When listing the greatest bands of all time, most critics and fans find it impossible not to mention the Beatles. The Beatles defined a generation with their music and influenced countless musicians since, but behind every great band, there is usually a great manager. With the case of the Beatles, it was Brian Epstein: "the Fifth Beatle".
Artist Andrew Robinson has been working on The Fifth Beatle for nearly four years now with writer and Tony Award-winning theater producer Vivek Tiwary, and it will finally be released this year. Giving almost all his time working on the project, Robinson is finally opening up about the book, and why he hasn't been seen much of in the past few years. Newsarama talked to Robinson about his goals as an artist working on something so heavy and profound to fans around the world, his creative process, and what kept him motivated along this journey.
Newsarama: Andrew, you were out of the mainstream spotlight so-to-speak for a while and are now getting into the swing of things again, what kept you busy in the meantime?
Andrew Robinson: Well working on The Fifth Beatle was like being in a serious relationship with a hardcore commitment and she didn't leave much time to flirt with anyone else. But I did manage to paint a few King Conan covers during that time as well as some covers and a few interior pages for 12 Gauge's The Ride: Southern Gothic.
Nrama: How long as this project been in the works? Your fans have probably noticed you've been posting progress shots for quite sometime on your social media outlets.
Robinson: Yes, I wasn't allowed to post entire pages, but I did post a lot of cropped Instagram shots. It's been a trying four years to get that book completed. My reoccurring nightmare is that I find this section of The Fifth Beatle script that yet to be painted. It's still hard to believe that this massive project is finished.
Nrama: How did Fifth Beatle writer Vivek Tiwary approach you about working on such a laborious project?
Robinson: Vivek found me through my agent, Mark Irwin. And they have a mutual contact of sorts in NYC. When I heard it was a graphic novel about the Beatles, I was excited.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the story itself? Is it tied to anybody in particular, or the various members that media have dubbed over the years the "Fifth Beatle"?
Robinson: Well of course the moniker, "the Fifth Beatle" applies to many people, but our story is about Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager. According to Sir Paul McCartney, Brian was the fifth Beatle. He's the one who saw them at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and put them on George Martin's radar at EMI. He basically wrote the bible for pop boy bands, which is still studied today. Luckily for all of us the Beatles became so much more than that. So to sum it up, our story is about Brian's success managing the Beatles while also dealing with his personal life, which I found very interesting.
Nrama: Was it always intended to be fully-painted?
Robinson: Yes, that's what Vivek wanted from the beginning: something kind of parallel to the Jimi Hendrix story that Bill Sienkiewicz beautifully illustrated, Voo Doo Child.
Nrama: Were you hesitant about signing up for it at first or were you ready to dive in?
Robinson: Yeah, I wanted something like this that I could really spread my wings and fly - and I did - though it feels like I had to hide in a cave to do it. You sacrifice a lot when you take on a project of this magnitude. While others are spending time with loved ones and visiting family and having some sort of a social life, you find yourself in the Fortress of Solitude. Which isn't a bad thing per se, but it will eventually drive you crazy. I'm lucky that my girlfriend has been so understanding. Other girls would and have dumped me because they just don't understand the artist's journey.
Nrama: What was your approach artistically in how you did this? Do you feel your style had changed over the years when you were at DC?
Robinson: My approach was to experiment and to be the best storyteller/illustrator that I could be. And it was like a mixed media explosion. Gouache, watercolors, whiteout, acrylics, pen, brush, inks, markers on an array of surfaces with the final media being Photoshop. And, yes, I think my style has changed somewhat. I just hope I'm getting better and trying new things. We should all be growing.
Nrama: So I take it you're a big Beatles fan yourself? Did you play a lot of their music while painting?
Robinson: Yes, I'm a big Beatles fan. [My girlfriend and I] named our daughter Ella after Eleanor Rigby. And yes, I listened to quite a bit of Beatles music. And I listened to a lot of music in general, especially on Spotify. Unfortunately there isn't any Beatles music on Spotify, but there are some cool interviews with the Fab Four. I also share the same birthday as John Lennon.
Nrama: What was your favorite part of the creative process of working on this?
Robinson: Getting to work with such a loose script in terms of how a lot of comic scripts are written. I mean the story, dialogue and settings were all there in the script, but it was left up to me to decide how many panels on a page, the angles, and the pacing. I did show Vivek my breakdowns to make sure we were on the same page and for the most part he really let me do my thing.
Of course it was challenging to hit the likenesses, but I had a blast drawing and painting the Beatles as well as Brian. For most people, it's just a book about the Beatles, but it's a lot more complicated and interesting than that.
Nrama: What was the relationship between you and Kyle Baker as artists on the book?
Robinson: There wasn't really one. I did my thing and he did his. His section is about seven pages. It's a comical intermission where Brian goes with the Beatles to the Philippines and high jinx insue. It's related while also very separate. But I have to say I've been a huge fan of Kyle's for a long time. Why I Hate Saturn and You Are Here still amaze me.
Nrama: What time frame are we dealing with here in the book? It clocks in at 120-something pages as is. Do you feel as though you covered the best parts or was there something you wish you could add?
Robinson: Well we are following six years of Brian's life, starting in 1961 when he sees the Beatles for the first time at the Cavern Club. As far as our story goes, it's very complete in respect to telling the tale of this young man behind one of if not the biggest rock n' roll groups of all time.
In telling a good story it must also be entertaining and The Fifth Beatle is just that. As for wishing I could add something, as of yet I have not. My focus has been to make the best painted graphic novel I could make, to do this great story and this great man justice. When the public sees this book I hope everyone knows how much we cared. That it's not a case of "oh we're going to do a book about the Beatles and it's going to be smashing". It's a very personal story that I think everyone will be able to relate to on some level.
It certainly felt impossible at times. even after the 100-page mark it still seemed like such a heavy weight on my shoulders. I didn't want to slack off in the last stretch. I kept striving to make the pages better and better. for all my family, my friends and especially for all the artists that I aspire to - I didn't want to let them down.
Nrama: Do you have any particular scenes you're exceptionally proud of in terms of how they came out?
Robinson: Well I don't mean to brag, but I guess I will.
Every scene in this book is the product of hours of research, lots of planning, and then miles of drawing and painting to get it right. I'm really proud of each one. But if I had to choose my favorite it would be the scene where Brian and John are on the beach in Spain. Just the imagery alone was really cool to illustrate. However their dialogue really moved me. It's a great bonding scene where their friendship and understanding of each other is firmly established. When I read the script it was the scene I was looking forward to the most.
Nrama: There are plans for a film adaptation as well. Are you assisting on the film in any way?
Robinson: In regards to the film, my artwork is being shown to prospective directors and down the line I may be involved in some capacity, but it really hasn't been discussed yet. And I'm still caught up in my personal victory of having completed this massive project.
Nrama: What are you hoping fans take away from this after they've read it?
Robinson: I hope they learn something about Brian and the Beatles that they didn't know. I also hope they learn something about themselves- I certainly did. Hope they're inspired. I hope that this book is a book you want to look at again and again. It has a lot of subtleties that should be deserving of a second, third, fourth glance.
A special edition of The Fifth Beatle will be released November 19th through Dark Horse's M Press, followed by standard hardcover and then paperback in the first week in December. All three versions are available now for pre-order on Amazon.