Thinking back over what I've blogged about these past two years, I'm not sure I've ever written about my deep and unending love for The Beatles and most things related. I also don't think I've written very much about books. So, today I thought I'd write up a little bit about a gorgeous graphic novel I read not too long ago. It's called Baby's in Black by the German comic artist and illustrator Arne Bellstorf and tells the story of the relationship Stuart Sutcliffe (original bassist for The Beatles and John's close friend) and Astrid Kirchherr.
October 1960, Hamburg
Astrid Kirchherr has finished studying fashion and is working as an assistant for her former lecturer, the photographer Reinhart Wolf. Her relationship with Klaus Voormann, a young graphic artist, has long since been punctuated by arguments and is slowly disintegrating. One evening, after yet another fight, Klaus leaves the flat and roams through the city alone. In the might of the night, he's once more standing at Astrid's door, desperate to tell her what he has just discovered in St. Pauli: five young Englishmen playing rock 'n' roll under the name of The Beatles...
After a series of conversations with Astrid Kirchherr, Arne Bellstorf developed a pictorial narrative focusing on both the Hamburg subculture of the early sixties and the tragic love story between the young photographer and the musician and artist Stuart Sutcliffe.
I must admit I only knew Astrid and Stuart's story through the 1994 film Backbeat starring Stephen Dorff and Sheryl Lee, which is not entirely historically accurate. I also picked up a little through various texts on The Beatles I read when I first became mega-obsessed with them. But you don't need to know the story at all (in my opinion) to enjoy this book. I should probably also add that I don't read a lot of comics/graphic novels but, every so often, one will grab my attention and, as was the case with Baby's in Black, I'm utterly enchanted.
The illustrations are absolutely, positively gorgeous (if you can't tell already, I tend to be rather effusive in my praise of things I love) and I think Bellstorf has done a wonderful job of capturing the likeness of the people he has drawn - the above picture shows John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Astrid Kirchherr (Pete Best doesn't have much of a presence in the story). There were a couple of Astrid's friends that I kept getting mixed up, though, as they had the same hairdo and all wore black! Oh and there's just the right amount of text. Speaking of text, I know it is available in German and English, but not sure of any other languages.
When I've posted about the '60s or '60s related things on this blog before, it's tended to be the colourful side of the early '60s. As you can already see, you'll find none of that in Baby's in Black - the stark black and white illustrations suit the mood of Hamburg 1960 that Bellstorf has recreated in his work. It also works well with the fact that both The Beatles, influenced by American rock 'n' roll, and Astrid and her friends, influenced by French existentialists, wore a lot of black. (There's a rather amusing quote from Astrid, which I can only find a wikipedia reference for, where she says: "Our philosophy then, because we were only little kids, was wearing black clothes and going around looking moody.")
Above is an illustration, by Bellstorf, of Stuart and Astrid and below is a photo of them both, for anyone who may not have seen them before. I know it's not the best photo to show off their facial features but hopefully you can see what I mean about Bellstorf having captured their likeness well, whilst still sticking to his own distinctive style.
Has anyone else read it? I'd be pleased to know what you thought of it if you have! And if you haven't, hopefully I've inspired you to go seek it out. (I bought my copy from Book Depository but I'm sure it's also available elsewhere).
Baby's in Black site (I think this is partly in English, partly in German but I've not looked around the whole site.)
Andi B. Goode