"Because we have access to that music, you can be sure we're going to use it," Tiwary said, noting that the film will have many more musical sequences than the book.

The film will still preserve the book's fantastical tone, Tiwary said. As far as what's next, Tiwary says he wants to keep telling stories, whether those be graphic novels, film or television. He also has experience as a Broadway producer, so that raises one obvious question.

"There are no plans for a Broadway adaptation, but being a Broadway guy, I'm always thinking about that kind of stuff. I already have ideas on who should direct, and who should music supervise, and what it could look like — but one thing at a time."

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