The Fifth Beatle is an upcoming graphic novel (along with film) coming out from Dark Horse, written by Vivek J. Tiwary and art by Andrew Robinson.
The Fifth Beatle chronicles the story of Brian Epstein. For those who are unaware, Epstein discovered The Beatles in Liverpool and brought them to stardom across the world. Arguably, without Epstein The Beatles wouldn’t have been what they are today. Epstein sadly passed away in 1967 at the age of 32, plunging him into the obscurity of history with few knowing his true contribution to the world of music.
Tiwary has been a producer and partner in several musicals, such as Green Day’s American Idiot and The Addams Family. He is also an investor in Valiant Entertainment.
Robinson, the creators of Dusty Star, is the artist behind the upcoming graphic novel titled The Fifth Beatle. Robinson has worked on books of all genres, ranging from Batman to King Conan to Star Wars.
I had a chance to talk to Tiwary about The Fifth Beatle and Robinson about The Fifth Beatle, his love of Star Wars, and what he’s up to next.
Vivek J. Tiwary
Alex: What made you want to write a graphic novel about The Beatles?
Vivek: The graphic novel is really about The Fifth Beatle—their manager Brian Epstein. I discovered the Brian Epstein story when I was in business school, dreaming about doing the things I’m doing today, and looking for inspiration from some of the successful entertainment entrepreneurs of the past. For me—thinking that Brian and The Beatles wrote and re-wrote the rules of the pop music business—turning to Brian’s life for inspiration was a natural. And I was rewarded on the business side, certainly—but it was discovering the human elements of his story that struck a chord—the obstacles he faced in being gay, Jewish, and from Liverpool in the 1960’s. Brian was a true underdog, the ultimate outsider. And as a writer and producer of Indian origin, I could relate to that. Telling Brian’s story is a labor-of-love for me.
Alex: Was the intention first to make it a graphic novel and then the movie idea came along or was it the other way around or did you have the intention do to have a graphic novel and film made from the start?
Vivek: It was a fairly organic process, and each project stands on it’s own. I think it’s a mistake to plan a graphic novel in order to turn it into a film—a graphic novel should exist for it’s own sake. And vice-versa with respect to the film. I love both mediums, and I think our versions in both mediums will add something different to the Brian Epstein story. I always wanted to do both a graphic novel and a film. All that being said, the graphic novel will be released before the film shoots. So you could say that the film will certainly be influenced by the book rather than the other way around…
Alex: Much of your career has been centered on film/TV/music. Why have you decided to take on the comic book world?
Vivek: I’ve been reading comic books since I was a child, since I could read at all! In fact, I suspect I learned to read from comic books! So I’ve long wanted to work in the comic book world, and Brian Epstein’s story seemed ripe to be told in graphic novel form.
Alex: Did you read comic books as a kid? If so, what did you read?
Vivek: Oh yes! I was a Marvel kid; and I while I loved the whole universe, I loved the “families”—The X-Men and The Fantastic Four were particular favorites. And then, like so many other comics fans, my whole perception of what comics could be was turned on its head—my mind fully blown—by Frank Miller’s Ronin and then The Dark Knight, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I soon became a fan of more independent comics—one standout company/title for me was Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original Mirage Studios’ run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—another great comic family.
Alex: Are you going to be hitting the convention circuit this year? (San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, etc.)
Vivek: I’ll be at as many as I can! Definitely New York and San Diego. Expect some cool “Fifth Beatle” presentations there…
Alex: When should we expect to see The Fifth Beatle Hit Shelves? Why did you decided to do one big collection instead of individual issues and then a collection like most books?
Vivek: We’ll be announcing our release date soon—so sit tight!
We thought about serializing “The Fifth Beatle”—but at the end of the day I didn’t believe the overall narrative could be broken down into compelling 20-30 page stories—there wasn’t a “good ending” or a “cliffhanger” often enough to suggest we would have compelling series of individual issues. The overall “Fifth Beatle” story of Brian Epstein’s life is beautiful, inspiring, and tragic. So I just didn’t want to sacrifice the storytelling to fit the mold of individual issues…
Alex: Do you have plans to do more graphic novels or comic books in the future?
Vivek: Oh yes! Can’t say more at this time… Although on the flipside, I’m adapting Jimmy Gownley’s Eisner-nominated tween comic/graphic novel series “Amelia Rules!” to film and television and am excited about that.
Alex: How did you and Andrew Robinson come together to work on this project?
Vivek: We were introduced by the amazingly talented Mark Irwin, a longtime friend and Andrew’s onetime agent.
Alex: Why did you bring The Fifth Beatle Dark Horse instead of Valiant when you are on the board of directors of Valiant?
Vivek: Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson and the entire Dark Horse family have been so passionate about this project—it was clear from the beginning that they were the best home for “The Fifth Beatle”. See http://thefifthbeatle.com/partners/ for a personal note from Mike about “The Fifth Beatle.”
Also, while I do think Brian Epstein was super and heroic in many ways, he doesn’t really fit into the Valiant Universe :)
Alex: What advice do you have for young writers trying to break into the comic book industry?
Vivek: Do it yourself! Find an artist you know and share common storytelling interests with, and just start making a book! If your work is genuine, it will eventually find a home… That’s what happened with “The Fifth Beatle”. Andrew and I got going independently before we joined forces with Dark Horse. I’ve always been a believer in the DIY (do it yourself) ethic, from my earliest days working in the music industry.
Alex: What was your preparation for working on The Fifth Beatle? Did you listen to a lot of the music? Were you a fan before this project?
Andrew: I started by sketching our main characters to get a feel for how I would approach this project stylistically. I was looking for the right mixture of realism mixed with naturalistic cartooning. Then I began the daunting task of collecting reference on the Beatles, Brian Epstein and 1960′s England. Vivek, the creator and writer for the Fifth Beatle got my search started with some great books and periodicals about Liverpool, Brian and the Beatles. I bought a few more books and I was continuously googling related topics on the internet and making folders for each. Everything had to be researched from fashion to cars, haircuts to guitars and so on. There were so many categories which also had to be updated as the story progressed and styles and fashions changed. As you can see it was quite a challenge.
Whenever I’m working I’m usually listening to all kinds of music. Thank God for Spotify. And yes, there’s been a lot of Beatles in the mix. Since I can remember I’ve been a big fan. When I was ten my older brother got Sgt. Pepper’s on 8 track and I remember listening to that album religiously. My uncle Al also had a huge Beatles collection on vinyl which my cousins and I enjoyed listening to. Albums like the Magic Mystery Tour may have been referencing drugs in their lyrics, but as a kid those songs really spurred my imagination and I loved them for it.
Alex: You seem to have a variety of projects (Superman/Batman, Dusty Star, King Conan, The Fifth Beatle.) Do you enjoy being versatile as an artist or would you like to settle into a niche? Why?
Andrew: I may not be super excited about every genre but I always learn something new with every project I take. And unless you’re a comic book God and you make tons of cash to write and draw whatever you like or you’re a real “artist” who operates on a totally different plane of existence then you have to be versatile to survive in our world.
Plus you want to build an audience by working on higher profile jobs like Batman or X-Men so that you can possibly sell a few copies of your creator owned project. However, now that I am older I wouldn’t mind settling into a niche of working on my own projects as much as possible.
Alex: You have done a fare amount of cover and interior work. Do you prefer working on covers or interiors? Why?
Andrew: Well covers are more fun. It’s usually a quick in and out situation. You get to pick out all the cool stuff and arrange it in a dynamic composition. It’s good money, the original art is usually in demand and your image is all over the place. It’s all gravy.
But when you take on the task of creating interiors there’s a big commitment you have to make. The money really isn’t that good considering all the work, research and time you have to put into each page. All the time you have to spend by yourself while others are hanging out with friends and family. But you get to be so much more. You’re a director. You’re an actor. You’re the camera man. You are a complete visual story teller. For me that sense of satisfaction when that book hits the stand- well there’s no comparison.
I’m about to complete painting 122 sequential pages for the 5th Beatle, so right now I prefer covers. Hahaha.
Alex: You have dabbled in writing. Do you hope to write more in the future?
Andrew: Oh yeah. I’ll be writing and illustrating more Dusty Star as well as some other personal projects.
Alex: What do you have planned for after The Fifth Beatle?
Andrew: More cover work, illustrating a Batman black and white story and Dusty Star. Hopefully I’ll have a 46 page Dusty Star hard back out for this summer.
Alex: Do you have a dream project? A book you want to work on?
Andrew: Dusty Star and a few other creator owned projects.
Alex: What are you currently reading in and out of comic books?
Andrew: I’m reading Loose Ends which is just some of the most beautiful drawing I’ve ever seen. It’s such perfect synergy between writer, artist and colorist. And trying to get through a Tale of Two Cities which I’m reading on my iphone.
Alex: Were you aware that The Fifth Beatle would eventually turn into a movie when you took on the project? Did this information affect the way you drew the book?
Andrew: Yes I knew from the beginning that was the game plan. It didn’t really affect me. I just wanted to visually tell the best story I could and compliment that with some of the best painting of my life. I’ve been working hard on this book for three years now and I think it’s going to show.
Alex: I’ve read that you are a big Star Wars fan and you’ve worked on some Star Wars covers. What is your favorite character in the Star Wars universe draw and what is your favorite film in the series?
Andrew: Han Solo is by far my favorite. He’s the character with the most depth, at least before Lucas started re-editing the original first three episodes. And like most Star Wars purists, Empire is my favorite. “I love you.” “I know.” It doesn’t get much better than that. Although when I was a kid, Return of the Jedi was the best ever. So I thought.
Alex: What advice do you have for young artists and creators trying to break into the industry?
Andrew: Stay hungry. Life drawing. If you can’t get a break, create one. Be prepared to spend a lot of time at your drawing table. If you want to work on a monthly book you better be able to pencil two pages in a day. If you want to be an inker you should be able to ink three pages in a day. Because life is going to happen. Take advantage of all the free media- it’s such a powerful force and it’s free. Be the best you can be, but also meet your deadlines. If you’re going to be late give your editor a heads up- they may not be happy about it but they will appreciate being notified. I didn’t always do that and it cost me. Watch your vices, a crutch can quickly become your casket.