This past Tuesday, Dark Horse Comics and Panini Comics came together to release The Fifth Beatle, a graphic novel about Beatles manager Brian Epstein. At this year’s New York Comic Con, Surviving the Golden Age had a chance to sit down and talk to Fifth Beatle author Vivek Tiwary about the graphic novel, its upcoming movie, and what he’s developing next! The graphic novel may be purchased on iTunes or Amazon
How did you come up with the idea for The Fifth Beatle?
I discovered the Brian Epstein story when I was in business school. I was a young man looking for inspiration for working in the entertainment industry so I decided to study the lives of the great entertainment visionaries. The Beatles were one of the band that wrote that playbook so I started studying the life of Brian Epstein. Not only was it inspirational how he got the record deal when no one wanted to sign them but how he also got them their suits and their haircuts and got them on Ed Sullivan when no British band ever had before. All of things are all in the book and are inspiring from a business standpoint. From human standpoint he was gay and Jewish and from Liverpool, those were three significant obstacles. It was against the law to be gay. There was a significant amount of anti-Semitism in the UK at that time. And Liverpool was a poor town with nothing cultural going on. So Brian being a Jewish man from Liverpool saying I found a band and they’re going to be better than Elvis was ludicrous. In a lot of ways he was the ultimate outsider and I will not claim to of had as many obstacles as he had but as a first generation American with parents from Guyana by way of India you don’t see a lot of people of my ethnicity working in graphic novels, etc so I relate to that outsider story. That’s why Brian Epstein was such an inspiration to me and I wanted to share a story that was inspiring but little known. Research was done through interviews so it’s material that is not available elsewhere.
Did you start off as a big Beatles fan?
I grew up listening to the Beatles and reading comics. My parents were big fans of both. So that’s why when I wanted to study entertainment industry visionaries I immediately thought of the Beatles. Also there music is very colorful which is why I thought it lends itself well to a graphic novel. But really the book is Brian’s story. There is Beatles information in the book but the core is about the human story. If you are a Beatles fan you really are in for a treat with the book but The book is really for everyone.
Did you ever consider not doing this as a graphic novel?
I really didn’t. When I started thinking about how to tell the story became to me in terms of colors. It started off in 1950s Liverpool which was dark gray dumpster like and ends in 1967 which is the summer of love, the psychedelic era which is very Technicolor. So poetically it moves from black and white to colorful which to me is very visual. So from day one we thought of it as a graphic novel and a film. We developed both simultaneously. The graphic novel came out first and we are knee deep in development for the film as well but I wanted to point out that we thought about both from the beginning. A lot of people do a graphic novel in hopes of doing a movie which was a non-starter for me. I developed the screen play which does follow the book but there are scenes that exist in the film that don’t appear in the book and vice versa. With the film we secured the approval of the band and we secured the music licensing so we have unprecedented access to Beatles music. So you can bet that the movies can be filled with music and music sequences that won’t be in the book obviously and the book has a lot of surreal images which you could do in film but probably wouldn’t work as well.
Was there any particular Beatles song you really wanted to get for the soundtrack?
Not really. I’m proud that we secured access to the catalog sword director will be older pick out whatever songs he or she sees fit. I think there some songs that make sense like “You Got To Hide Your Love Away” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a very haunting song and I think there is a part of the script where that could work very well. If you read the script I have several notes of what songs I think might work but ultimately I’ll let the director have fun with that.
When is the movie going to start coming together?
We just announced that Bruce Cohen will be producing. I will be producing as well but Bruce will be leading the charge. He’s an amazing producer, three time academy award nominated and he won for American Beauty. He also produced Milk and Silver Linings Playbook. He’s amazing. He has impeccable connections to Hollywood. I’m not telling you anything he wouldn’t tell you himself but he is gay and Jewish so it has a personal connection to him as well. He’s approaching it very passionately the way I’m approaching it very passionately. I can’t really say anymore other than Bruce is on board and we have the music right. Otherwise right now there are some very exciting conversations being had and we hope to start shooting next year.
What’s the closest you got to talking to someone in the band?
I can’t talk too much about that but Paul, Ringo and the estates of George and John Lennon are aware of the movie and they had to sign off on the script in order for me to secure the rights to the music. So they are very much aware of what we are doing and that’s all I can say right now.
When you did the source interviews for the script who did you talk to?
I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people who knew Brian. I talked to Matt White who was Brian’s best friend and closest confidant. He was also the Beatles US Atty. unfortunately he passed away earlier this year but he was a fellow New Yorker and someone I spent a lot of time with. He was the man responsible for bringing the Beatles to the US for the first time and he and Brian shared a lot of cultural connections with him being Jewish. JoAnn Peterson who was JoAnn Newfield back then she was Brian’s sister. She was there the day he died. She was extremely helpful to this project. The list goes on but those were some of the key ones. Interestingly enough, the band although they spent a lot of time with him, Brian shielded them from a lot of the personal struggles So they didn’t know the details on the human story. The best people to talk to you about Brian’s human story were people like Matt and JoAnn.
So are those your two main projects are due have other projects coming down the line?
Well the Fifth Beatle is my main project with the book just being released and the movie coming together. I am also as a producer not as a writer, I am working on adapting the Amelia Rules! graphic novel series for film and television. I also produced Green Day’s musical American Idiots for Broadway so I’m currently working with a female popstar to adapt one of her famous albums for the stage as well. I can’t quite say who yet but I’m working on that as well.
Finally we are a music website, so where do you think music and comics intersect?
It’s funny because both mediums pop music and comic books have had to strive to be taken seriously. The meaning of comic is silly and pop music is often considered so disposable like soda pop. Some mediums that seems so different really aren’t. I believe pop music should be taken as seriously as the great classical composers, Lennon and McCartney were as talented as Beethoven. Similarly a great comic book is literature, Maus won a Pulitzer! These works are deserving. The two mediums are very similar and I’m looking forward to see more people bring the two together.