Meet The Beatles
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer TIM HAYES reviews Rebellion’s graphic novel The Beatles Story…
The Beatles Story
Writer: Angus Allan
Artist: Arthur Ranson
The Treasury of British Comics project from publishers Rebellion has already stepped outside adventure and fantasy territory by reprinting Ken Reid’s Faceache strip from issues of Jet, and The Beatles Story casts the net in a different direction again. Angus Allan and Arthur Ranson’s 1981 comic biography of the Fab Four ran in Look-In, the venue for a stable of strips based on ITV television series from several stalwarts of the UK comics industry, thanks to a remit to engage with younger TV viewers – viewers of ITV at any rate. Comics were a robust part of that agenda, and if The Beatles Story was a sideways step amongst Look-In’s versions of The Bionic Woman and Sapphire & Steel, it was also a comic-strip record of cultural history that had only recently concluded, with the murder of John Lennon the year before. The strip also happened to be creator-owned, a rarity in this neighbourhood, and it’s fair to assume that Allan and Ranson tackled the job with enthusiasm.
The comic is a brisk retelling of the group’s career, with Ranson’s black and white artwork working most of the time through individual static portraits and some very accurate likenesses. Weekly episode-breaks inevitably intrude a bit, marked by regular flash-forward final panels of the band in their later glory (“little did they know…”) but for the first half of the story while The Beatles build domestic success Allan finds ways to work telling biographical details into the limited space available. The second half deals with the band’s global domination, and is more overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incidents it has to contain. Any one of these events could reveal levels of creative friction and personal strife, but the strip can’t really tackle them before it has to rush on.
This makes it a plain-spoken on-the-record history, deferring to Look-In’s target audience by not looking too deeply at the personalities involved and only hinting at most of the mess and complications. Brian Epstein’s internal conflicts were the subject of The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker in 2013, and go understandably undiscussed here, while Nick Hayes’s woodcut surrealism in Woody Guthrie And The Dust Bowl Ballads tied a musician into his working class origins with more intensity than Ranson’s expert spotted blacks and realistic faces are aiming for. But The Beatles Story has different goals than either of those, telling a youthful comics readership something about the music they heard and cultural waves that had broken before some of them were born. It’s also a reminder that mass-market comics used to do that job from the shelves of every newsagent, and do it well.
The Beatles Story is out from the end of February…