For almost 80 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose joins the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network to explore the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.

This week, it’s a graphic novel telling a legendary origin story — but this ain’t no superhero book…

cover to BABY'S IN BLACKThe ”before they were famous” narrative is a mainstay of writing about popular culture, and accounts of the Beatles’ residency in Hamburg are at the head of that canon.

Like all such stories, the Hamburg narrative lets us look at familiar subjects in new ways. It restores to the lads from Liverpool some of the sexy-dangerous aura that faded from them as the Sixties ground on — caftans, love beads, and bad mustaches still in some hazy future, the Fab Four still Five, leather-clad shagmonsters, greasy-quiffed, tearing through six sets a night, ripped to the tits on speed, lager, and their own intoxicating youth. It provides fodder for hypotheticals — if Stu Sutcliffe had stayed with the group, had he not died so young — for when history alone can no longer satisfy. And it allows us to perform a sort of reverse detective act, tracing the evidence found in the past to reconstruct the future, predicting the shapes of the exit wounds from reminiscences of bullets that were as yet safely in their chambers.

The story of the Beatles and the Kaiserkeller has been told in countless biographies, in photographs (notably the gorgeous, limited-edition collection When We Was Fab), and in fictionalized films like Backbeat. Now the German cartoonist Arne Bellstorf takes up the tale, with his graphic novel Baby’s In Black.

But the Beatles — the Beatles as we know them, anyway — are only supporting characters here. Baby’s In Black is set entirely in Hamburg, focusing mainly on Astrid Kirchherr, the young German artist and photographer who becomes the band’s first stylist, cutting their hair in that iconic mop and designing their famous collarless suits; on Klaus Voorman, graphic artist and scenester, himself an aspiring musician; and on the individual who falls into their orbit and, eventually, out of the Beatles — Stuart Sutcliffe, the art-school chum of John Lennon’s who briefly holds down the bass chair for the band.

Though Sutcliffe never set foot in a recording studio, he was, in a way, the prototype for the postmodern rock star. He had relatively little interest in (and less aptitude for) music, but he was James Dean-handsome, with a thousand-yard stare behind coal-black shades, and it must be said he wore his bass guitar divinely…

 Read the rest of this article at Kirkus Reviews!

And for an alternate take, our own Johnny Bacardi considers the book here.

About the Author

Jack Feerick

Critic at Large

Jack Feerick — editor, proofreader, freelance know-it-all, and three-time Jeopardy! champion — lives with his family somewhere in upstate New York, where he plays in a rock 'n' roll band and occasionally runs his mouth on local radio. You can listen to more of his work on Soundcloud, if you like.

View All Articles