Good day to you.
Perhaps I’m rebounding from my Bowie grief but I fell madly in love with Savages this week, literally a fortnight after I rather stupidly and melodramatically proclaimed I’d probably never like another “new” musical act ever again. I assume you cool kids are way ahead of this old man on the Savages bandwagon, but if not, here, let me give you a hand up.
Okay, comics. But music too! Synchronicity rears its head.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : THE FIFTH BEATLE: THE BRIAN EPSTEIN STORY
By Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson w/ Kyle Baker
Published By Dark Horse
Confession time: I am far from the world’s biggest Beatles fan. I find the old stuff annoyingly chirpy and twee and even the later stuff, while pioneering, still just too playful for my tastes. The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” for example, may not match the sheer creativity of “Tomorrow Never Knows” but it’s just a way better song, IMO. Different strokes and all that…
Okay, so with that disclaimer out of the way, you’ll understand why it took me a while to read The Fifth Beatle, a bio-comic of the group’s manager and all around business mastermind, Brian Epstein. The book was lauded as one of the best of 2013 yet still I didn’t listen to critics, I just shrugged my shoulders and figured I’d get around to it when I got around to it.
Well, I got around to it. I really should have way sooner.
Charting Epstein’s rise from record store owner to manager of the biggest band the world has ever seen, The Fifth Beatle is a loving and lovely tribute to a man who’s mission to make The Beatles “bigger than Elvis” never wavered. Epstein’s charm and dedication shines through for the entire journey of the book – a book that rips through the years but never feels rushed, Tiwary’s breakneck pacing perfectly capturing the cultural tornado that Epstein’s charges were at the centre of. More than that, however, The Fifth Beatle is the story a warm, kind and generous gay man living in a time (not that long ago at all) when homosexuality was considered not just a serious aberration but a criminal offence.
On a purely visual level alone, the book is superb. Robinson evokes the period(s) effortlessly and his representation of the whirlwind that was ‘60s fashion is painstaking. The suits, the dresses, the parties, the décor – it’s all here, drawn with such vibrancy that you may never have to watch an episode of Mad Men again. That very same playfulness that I find too saccharine in the bulk of their tunes is caught on the page in Robinson’s lively, bouncy, representations of The Beatles and Epstein – art that is just perfectly on the right side of caricature. All of the group’s famous members are immediately and consistently recognisable. His Liverpool is an aquatic dystopia, seemingly flooding with teeming downpours, white blades of rain slicing through the dark nights. It’s Gotham-like in its grimness. Around Epstein himself, however, all is (for the most part) light; his optimism and exuberance alone cheering up almost every place he’s found. The fact that such joy and creativity came out of this place is something that literally just stuck me writing this, cleverly underscored by Robinson’s moody work.
There is loneliness here too, however. Epstein, by necessity, seeking romance in inappropriate ways and places, searching for some companionship and reciprocation of all the love he had to give and never finding it, gives the book a sad, bittersweet tinge. Epstein’s solitude in rare quiet moments when the Beatles’ maelstrom falls quiet and “the screams die down” provides a compelling and touching explanation for his increasing drug dependency and workaholism. The perfect visual representation of his isolation, rendered beautifully by Robinson, is a moment where Lennon, McCartney and their partners peer out of a limo window at Epstein, whose reflection perfectly captures him, content at the success but ghostlike in actual presence. Comics. That right there is just one more example of what makes the medium so special.
Although Epstein cuts his business deals with grace, a smile on his face and genuine loyalty to his charges, the ugliness of the music business is also present, perfectly captured in a scene in which Epstein has breakfast with Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ gluttonous, self-serving manager. Parker is almost Bizarro-Epstein here – greedy, ugly, corpulent. It’s a beautiful sequence, even if Robinson perhaps goes a little overboard in visually demonstrating Parker’s more demonic aspects.
Epstein’s love for the group seems only matched by Tiwary and Robinson’s love for Epstein. Tiwary, in his afterword, describes The Fifth Beatle as “his life’s work” and Robinson is clearly drawing on another level here, infusing every page with passion and skill and just the right amount of surrealism. The Fifth Beatle is a wonderful book and, if like me, you had some resistance to it, you should pick up a copy as it’s a true, authentic labour of comic book love and a beautiful biography of one of pop culture’s most important historical figures.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : LITTLE MAN IN THE BIG HOUSE
By Paul Tucker & Ryan K. Lindsay
Sigh. I’m so tired of people stopping me in the street and asking either, “Are you Lupin III?” or “Can you please stop blathering on about existentialism and just give me the maximum pulpy thrills in the most minimal of reading time?”
There’s not much I can do about the former except hide behind my beard. But the latter? Relax. I got your back.
Free to read at Challenger Comics is “Little Man in the Big House” by writer and local boy done good (Canberra, but close enough) Ryan K. Lindsay and artist Paul Tucker of IDW’s Tet.
Macbeth is the hero formerly known as Little Man who now works as a guard in Flinders Prison, a supervillain Big House. A riot breaks out and only Macbeth’s ability to manipulate size can help. How many bad guys can he beat up in twelve pages? Tune in and find out.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: HEAVY METAL FEBRUARY 1979
Quite a few silent comics in this the February 1979 issue of HM. It truly is, as stated in the editorial, a “gold mime” of material. Okay, so that’s a pretty lame pun, so let’s just move forward and never mention it again.
An ad for Bambu rolling papers kicks us off in a perfect piece of advertising and publishing aesthetic agreeing they are a perfect match and giving each other a warm hug. Following on from a rather lusty chapter of “…Arabian Nights” is the first of the silent pieces, an untitled story by none other than Yves Chaland who, coincidentally, is scheduled to be the creator of (probably) next week’s Comic of the Week, the collected Freddy Lombard. Partly responsible for the Atomic Style (more on this later), Chaland’s Lombard books, created between ’84-’89, were homages to Herge’sTintin and in particular the ligne claire (or clear line) style Herge developed. However, this untitled piece, drawn in 1977, is unrecognisable when compared to the Lombard books.
Look, here’s a page from Freddy Lombard:
And here’s the final page from this untitled HM story:
You’d swear these two pages were created by two different artists with different interests and aesthetic end goals in mind, no?
Over these six remarkably illustrated pages, Chaland works in a much more realistic style, in the vein of Bilal and Moebius, intricately cross-hatching many of his panels. Yet, he’s clearly playing here, alternating between this fine, inky depth and stripping away all texture to reveal his bold outline. He even squeezes in a four panel newspaper-style cartoon at the bottom of his third page. This is an artist experimenting with his medium, with his levels of comfort, with which direction to take his vision. It’s like watching him work out. The end result is baffling but lovely stuff (there is no real plot to speak of. I’m not glossing over anything here) created just several years before he would hone the beauty of ligne claire over the course of the Lombard books and a cruel reminder of just how gifted he was and how young he died. But more on that next week.
Mercado’s far-out “Telefield” breaks the silence as our space hippies discover that last issue’s “parapsychic machine” was just an insidious ploy to sell miniature take-home versions of the contraption and its narcotic effects quickly spread citywide. I love Mercado’s grungy retro-futurism and ‘60s sense of longhair, druggy free love but I can imagine many a reader growing impatient with his already (by this point) outdated sense of transcendental SF.
Philippe Caza’s striking depictions of cosmic femininity return in “Hydrogenesis,” bringing the silence back to the issue. A naked female alien is birthed from some viscous cosmic fluid. Pulling herself loose, she explodes out into space, mercurial drops of her birth-stuff floating freely. She then herself explodes into the same droplets, part of the cosmos now, part of the creation process of the universe as planets form from her womb, I know, it all sounds just so trite, but Caza’s comics about cosmic mothers are just so exquisitely drawn in near obsessive pointillism that I almost defy you not to feel something, anything as you stare at the almost Dali-level surrealism of this exploding Goddess.
There’s more “Airtight Garage,” some more Paul Kirchner who’s always welcome and two from Bilal including the continuing “Exterminator 17,” and more “1996, ”but let’s conclude our look at this issue with another silent piece, the loaded post-colonial “Quetzal” by Sabine and Halmos (I tried to dig up some more info and these two, but was unlucky).
In “Quetzal” an Atzec girl sees a shimmering light. She approaches, touches it, then crosses herself believing it to be an aspect of the Christian God. She brings a family member to the light and soon several women are on their knees praying before it. The girl tells her Spanish colonial overlords about this godly aspect, bringing them from their grim, dim, house of Christianity out into the open. At first they laugh at her, but once in front of whatever this ball of light is, they very quickly believe that not only was the girl telling the truth, but that she is somehow responsible for what they believe to be satanic in nature. This all becomes a little hard to keep reading as the girl is stripped and beaten by these men of god, tortured and then burned at the stake in front of her friends and family. The end.
A truly grim indictment of post-colonial attitudes and the actions of pious holy men, “Quetzal” is obviously not an easy, cheery read. And what of its title? A Quetzal is actually a beautifully plumaged bird, considered one of the most beautiful of all birds, in fact. Does the title refer to the ball of light or the girl? Or does it refer to the feathered serpent, the mythological Quetzal (bonus awesome movie here!) that Aztecs believe was related to the gods of, among other things, knowledge? Whatever your take, “Quetzal” is powerful stuff.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : PEPLUM, VON BLUTCH
A real standout on The Guardian’s list of 2016 comics (as mentioned last week), is Peplum by revered French artist Christian Hincker, better known as Blutch. The only other work of his thus far translated into English is So Long Silver Screen, but with Peplum generally regarded as his masterpiece, we can hope that a lot more follow and in fairly short order. Set in ancient Rome, Peplum looks beautifully brooding and apocalyptic. From the product description:
“At the edge of the empire, a gang of bandits discovers the body of a beautiful woman in a cave; she is encased in ice but may still be alive. One of the bandits, bearing a stolen name and with the frozen maiden in tow, makes his way toward Rome—seeking power, or maybe just survival, as the world unravels.”
Let’s have a flip through, eh?
See you next week. Love your comics.