from graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith:
Arne Bellstorf’s graphic novel history of a very early chapter in the career of the Beatles introduces Americans not only to the feel and look of the group’s German premier, but also gives us a fine intro to a well recognized creator in today’s German comics. While we have seen increasing availability of contemporary work in translation from Belgium, France and Israel, this is among the first to reach general readers from Germany. And certainly seeing and hearing the story of the Beatles’ earliest days, which took place on stages in Hamburg’s bars, offers a genuine sense of place.
Beyond the finely detailed street scenes, band posters, and interactions among the original band members and their German hosts, we get a good look at West Germany at a time when it has been made a politically recharged nation: the Berlin Wall was erected only months before the Beatles’ premier; the town of Hamburg looks almost provincial in exterior scenes; yet the coffee shops and bars are rife not only with cigarette smoke but with political concerns.
Bellstorf tells the story through a German friend of the Beatles, Astrid Kirchherr, adding another layer to the onion of personalized history. To add a period sound to your reading, listen to the Lennon/McCartney song, in mono, from which the book’s title is taken.
BELLSTORF, Arne. Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles. Tr. from German by Michael Waaler. 196p. First Second. May 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-771-5. LC 2011049680.
Adult/High School–In the 50 years since the Beatles entered the world stage, generations have become familiar not only with their music but also with the outline of how they came to be a group. Bellstorf, however, provides a missing chapter in that story by concentrating his attentions on Stuart Sutcliffe, one of the original band members when the group arrived in Hamburg from Liverpool, and the woman for whom he left the proto-Beatles in Germany. Through appropriately scratchy gray shadows and deep black ink, readers are introduced to Astrid Kirchherr, a photographer’s assistant (who incidentally introduced what would become the early Beatle haircut by giving Stu a new look during this period), and told how she came to meet the Beatles through her friend Klaus, who took her to see them after discovering them in a nightclub. Although John and George have necessarily highlighted roles in this history, readers stay with Astrid and Stu as they become friends and lovers, and as Stuart becomes increasingly manic and ill. The relationships among the musicians, the wannabe musician Klaus, and Astrid and her mother are all brought to life, providing a narrative texture that suits any chapter of Beatles’ history. Bellstorf keeps his images relatively simple but defining features such as noses and speaking styles help readers keep track of not just people but also moods. A best seller in Germany, this book should find audiences here with ease. Make sure your Beatles collections are in good condition.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA