Recent Comics Inspired by the Beatles

Lucy in the Sky

Writer Kiara Brinkman and illustrator Sean Chiki craft the early history of the Fab Four . . . not that quartet, but the all-girl Strawberry Jam.  Lucy Sutcliffe’s life has not been running smoothly.  A seventh grader, she feels increasingly separated from her friends, Vanessa Takahashi and Rupa Khanna.  Vanessa’s discovered boys, and Rupa has been undergoing continuing trouble with her immigrant parents.  And like many adolescents Ruby feels pain from having divorced parents.  Worse, though, is watching her grandmother, the family anchor, suffer through chemotherapy.  What to do?

Upon finding her father’s Beatles records, Lucy, a drummer, decides to form a band with Vanessa and Rupa.  The fourth member, then, is guitarist Georgianna Birk.  The road’s not always smooth though.  Rivalries and love lives challenge the group’s bond.  Indeed, readers will find parallels to the Beatles’ bumpy history and Easter eggs, Ruby’s surname, for example. Additionally, Brinkman infuses direct history into the narrative, helping newcomers understand why the Beatles continue influencing culture decade after decade.

Overall, this coming-of-age story . . . well . . . rocks.  The creators intend it for middle-school ages, but adults will enjoy Lucy in the Sky equally.  Maybe Lucy’s predicaments will remind them of how they first discovered the Beatles, or they’ll reconnect with whatever music, literature, or art dulls the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?  Also, I appreciate how the Beatles collection she unearths gives Ruby insight into her father.  During high school, I bonded with my father through male-adventure series, especially Don Pendleton’s The Executioner series.  I’m not sure I’d like them much now, but they’re quick enough reading to find out.  May Lucy in the Sky bring you similar delights.

The Beatles in Comic Strips

Enzio Gentile and Fabio Schiavo have compiled two-hundred examples from Beatles comics, from all periods of Beatles history, from all over the world.  The book’s sorted into decades, and the authors include timelines related to Beatles events during each section, as well as brief introductory paragraphs, but overall, the whole is filled with excerpts from the Beatles’ many comic appearances.

Critics have dinged Gentile and Schiavo for not providing translations and for formatting issues.  Trinia Yannicos from Daytrippin’ Beatles Magazine states:

            . . . only about 25% of the comics included have substantial Beatles content in English, and in many cases, the entire comic is not visible.  The is due to the fact that a small graphic of the cover of each comic book is placed right on top of the actual comic strip. Many times, as you’re reading the comic strip, the full story of the strip is unreadable since one of the captions is covered by a picture of the cover.

Independent reviewer Rob Imes adds:

Since the material comes from all over the globe, the comics pages are written in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and so forth — none of which is translated. So unless you are multilingual, there are a few pages in here that — unless a Beatle is clearly shown — you may wonder why it was selected for inclusion. Unfortunately, some pages were evidently    thought worthy of inclusion if they simply mentioned the title of a Beatles song. For example, a Doom Patrol page from 2000 is included because Robotman calls a villain “the Sgt. Pepper of the senior set!” An Evil Ernie page from 1998 is here because a character says, “The first stop on our Magical Mystery Tour. Follow me. I have a limo waiting.” Luckily I can read English and figure out why the page was included (slight though I may think that reasoning); I have less luck on some of the pages written in other languages.

I’m not sure the authors intended to make hypotheses about the subject through The Beatles in Comics or to provide a study at all.  Instead, with their compilation they highlight how influential the Beatles have been within this medium.  Like any other medium, that scope has been massive and varied.  I mean no insult when I call this oversized volume a coffee-table book, meant for entertainment and visual pleasure more than edification, though it does the latter.  I can find translations on my own, and if curious enough I can seek out deeper materials related to anything Gentile and Schiavo have given us.  So, relax.  Have fun.

Paul Is Dead

October 12, 1969, Detroit Michigan, WKNR Radio: DJ Russ Gibb engages a caller who told him to play the White Album, specifically the number nine, number nine, number nine from “Revolution 9” backwards.  Gibbs heard the words, “Turn me on, dead man.”  Thus began the conspiracy surrounding Paul McCartney’s supposed death.

Other songs were assumed to hold clues.  The theory was that in 1966 Paul was killed in an auto accident, and the band hired an imposter to replace him.  Years later (1974), McCartney told Rolling Stone, “Someone from the office rang me up and said, ‘Look, Paul, you’re dead.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with that.’”

Fans saw evidence everywhere.  Paul’s barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road, holding a cigarette with his left hand, although he’s righthanded.!  And he’s out of step with the other Beatles!  Aha!  And John Lennon himself offers more proof at the end of “Glass Onion” when he sings, “Here’s another clue for you all / The Walrus was Paul!”  I mean, how can you not see this??????  Well, probably because you have your senses under control.

At the time, Paul was relaxing in Scotland.  In the same interview with Rolling Stone that I cite above, he recalls:

They said, ‘Look, what are you going to do about it? It’s a big thing breaking in America. You’re dead.’ And so I said, leave it, just let them say it. It’ll probably be the best publicity we’ve ever had, and I won’t have to do a thing except stay alive. So I managed to stay alive through it.

In 2019, Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone writes:

John Lennon, calling the same Detroit radio station on October 26th, fumed, “It’s the most stupid rumor I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the same guy who blew up my Christ remark.” John denied any coded messages (“I don’t know what Beatles records sound like backwards; I never play them backwards”) or that he was the preacher at a funeral. “They said I was wearing a white religious suit. I mean, did Humphrey Bogart wear a white religious suit? All I’ve got is a nice Humphrey Bogart suit.” John’s pique was understandable — he was releasing his solo single “Cold Turkey” (the record where he finally ditched the “Lennon-McCartney” credit) and his Wedding Album with Yoko. The last thing on earth he wanted to talk about was Paul’s bare feet.

Writer Paolo Baron and artist Ernesto Carbonetti mine this legendary episode for their Paul Is Dead, imagining what would have happened if John Lennon truly had received news that Paul died in a car wreck.  Quite a bold undertaking, no doubt.  The plot abounds with silliness, but readers still experience deep views about the grieving process, the band’s internal workings, and, why not, noir-infused suspense.

The story recounts just a few days.  We see John getting the news about Paul’s death, and how he experiences anger, denial, the natural reactions stemming from loss.  We even see John interviewing potential Paul replacements, shooting for the perfect McCartney doppelgänger.  Not all is as it seems, however, and then comes a twisted denouement that makes me wonder if I was experiencing a contact high, since Lennon uses LSD at one point.

Carbonetti’s art style appropriately honors that from the period surrounding Paul Is Dead, with enough surreal tones to match Baron’s narrative.  A favorite scene involves John hanging upside down in the Abbey Road studio, striving for a vocal quality he wants for recording.  Beatles fans need this comic for their collections, even if only the collected, trade edition.  Let it be (ahem).