The Beatles Story
Angus Allan (Writer), Arthur Ranson (Artist)
Rebellion/The Treasury of British Comics
Ever since Beatlemania began in 1963, comics has watched, recorded, and re-interpreted the Fab Four. It started very early on, with the now defunct Dell Comics 1964, a sanitized one-shot biography of The Beatles. But it has included everything from Yellow Submarine movie tie-ins to comic appearances and team-ups with superheroes as varied as Superman, Herbie Popnecker, and Watchmen’s Silk Spectre to artistic biographies of those in their circle, like their early friend/photographer/de-facto stylist Astrid Kirchherr (Arne Bellstorf’s Baby’s in Black) and their manager Brian Epstein (Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson’s The Fifth Beatle). Then there was that time Marvel decided they were invading Skrulls.
Given that rich and often wacky history, Angus Allan and Arthur Ranson’s The Beatles Story—a 1981-1982 biography originally published in the British magazine Look-In and recently republished by Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics imprint—is not the most interesting piece of Beatles comics paraphernalia. Actually, to me it was pretty damn boring. I may not be the best judge of this. I’ve read multiple Beatles biographies and watched several Beatles biopics, many of which go more in-depth, tell juicer stories or just spin a tale about The Beatles, whether truth-based or speculative, in a more artistic way. The best part of The Beatles Story is Ranson’s art, but to be fair that art is quite worthwhile.
As explained in the slim, 55-page volume’s afterword, The Beatles Story is about the “myth, not the reality” of The Beatles. It starts with the birth of John Lennon in the midst of a 1940 air raid, then goes into all of the group members’ boyhoods in Liverpool and their early years in various skiffle groups and nights performing in German red-light district bars. From there it hits the big highlights/turning points of their careers, Epstein discovering them via a customer asking for a copy of an obscure record where they played backup, their tour of America and appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, their successful albums and films, their failed business ventures, and their breakup.
There’s a lot missing in the highlights, especially if you’re searching out Beatles-critical media. John’s marriage to Cynthia Powell is mentioned, but not the time he hit her or her pregnancy that necessitated the marriage, and when John marries Yoko Ono, the narration just says his marriage to Cynthia had become “strained.” None of their infidelities are mentioned, nor is Epstein’s homosexuality. The forcing out of previous band members, like Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best, comes off as far less acrimonious than in other accounts. There’s no way Best, who was the consultant on a movie version of The Beatles’ early years that spends several scenes showcasing how amazing he was, responded to his firing by essentially saying, “Well, I guess you eventually had to figure out I stunk.” I wouldn’t mind the whitewashing if the script was more interesting, but the only time Allan seems to be having fun is when he’s quoting The Beatles making jokes during interviews.
Still, the art by Ranson, who previously worked on the legendary British comic Judge Dredd, does make The Beatles Story at least worth a look. One could be cynical and say most of what Ranson does is copy contemporaneous photographs, but I can’t say the black-and-white, cross-hatched inked reproductions aren’t striking. Even when the expressions of the people became a bit silly in the translation, I was struck by how beautiful the book looked.
If The Beatles Story were a nostalgia piece on the quintessentially British band—the first installment came out the year after Lennon was murdered—the comic itself would work very well to stir nostalgia for a specific, quintessential style of British comic art. That alone makes it worthy of preservation, if not unqualified celebration.