Fanfare for the Un-Common Man: Dark Horse’s “The Fifth Beatle”

This Magic Moment: Brian Epstein Encounters The Beatles in Liverpool's Cavern Club (Illustration courtesy of Dark Horse Comics)

This Magic Moment: Brian Epstein Encounters The Beatles in Liverpool’s Cavern Club (Illustration courtesy of Dark Horse Comics)

The Fifth Beatle
Author: Vivek J. Tiwary
Illustration: Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Dark Horse Publications
Release Date: November 19, 2013

Plenty of Jam Jars For You…
There is a plethora of Beatles related items calling for your attention this season, from Apple’s second edition of their recordings for BBC broadcast to Kevin Howlett’s archive book on the same subject. There’s the first installment of Mark Lewisohn’s three part behemoth of Beatle-philia, and the lighthearted documentary film Good Ol’ Freda highlighting the group’s still coy and effervescent fan club president Freda Kelly. Along with these, in what might seem at first an unlikely medium, is Dark Horse’s The Fifth Beatle, a graphic novel rumination on the life of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, written by Vivek J. Tiwary and illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker.

Can’t Buy Me Love…
Every artist needs a true believer in their corner, and of all notable advocates Epstein stands out as a blueprint for what can be accomplished with a mix of perseverance in the face of ridiculous odds, the innate cunning of a twentieth century Medici, a paternalistic doting on his wards, with a healthy dose of personal ambition and true – though unrequited – love.

Although often portrayed as a provincial who missed reaping appropriate financial rewards for many merchandizing deals, Tiwarry shows Epstein to be smart enough to lose a little in the now, to gain much more down the road. His deal with Ed Sullivan is particularly noteworthy in that sense.

The Fifth Beatle is not the fluff of Epstein’s autobiography A Cellar Full of Noise but akin to the intimate – though fictionalized – character study of David Münch’s 1991 film The Hours and The Times. Behind the stoicism of Epstein’s business face is the story of a man living outside of the values of his times. Epstein’s then illegal homosexuality, his dependency on prescription drugs, family pressures and self doubt are dealt with frankly.

Like many great graphic novels, the pages of The Fifth Beatle could easily double as film storyboards, and indeed Dark Horse’s press release hints at a movie in the works. While his research is impeccable, Tiwary, who previously worked on Broadway’s American Idiot, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, allows himself enough creative liberty to tell the story in an artistic manner. His use of a fanciful Pepper Pots style gal Friday (a mod dollybird playfully called Moxie) creates a foil for Epstein’s inner voice, and the script’s event juxtapositions play like a Francis Coppola screenplay. It’s also quite a stage worthy scenario. Can the musical be far behind?
Mother Superior Jump the Gun…
Mid-book Kyle Baker is handed the opportunity of an artistic intermezzo to cover the 1966 debacles of the group’s Philipines tour and John Lennon’s “bigger than Christ” comment. It recounts the first chinks in the Fab’s popularity and is duly rendered in a loose comic style that suggests the madness of Alice in Wonderland’s Caucus Race and appropriately relates (in retrospect) the absurdity of it all. It’s a wry comment on what happens when fans’ unquestioning adulation turns to fanatical indignation. I’m pretty sure encounters with mad bull Imelda Marcos and Beatle album burnings in the American south never factored into Epstein’s most outlandish reveries of what push-backs Beatlemania might suffer.

And In the End…
An extended “making of” section is an especially welcome addition to the already handsome hardcover. It gives readers a behind the scenes peek at the creative process with pages of Tiwarry’s script and tons of Robinson’s preliminary pencil art for major characters, blocking of pages and attention to details of the time.

SkeletonPete Says…
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking Tiwary’s meticulous research work because it is wrapped in the guise of a graphic novel. With The Fifth Beatle you get biography bathe in the beauty of Robinson and Baker’s artwork. It’s a must have addition to the bookshelves of Fabs fans and would make a delicious gift.

CAN-tastic Constructs Foster Charitable Vision

"We CAN Kill Hunger," by Studios Architecture, Obviously Tops SkeletonPete's CANstruction Faves for 2013

“We CAN Kill Hunger,” by Studios Architecture, Obviously Tops SkeletonPete’s CANstruction Faves for 2013

Canapés? Nope, CAN-O-PEAS!
Brookfield Place, at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, is once again the home of an amazing array of constructs created solely from canned and packaged foods. The Arts Brookfield Winter Garden area, with it’s spectacular view of the Hudson River and incongruous – for NYC – palm tree grove, is hosting the 21st Annual Canstruction display of crafty creations until November 13, 2013 from 10 am to 6 pm.

Cool Beans…
The pieces represent a wide breadth of iconic pop themes from Despicable Me minions and a Star Wars Imperial Walker, to Lady and the Tramps’ spaghetti sharing CANines (ouch!) and the Batman and Superman logos. Even the seemingly inescapable Sharknado is represented.

There’s an igloo with penguin, a storybook castle, and a gigantic silver sardine can skull. They must have known I was coming! The Stack-CAN Island Ferry is a local fave, while the nearby Loch-CAN-ness Monster pops its serpentine tuna can head above a Goya Bean lake.

Brookfield Arts' Winter Garden Will Host Canstruction 2013 until 11.13.13

Brookfield Arts’ Winter Garden Will Host Canstruction 2013 until 11.13.13

Yes We CAN….
The goal behind this competitive artistic endeavor is to raise awareness of and collect food for those in need throughout the world. Events have been held annually since 1992 and Canstruction® has raised more than 21 million pounds of food since then. Last year’s New York drive aided nearly 100,000 residents.

SkeletonPete Says…
Kenny Pierce of the PiercingMetal webzine and I had a fine time perusing and photographing these skillful works to share with you. In reality, their sheer size and design ingenuity needs to be experienced in person, so get yourself out to WFC before it’s gone. You can also chip in while you’re there. There’s a nice big bin on site into which you can roll your non-perishable food donations.

More information about the creators and a chance to vote for your favorite CANstructs at this Facebook page.

Click Any Image to Launch the Gallery

Hallows Heroes: Dark Horse Presents The Halloween Legion

Dark Horse's The Halloween Legion Joins Our Favorite Seasonal Tomes

Dark Horse’s The Halloween Legion Joins Our Favorite Seasonal Tomes

The Halloween Legion
Dark Horse Books/Sequential Pulp Comics
Publication Date: September 11, 2013

The Hist-Whisting of Autumn Lawns…
One of my fondest childhood memories is the annual family reading of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at Halloween. My Dad and Mom would sit me down by our fireplace and read the tale from a little abridged version that is still tucked away in my library. It didn’t matter that the flickering flames of our hearth were in reality the illusory effect of a propeller contraption mounted on a lightbulb, we always seemed to bring a bit of Catskills rusticity into our Brooklyn abode. That tradition stays with me to this day, and nary a year goes by when I don’t indulge in a reading of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, or peruse the pages of Deborah Kogan Ray’s impressionistic interpretation of e. e. cummings Hist Whist (Crown/Random House, 1989.)

A New Brew…
This year Dark Horse Books, in conjunction with Sequential Pulp Comics, serves up a delicious dose of all hallows entertainment with the publication of The Halloween Legion, a graphic novel that will join my small stack of October 31st favorites. Penned by Martin Powell with art by Thomas Boatwright and Diana Leto, the 80 page hard cover is a full color, beautifully rendered and action packed, romp through fall’s amber dusks and indigo twilights. The book’s dedication to Ray Bradbury, who Powell describes as its “spiritual godfather,” is no surprise as its feel is quite reminiscent of the recently deceased author’s work in all the best of ways.

Thomas Boatwright's Art of The Halloween Legion Assembled, with "Rag Golem" Thurston.

Thomas Boatwright’s Art of The Halloween Legion Assembled, with “Rag Golem” Thurston.

Split into two stories, the core of the volume is “The Great Goblin Invasion,” follows the exploits of a quintet of shadowy seasonal icons. Powell’s Witch, Skeleton, Devil, Ghost, and Black Cat are all endowed with special powers and very iconoclastic personalities. These odd-ball avengers team up to protect the town of Woodland against the titular “goblins” who are in reality space invaders. Part two, “Once Upon A Halloween,” is an autobiographical yarn which recounts an eerie event that spawned Powell’s creation of the Legion.

SkeletonPete Says…
The Halloween Legion is an excellent blend of classic spooky imagery with just the right amount of superhero and sci-fi spin to keep 21st century kids interested but not up all night with the frights.

Martin Powell, Diana Leto and Thomas Boatwright all have their own blogs where you can view and read more of their work. Leto and Powell have just begun the weekly subscription comic strip The Cave Girl over at the Edgar Rice Burroughs Website, while Boatwright is taking Halloween themed art commissions.

Flying Fickle Fingers of Fate: Dark Horse Compiles Ditko’s Warren Works

Creepy Presents Steve Ditko
The Definitive Collection of the Artist’s Work From Creepy and Eerie

Dark Horse
Release Date: August 7, 2013

Dark Horse expands it’s Creepy and Eerie franchise with another single artist anthology. This time Steve Ditko’s post Marvel works for Warren are the focus. Ditko’s outre dimensional pastiches, informed by equal parts Salvador Dali, MC Escher and H.P. Lovecraft, perfectly lent themselves to these titles as did his idiosyncratic, angular, take on human form and his faces imbued with hysteria and madness. Fans of Marvel’s Dr. Strange will instantly feel at home in the signature prismatic dreamscapes, and faces subtly conjure Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson, Sandman, Dormamu, and other Ditko rendered characters.

Where Dark Horse’s previous anthologies featuring Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson give readers a view to each artist’s growth, Ditko came to Warren fully formed in the panel art field. In this tome we get an interesting look at the artist weening himself away from strict black and white line work required for color comics to form filling ink washes, crosshatching and zip-a-tone sheeting.

The forward by Mark Evanier (Kirby, King of Comics) draws historic attention to the circumstances that led to Ditko’s freelance Warren strips, his work method, and aforementioned evolution in the solely black and white medium. That said it might have been more enlightening to group these stories in chronological order rather than a Creepy/Eerie title split. Considering at least one of these stories, “Demon Sword” was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s painting, an appendix of the cover art for each issue these appeared in would have been a nice addition.

The bonus is that it’s not just Ditko’s artwork that shines here. The 16 stories authored – all save one – by Archie Goodwin are top notch archetypes of the “beware of what you wish for,” twist ending horror/suspense genre popularized by EC Comics and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. They include some of Goodwin’s best scenarios for Warren Publications. Like the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, they have a timeless quality that peeks into human obsession. For instance, while “Fly” could easily be the origin of the Breaking Bad episode of the same name, it is also certainly tinged with the mania of Poe’s seminal “The Tell Tale Heart.”

Not all of this works. To my taste Ditko was not specifically suited to several of the sword and sorcery derived yarns, although it is noted by Evanier that he pitched the genre to Goodwin. For example, his attacking vultures on the splash page of the Thane episode “City of Doom”, and the scorpion monster in “Where Sorcery Lives” are antagonists better suited to a more cartoon oriented setting, like Paul Coker Jr’s designs for Rankin and Bass productions.

SkeletonPete Says…
This visually enticing compendium was an instant time trip for me. I purchased all these stories one by one as issues of Creepy and Eerie hit the newsstand in their time and absorbed them thoroughly. In retrospect this body of work was pervasive in my discovery of the surrealist and Dada movements.

What particularly struck me when I perused the review copy was how many of these panels had stayed with me. The visuals of black winged demons dragging a victim to a toothsome disembodied maw, the bulging orbs and sweat beaded brows, the Ditko hand gestures with splayed fingers poised in malocchio devil horns, all appear to be indelibly etched on my brain cells.

Along with his extremely idiosyncratic work on the Gorgo and Konga film spin-off books this group of stories are my personal favorites in Ditko’s canon, and I highly recommend adding it to your art book collection. This hardcover edition is available for pre-order at $19.99.

The New No.2: Tiny Pencil Magazine

Nicky Sheehy's Cover for Tiny Pencil #1, Alongside a Titular Object (Photo Courtesy of Tiny Empire Press)

Nicky Sheehy’s Cover for Tiny Pencil #1, Alongside a Titular Object (Photo Courtesy of Tiny Empire Press)

If You Go Out In the Woods Tonight…
Dedicated entirely to art rendered in graphite Tiny Pencil Magazine Issue #1 was released in the UK just over a month ago. The introductory outing lets over two dozen artists loose to envision the theme “The Forest or Into the Woods We Go.” It’s a motif that got me singing “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” in my head and opening the pages of TP immediately paid off with “a big surprise.” All manner of woodland flora and fauna are illustrated in styles from hyper-realistic to phantasmagoria. The range of works evoke Doré to Disney and would win the approval Audubon or Tolkien. Cover artist Nick Sheehy’s outsized skulls and Vanessa Foley’s yin-yang ravens are my particular favorites at the moment but the magazine offers plenty of reasons for return viewing, discovery, and new faves.

The Forest Issue Features Art By:
Kristyna Baczynski – Rachel M. Bray – Katriona Chapman – Sandra Dieckmann – Lisa Evans – Vanessa Foley – Caitlin Hackett -Alexandra Higlett – Amber Hsu – John Kilburn – Raymond Lemstra – Jon MacNair – Jamie Mills – Luke Pearson – Chris Rixon – Sigrid Rødli – Nick Sheehy – Allison Sommers – Rima Staines – Liam Stevens – Lizzy Stewart – Yoko Tanaka – Jack Teagle – Donya Todd – Sarah Tse – Stuart Whitton – Ward Zwart

Pencil Pushers…
While there are a handful of interesting panel strip contributions that include text, the experience is for the most part strictly visual. Unlike many artzines, there are no interviews, evaluations or pontifications between the covers – and no adverts. Aside from tiny artist bios at the back, and an eclectic series of quotations – from Vincent Van Gogh to Dave Mustaine – that bound the rear cover, co-editors/contributing artists Amber Hsu and Katriona Chapman let the images speak for themselves. Alternately, if you want to know the inside story behind the mag’s inception and goals, Amber and Katriona gave this in-depth interview to Zainab Akhtar of Comics Beat.

One of the hardest things to do is accurately transfer the subtleties of an original graphite work to the printed page. To their credit the Tiny Empire Press folks get it right across the boards. The delicate details and bold blocking of the disparate artistic techniques are exceptionally well represented. The matte finish paper is a perfect choice and has a wonderful feel and the print smells good too. What, you don’t sniff your books?

Rachel Bray's 'Shroomy Rumination on The Forest for Tiny Pencil #1 (Courtesy of Tiny Empire Press)

Rachel Bray’s ‘Shroomy Rumination on The Forest for Tiny Pencil #1 (Courtesy of Tiny Empire Press)

SkeletonPete Says…
Tiny Pencil is an addictive visual experience which has already inspired me to drop my trusty Rapidograph and pick up a neatly sharpened No. 2 for the first time in ages. The anthology magazine will be published bi-annually in hand-stamped numbered edition (I received #0536.) Each issue will celebrate a different theme. The editors also intend to produce some one-offs and have announced an “all-ages summer zine” focusing on “Mammals, Monsters and Mars” in the works. Tiny Pencil can be direct ordered from the magazine’s website. I purchased mine in USA via Forbidden Planet’s mail order. Artists interested in submitting work should click here for guidelines.

Thanks to David Haden’s H.P. Lovecraft Blog, Tentaclii, for the heads-up on this one.