THE BEATLES #1 September-November 1964
Unknown photographer, original artist

Okay, okay--so I'm NOT Mort Drucker! Hey, when it comes to caricatures, I may not even qualify as SAM Drucker! Still, I had to give this cover a go, if only to use it as an excuse to discuss this noteworthy dose of four-color first wave Beatlemania. Yeah, as I've stated repeatedly, I was indeed front and center when the Lads initially conquered the colonies, and yeah, I was also systematically haunting the comics' spinner racks by the time this biographical extravaganza was unleashed onto America's newsstands, but no, I didn't buy a copy.

Because, hard as it may be to believe, I NEVER even saw a copy!?! OF COURSE I would've grabbed one up eagerly had I but caught even a passing glimpse of that tell-tale logo, but somehow, inexplicably, that just never happened. Instead, I was reduced to covertly buying magazines saddled with names such as TEEN TALK, DIG, and the ever-reliable 16 merely to maintain my Beatles fix in those early, pre-ROLLING STONE days. Bad enough that, as a perhaps-too-devout Marvel fan, I had to purchase my MILLIE THE MODEL comics on the sly, but buying these girlie-oriented teen mags, well, the whole unpalatable situation could prove to be a mighty strain at times. But for the Beatles, hey, the sacrifice was worth it. So if I had had any inkling whatsoever of this very special comics' existence, you've GOTTA know I would've jumped right on it! But no, I was totally unaware of it, and remained that way for many, many years. In point of fact, I'd never actually even READ this officially sanctioned retelling of the tale of John, Paul, George, and Ringo until two short nights ago!?!...

Now, I HAD had it in my possession for, um, quite a while longer than that, as my ever generous--and saintly patient--pal Rocco Nigro could tell you, as the copy in question belongs to him. He kindly lent it to me because A.) he knew I'd never actually seen a copy, B.) that I'd be anxious to read it, C.) that I'd probably come up with some sort of a "Dateline:@#$%" strip focusing on it, and D.) mainly because I kept pestering him to!

Ultimately, I disproved reason "B", as I was determined NOT to read it until I was thoroughly ready to do something with it, and, well, I kept putting these grandiose if vague plans of mine off time and time again. Finally, though, with the gala 40th anniversary fast approaching on the horizon, I sat down and tried my best to turn the four Fab fellas on Dell's front cover photo into recognizable Hembeckian analogs of the Liverpool quartet. Well, having accomplished that to the best of my meager ability, I knew the time I'd long awaited had arrived--it was finally time to sit down and READ the blamed comic! What ELSE could I say, but, yeah, yeah, yeah!!..

Not that I was by any means totally oblivious to the book's contents. I was well aware that it was both pencilled and inked by the great Joe Sinnott, an extremely talented cartoonist, who, in the years just subsequent to finishing off this monumental undertaking, would go onto great distinction as perhaps the most universally beloved of comics' legend Jack Kirby's many embellishers, and in fact, concurrently established a long favored inking style that Marvel Comics successfully utilized for decades to come. Seems to me, Joe conquered Marvel not long after the Beatles conquered America!!..

Most amusingly to me--as I once kidded Joe in a "Dateline:@#$%" strip--here was the most fervent Bing Crosby fan in the entire comics field given the plum assignment of illustrating the latest pop music rags-to-riches story, glorifying just the latest usurpers of what once was Der Bingle's undisputed crown! I've had the pleasure of being in Joe's company several times over the years, and the two things I can tell you--one, he's a very warm, ebullient individual, and two, as enthusiastic as I plainly am about MY boys, he's AT LEAST that devoted to his crooning idol!! So, Joe Sinnott winding up with the assignment to illustrate the history of the Beatles somehow equals, for me, slyly ironic chuckles! LOVED the Ol' Groaners take on "Hey Jude", Joe, but tell me--WHY did he end it with a chorus of "boo boo boo" instead of the more traditional "na na na", hmm?...

As for the artwork itself, well, y'know, Joe Sinnott isn't ordinarily a guy I'd think of when it comes time for caricatures, but after carefully perusing this job, I think it's high time I changed my thinking! Joe makes each and every Beatle look entirely recognizable, and, while clearly working from photographs, deftly manages the not-always-easy trick of successfully and smoothly integrating static reference material into a believable cartoony milieu! Given that the group had only been in the American consciousness for an extremely short period of time when Joe received this no-doubt-rush-rush-rush assignment--and really, who knew they'd indelibly lodge themselves there seemingly in perpetuity at the time?--his interpretations of these now-iconic individuals stands up remarkably well! Oh, sure, some of the settings--early gigs in various nightclubs, foreign locations, family households--don't match up with we've come to learn in the years following as this tale has been told and retold, but given what limited material he no doubt had to work with, illustrator Sinnott did an exemplary job!

His likeness of McCartney, certainly not the easiest one to capture, is nonetheless spot on throughout. Ringo, of course, is an artist's dream, so no problem there. His George Harrison also more than passes muster (save for one slightly skewed panel wherein the guitarist, about to raise a fork full of food to his mouth, somehow exudes a sinister look that would be more appropriate coming from an EC horror host than a Merseybeat group member! Hmm--wonder just WHAT ol' George was about to chomp down on? Could it be...PEOPLE?!?...). Oddly, I'd say John Lennon gave the artist his greatest challenge. More often than not, he looks fine, but there are occasions when the singer's hooked nose and slight double chin seem to emphasized a bit more than one might expect. If Joe gets straight "A"s on the other three, let's just give him a "B plus" on Lennon, okay? (And please, let's NOT grade my attempt, okay? If you do, I'll just have to convince myself that the "F' is for "Fred", so just save me the trouble, and let's not go there, oke doke? Thanks.)

I was plenty impressed, however, with Sinnott's ability to maintain each Beatles' distinctive facial characteristics in the sections wherein the script called for them to be depicted as boys. He clearly doesn't have photos at his disposal to aid him in these four extended sequences, yet he still manages to capture something about each one that makes them unique, simultaneously appearing to be logical digressions of their familiar adult features.

Averaging 3 or 4 panels per page, Joe likewise does a commendable job keeping the (mostly static) action moving, as history-in-the-making tumbles feverishly across the paltry 64 pages allotted to tell this modern day Cinderella--or is that "CinderFellas"?--story. Going from short, self-contained vignettes, to more far-ranging, seemingly disconnected events, penciller Sinnott keeps the storytelling moving smoothly, briskly, and effortlessly! Simply put, the artwork on this book is first-rate, even better than what I originally expected it to be despite the high regard I already had for Joe's work.

But what about the story? Writing a comic book script in 1964 summing up the group's whirlwind success to that point was undoubtedly no easy task, and one might think, reading the results forty years later, following a virtual avalanche of tomes on the topic, researched from every every nook and cranny of the band's history, this funny-book version would have to be riddled with laughable gaffes and cringe-inducing hype.

Yeah, you might think that, but no, not really. Oh, to be sure, there ARE errors, some small, some large, and a fair amount falling under the category of omission, but I found the book to be a rather even-handed--if by it's very nature, flattering--account of the unprecedented rise of Beatlemainia. And, even, in some small way, totally unique...

For instance, the topic of childhood. Given the enormity of the story that, all these years after the fact, must be recounted for the Nth time, most retellings just hit the headlines dealing with this area--Pauls' mom died, so did John's, and Ringo was sick a whole lot--and then swiftly move on to the good stuff. Well, when this book was being assembled, there wasn't nearly all that much good stuff--at least, compared to later on--so each Beatle receives a short but pivotal section to themselves, reviewing some of their childhood activities (and, frankly, soft-pedaling both Lennon and McCartney's family tragedies), easing into some quirky factoids about each one, their hopes for the future, and, of course, describing the sort of girl they each would one day hope to take as their wives (except, of course, for the already married Lennon--no hint of his appetite for Japanese avant-garde artists with a penchant for dressing in white manages to sneak in...).

But do you know what DID wind up there? Well, did you know that Paul will only wear black socks? And likes his pants to be tight, REAL tight? And someday hopes to live in a home equipped with a swimming pool shaped like a guitar? Uh huh. And that George always had a mild case of tonsillitis on his birthday, gathering his chums around his sick bed with him to eat ice cream and cake during his adolescence? That he quit school to apprentice as an electrical engineer, but kept blowing things up? And that he hopes to someday design an instrument called "The Harrison Guitar"? Yup. Or that on school holidays, John worked as a laborer in Hanover, Germany? That among his favorite foods are jelly and corn flakes? And occasionally, when on tour, he ducks into an art museum? Yesirree. And that Ringo was unusually skilled at making baskets and pottery? And thought about becoming a racing driver, but stopped when he realized he didn't possess a driver's license? That he rarely speaks in public, but greets a newcomer with a solemn wink? And that he never combs his famed Beatles haircut, but merely has to shake his head vigorously for it to fall into place? True, apparently.

Did you know ANY of this stuff? I sure didn't--but I might've, if I'd had the good fortune to pick this comic up back in 1964. Sure, a lot of it is the sort of fodder one finds filling the pages of teen magazines, but at the same time, seemingly insignificant facts like these go a long way in humanizing larger-than-life figures like the Beatles. It gives the reader something to relate to--"Hey, I like jelly, too, y'know! AND I also wink! And heaven knows, my pants can never, ever be too tight, either!..."--carefully bringing the idols down to a level a tad closer to the acolytes, dig? The script accomplishes this task nicely, while still weaving a mostly accurate recounting of the band's formative days, all the while utilizing some of their most famous quips...

Hamburg, the Nurk Twins, "My Bonnie"--even Pete Best and his mom's club, the Casbah: they're all there. Missing however, are the doomed Stu Sutcliffe, the impetus for their radical hair style, Tony Sheridan, the reason for the switch-over to Ringo (we're ALL still waiting on THAT one...), and somehow, Ed Sullivan's name is absent, as the script has the group conquering these shores merely by appearing on "American television". Also, Pete Best is drawn as a generic looking blond teen idol, and Joe's Brian Epstein doesn't quite capture the manager's cultured persona. As for outright mistakes, the biggest one I spotted was assigning the band's first number one song, "Please Please Me", the role of B-side to their far less successful debut single, "Love Me Do". And then there's THIS clearly unintentional typo on the next to last page, one that sent me howling:

"The Beatles appearance on American television sent the ratings SOURING..."

I believe the word they were groping for was "soar"--y'know, like Paul sings in his version of "Til There Was You"?...

All in all, quite the swell little artifact. Dell must've thought so too, as they packed in several extra pages of pin-up photos, and charged the virtually unheard-of-for-'64-price of 35 cents for their deluxe funny-book! Why, the only OTHER comic I can ever recall asking that high a cover price back in those days was a special publication put out by Gilberton, the "Classics Illustrated" folks. I believe the title of THAT particular book was "The Story of Jesus"...

And no, I'm NOT going to speculate on WHICH of those four-color bios proved to be the more popular! I think we've learned THAT lesson all too well!...