Interview: Vivek Tiwary On ‘The Fifth Beatle’ And Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein was, in a lot of ways, the man behind the Beatles. Much of what made the Beatles popular was orchestrated, behind the scenes, by Epstein, but there’s very little about him out there; in fact, Vivek Tiwary’s graphic novel The Fifth Beatle, out tomorrow, will be one of the first books about Epstein beyond his own autobiography, ghost-written by his assistant back in the ’60s. Tiwary, the author, was kind enough to speak with us about the book.

Gamma Squad: What started you on this project?

Vivek Tiwary: I started researching it 21 years ago. I’ve been working on it for more than half my life! I was in business school, and I thought if I’m going to work in entertainment, I should study the lives of great entertainers. That led me to Brian Epstein.

I was looking for a business blueprint, and I found this fascinating story of how he got them a deal, how he convinced Ed Sullivan to book them. From a business side it’s incredibly fascinating. But it was the human side of his story. Brian was gay, and Jewish, and from Liverpool. In a lot of ways, I think of Brian as the ultimate outsider. I’m a lifelong Beatles fan, but it really is Brian’s story that inspires me.

Gamma Squad: Was there any difficulty finding sources? Officially published material about Epstein is hard to find.

Tiwary: Most of this is based on personal interviews. This will be literally the only book in print on Brian Epstein. I had to track down the people who were closest to him and the people in the book are composites of them. I reached out to them, at the time I was just a young person looking for inspiration.

No question, at first they were a little wary. But after a first meeting, they realized it was something I was passionate about. I’m proud to say both of them became friends. Eventually these people were very open with me. The other advantage, I wasn’t looking for anything, I was just looking for personal inspiration. Six years ago I began asking permission to write the book, and at that point, they all said great.

Gamma Squad: What’s the feedback from Beatles fans?

Tiwary: It’s been incredibly warmly received. The Beatles community, they haven’t read it yet, so we’ll see what they say (laughs), but they’ve seemed to be enthusiastic for it. It’s just that I’m telling the story with a tremendous amount of research, that it’s something that I care about, and triple-checked. The estate told me to tell it warts and all, they opened up their archives.

The Beatles signed off on the music rights for the adaptation, even thought it’s not an “official” project. As a Beatles fan myself, and obviously, it’s a Beatles-related story, but I will say what’s exciting to me is the degree of support that we’re getting from the LGBT and Jewish community. You expect the Beatles community to be interested, but when you have other communities that supportive, that’s how you know you’re doing something right.

Gamma Squad: Why’d you choose a graphic novel?

Tiwary: I’ve loved comics since I was a kid. I’ve long wanted to do a graphic novel. With the Fifth Beatle, when I was thinking about how I wanted to construct the story, and color was the first thing that came to mind. It starts in Liverpool and ends in 1967 London. I felt the arc of Brian’s life was the arc of black-and-white to Technicolor. The first few pages are very muted, and when the band appears, you start seeing reds and yellows.

I also wanted a format that would be fun. I could’ve written a 400-page book. But that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun! For somebody who has causal interest, a 128-page graphic novel, maybe you will pick that up. It’s more powerful to more people, and I want that for Brian’s story, it’s a story people should know. I felt a graphic novel is going to achieve that more than a book would.

And graphic novels let you be poetic the way a book can’t. Not everything in the book is exactly factual; one character is a conflation of four people. You can do that in a graphic novel, you can’t really do that in a book. It allowed me to dig a little bit deeper into the poetry of Brian Epstein. I wanted to capture the essence of the man. I felt the graphic novel allowed me to capture that.

The Fifth Beatle is out tomorrow, and if you want to get a sense of how it comes together, here’s a preview courtesy of Dark Horse.