There are a few bands that are recognised anywhere. There’s one in particular that will always come first if you ask the question, ‘What’s the most well-known band in the world?’ And that band started as a disparate group of cocky rock-and-roll enamoured lads in Liverpool. Obviously, I’m talking about the Beatles.
This playful and entertaining book by Finnish cartoonist Mauri Kunnas (published by Knockabout) tracks the origins and journey of the young Beatles from high-school anonymity to international renown in a comically illustrated hotchpotch of conjecture, anecdote and catch-of-the-day it-was-this-big pub talk.
It’s affectionately tongue-in-cheek, blatantly less than accurate, riotously hyperbolic and totally absorbing. It also bears the flavour of one man’s crammed, sporadically passionate arm-waving monologues, interspersed with wry commentary and inside jokes. Which is pretty much what it is.
The hand-drawn sketchy panels are crowded with detail and expression, slightly caricature-like in the depiction of their now-famous inhabitants. No doubt there are many references in the jam-packed panels that flew over my head but will leave a true musical aficionado of the time chuffed and grinning slyly.
Meanwhile, a slightly dulled and dirtied colour palette captures the grime of the Liverpool homes, streets and bars that were the first venues of the now world-famous group, while the quirky cartoonish linework reminds the reader to not take it all too seriously.
As might be expected, the comic begins with the youth of John Lennon. The rambling, frolicking, soap-opera-worthy antics of his Liverpudlian family and friends fill the first large chunk of the comic, before the Beatles have even become a name and an idea.
Perhaps slightly unfairly, none of the other band members get the time or comic back story that’s gifted to John in this rendition. He may be the main man and star, but the stories get shorter and shorter with each member until poor Ringo is left with only a page or two of introduction.
Pacing is a bit of a problem in this book. It deliberately ends just as the Beatles get their first hit single, unlike other biographies that choose to follow the rise and windfalls of fame and success. Instead, it focuses on the muddy and much less glamorous origins of the band’s progression.
Sometimes the telling of those stories gets a bit too muddy, though. Given how crammed the pages are with dialogue and exposition, as well as illustration, the similar loops of Lennon and company forming, disbanding, reforming and changing line-ups get a little lost in one another. Things perk up and get moving when the band first jumps the North Sea to Holland.
I’m not sure how much of an audience this comic will have beyond fans of the Beatles. However, for those who do have love in their hearts for Liverpool’s greatest export, this charming, cheeky and irreverent tale of youthful exuberance, ideals and misbehaviour will give them something to chuckle over, while the detail-rich backgrounds give the comic the depth to sustain it over more than one glance-through.
Mauri Kunnas (W/A) • Knockabout, £12.99, June 2014