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Review: ‘The Beatles Story’

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The Beatles Story
Written by Angus Allan, illustrated by Arthur Ranson
Rebellion, $17.99

It’s an amazing period we live in, one where great comics from all eras are reprinted in book format and much more easily available than they used to be. The flip side of that boom in collected format is that a lot of publishers are sweeping the corners of the archives to find anything that might reach an audience.

The Beatles Story feels like a cash-in, but that may be a side effect of how work from an earlier era wasn’t designed to work in long form later. These pieces were originally published in 1981 in weekly installments in Look-In magazine, a publication aimed at young people and featuring information on TV shows and pop stars.

The Beatles Story

This non-fiction comic presents the formation of the band, getting started with recording, working to break through, and the beginning of Beatlemania. Although the films and later albums and fights and eventual break-up are mentioned, the focus is on the early years. Those are the more pleasant memories, chosen perhaps because, when this was originally published, John Lennon had been dead only a year.

The history is superficial, as it would have to be in only fifty pages. Events come fast, without much space to think about what changes would feel like to live through. Because this was written for a younger audience, the more unpleasant aspects, such as John Lennon’s troubled relationship with his mother, or Stu Sutcliffe’s death, are glossed over or mentioned in passing. And it’s three-quarters of the way through when we hear of the Beatles breaking in America by playing on Ed Sullivan’s show.

The parts that make the Beatles truly world-changing — their transformation of the rock album into concept art, the beginning of celebrity culture, moving from touring to video art, their cultural trend-setting with meditation and other lifestyle changes — are barely mentioned. Another problem, of course, is that there’s no music. It’s difficult to understand the ups and downs without a soundtrack, as their song styles changed and developed.

The reason to read this at this point would be the amazing linework of Ranson. It often appears photo-inspired or traced, but that makes sure the likenesses are correct. Many of the panels don’t really integrate the art and text, with illustrations plastered with captions.

Now that it’s been over fifty years since the band became known, one wonders what the audience will think of The Beatles Story. Older adults will already know most of what’s covered and find some of the best-known images, in particular, overly familiar. Young people may be uninterested, finding the whole thing quaint and irrelevant. Perhaps existing fans will enjoy revisiting the well-known pictures and events.

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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