Mr. Vertigo Reviews 53: Rosalie Lightning – A Graphic Memoir; The Fifth Beatle – The Brian Epstein Story

rosalie-lightningRosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
by Tom Hart
St. Martin’s Press, 2016

Tom Hart’s daughter Rosalie died suddenly of Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC) just before her second birthday. This memoir is his attempt to honestly chronicle the shock and grief he and his wife Leela went through. It’s a harrowing emotional story, full of raw feelings of deep loss that I can only imagine as a parent myself. It might be unbearable if that was all the story was about, but it is lightened by Hart’s fond memories of Rosalie, which counterbalance the grieving all the way through the book.

It’s very much a family story. The family had just moved to Gainesville, Florida from New York City. Leela was finishing a book, and the couple was having trouble selling their NYC condominium, which they needed to do to get out of debt. As the story develops, the real estate problem especially continues to vex them, grieving or not. I have seen commentary calling this aspect of the story a distraction. But I feel that Hart needed to talk about this to fully establish the stress he and his wife were going through. It is also something most couples can relate to, even if they have not had children.

I can’t say it’s a perfect book. It reminds me of Alison Bechdel’s two family memoirs (Fun Home and Are You My Mother?) in that way. The emotions are almost too raw to completely organize into a coherent narrative; sometimes they just fly off in different directions. There’s no pat closure here, either, just some movement in the direction of acceptance. But it’s still a powerful statement, a serious attempt to grapple artistically with a loss almost too large to bear.

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fifth-beatleThe Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Vivek J. Tiwary, writer; Andrew C. Robinson, illustrations; Kyle Baker, illustrations.
M Press, 2013

I saw the creators (Tiwary and artist Andrew Robinson) give a presentation on it at HeroesCon the summer before it was first released. It was an interesting look at the creation of the book, and their enthusiasm was infectious. I’m embarrassed it took so long to get to it, but better late than never.

I think to fully appreciate the story you have to have lived through the period–but being a Beatles fan, even after the fact, would be enough to get what the creators were going for. Fans at the time all knew that Brian Epstein was the Beatles’ manager, but from the outside his influence on their career was not fully appreciated. He was not only their biggest booster during the early years, but also played a pivotal role in getting them the exposure they needed to become something bigger than a regional act. His ability to order copies of their records for his family’s record store might be seen as a conflict of interest nowadays, but that and other grassroots efforts to stimulate record sales and radio play likely had considerable weight.

This really is Brian Epstein’s story, to such an extent that the Beatles themselves become bit players. As a musician and fan I was a bit disappointed by the minimal coverage of the music itself. There’s no discussion about drummer Pete Best being replaced by Ringo Starr, for example, and nothing about their relationship to producer George Martin. And once Robinson moves beyond reference photos of Beatles performances there are guitars shown that did not exist during the period (an extremely common mistake in comics about music, along with completely inaccurate musical notation).

All that being said, the book is mostly a joy. Epstein certainly had a dark side. As a gay man and a Jew he was an outsider, despite being a central figure in Swinging London in the 60s. The book does not shy away from his struggles with his identity, nor from the drugs he increasingly relied upon to cope. It was finally an overdose of drugs combined with alcohol that caused his premature death–there is a hallucinogenic imagining of his experience while dying. Yet the story manages to still emphasize Epstein’s joy at the Beatles’ success, and his role in achieving it. No Beatles fan should miss this.

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