Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black is set in 1960-62, when The Beatles were honing their musical skills by playing long sets every night in a dive bar in the red light district of Hamburg, Germany. It's a slice of pop culture history, created in graphic novel format by German artist Arne Bellstorf.

At that time, The Beatles were comprised of John, Paul, George, Pete Best (on drums) and Stu Sucliffe (on bass). A couple of young German friends, Klaus Voortman and Astrid Kirchherr, started going almost nightly to hear them. They eventually got to know the band members very well. Astrid took photos of them (and would go on to be one of The Beatles premier photographers). Astrid and Stu fell in love; this is mostly a story about them.

I love the energy and immediacy of this biography. There's plenty of Beatles trivia too, like George being sent home to England by the German authorities because he was underage (17). And the reason why the band is called the Beat Brothers on their very first recording (backing Tony Sheridan on "My Bonnie").

Here's a bit of dialogue from when the band is first invited to sit with Astrid and Klaus during a break in the music:

John Lennon - "Where did you get them black turtlenecks?"
Klaus - "I bought this one at the flea market in Paris."
John - "And did you get your hair cut there?"
Klaus - "No. Astrid cut my hair."

Later, Astrid cuts Stu's hair too. Apparently, the rest of The Beatles copied the hairstyle afterwards, although that's not told in Baby's in Black. Black, by the way, is Astrid's favourite colour.

Bellstorf's art is in velvety blacks with scribbled graphite shadings. Sometimes the marks go outside the panel borders--an appropriate touch for this free-spirited group of young people who are metaphorically colouring outside the lines. Deep black clothes and accented eyes capture the mod vibe, and smudgy graphite is perfect for the pervasive cigarette smoke.

Listen to some early Beatles, let your hips shake, and your experience of stepping back in time will be complete.

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