This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America and their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The intersection of the Beatles and comics began a year earlier, though, when Paul McCartney told the music magazine NME that he would like to appear in The Dandy, a popular weekly children’s comic (almost 50 years later, he got his wish, as he appeared in the final issue).
In their heyday, the Beatles made frequent cameos in comics, and were often the subject of comics themselves; over the past few years, however, comics creators have taken a retrospective look at not just the musicians but the times they lived in and the personalities around them. Here, then, is a look at four comics, all very different, but each with its own appeal to those of us who remember when the Beatles were hot—and those who want to relive it in the pages of comics.
• Baby’s in Black: This is a nice little graphic novel with a very specific focus: The story of Stu Sutcliffe, who was a member of the band in its earliest incarnation and stayed behind in Germany to be with his girlfriend Astrid Kercherr. Tragically, Sutcliffe died a year later. The book is a love story, of course, but with the added interest of seeing the beginnings of the Beatles’ popularity, how fans first became addicted — and how they developed their look, as Kercherr took some of the most famous photographs of the band. The characters all have a rounded, childlike appearance but it’s possible to discern which Beatle is which, and it’s a lovely story despite the sad ending. This book came out in 2012 ,but First Second published a paperback edition last November.
• The Fifth Beatle: Vivek Tiwary and Andrew Robinson’s story about Beatles manager Brian Epstein (which also features a sequence by Kyle Baker) perfectly captures the look and feel of the Beatles’ early-’60s public persona with bright colors and wisecracks, but there’s a dark side to the story as Epstein struggles with his homosexuality, taking pills to try to make it go away, at a time when gay sex was prosecuted as a crime in the United Kingdom. Epstein saw the early potential of the Beatles, had them clean up their act, and aggressively promoted them, but it’s still not clear from the story what the magic ingredient was that enabled a store manager to elevate a local band to international fame — Epstein speaks very knowingly, but where does it come from? Nonetheless, it’s a great comic and one of the must-reads of the year.
• The Beatles Story: This digital comic is an interesting blend, resurrecting an older bio-comic by Angus Allan and Arthur Ranson that was done for the British magazine Look-In and adding audio narration as well as Beatles songs (performed by a Beatles tribute band, not the originals) and interviews with Angie McCartney, Paul’s stepmother. The first issue is free (iPad version, Android version) and the later ones are 99 cents; the biggest problem with this series seems to be that the issues are slow to come out, with only three released so far. The comic is somewhat dated but it’s a nice little nostalgia trip
• The Beatles in Comic Strips: I’ll confess I haven’t read this one, but after looking over the listings, it’s at the top of my wish list. This book collects more than 200 comics in which the Beatles appeared, from lead characters to cameos; given how interwoven they were with the culture of the times, this has to be a fascinating read.
And what’s a Beatles comics article without a little mystery? Check out this collector’s website, where he talks about Marvel Super Special #7, a comic so rare even the artist, George Perez, has never seen a copy. Beyond that, it’s a nice little overview of the Beatles’ many appearances in comics.