Cartoonist Carol Tyler shows a side of Beatles history that too often gets overlooked.
In Fab 4 Mania, cartoonist Carol Tyler shows a side of Beatles history that too often gets overlooked in favor of retreads of the same facts, figures and apocryphal stories about the four lads from Liverpool. Instead of focusing on the band and its history, Fab 4 Mania is presented as a facsimile of the diary Tyler kept as a young teen in 1965. As such, the graphic novel is less about visuals in the traditional sense and more about the overall aesthetics of the time and the thoughts of a teenage girl in the mid-1960s, while providing a fully-fleshed out portrait of someone who has otherwise essentially been relegated to just another face within stock footage of screaming girls. And while revisionist history has seen the band praised by women and men alike, during the peak years of Beatlemania they were decidedly seen as being very much for young women. Tyler’s infatuation with the band is equivalent to teenybopper worship of modern boy bands and the cult of personality that exists therein.
Growing up Catholic in one of the newly-established suburbs outside of Chicago, Tyler and her family navigate the changing times, the majority of which is centered on the seismic shift that took place following the Beatles’ legendary appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February of 1964. Not surprisingly, Fab 4 Mania starts here, ground zero for Beatlemania in the United States. Throughout the course of the year, Tyler shares her thoughts on the band, school, family struggles, friendships, etc. It’s everything you’d expect to find in a young teen girl’s diary circa-1964, here augmented with the occasional illustration and loving homage to her beloved band of mop-tops.
In this sense, Fab 4 Mania proves an interesting addition to the massive library of Beatles-related books as it functions as a real-time look at the band and its public perception as seen through the eyes of their most ardent fans. Period details and the mundanity of day-to-day suburban life are given a rich life through Tyler’s first-person and diarist narrative. Contextualizing the Beatles’ mass appeal among young girls helps give life to a group who have since become something of a cultural punchline in footage of their fainting, frantic screaming and hysterical crying when faced with their beloved Beatles. Instead of being one of the nameless numbers of screaming teens, Tyler presents herself as a three-dimensional individual with thoughts, feelings and observations that go beyond the Beatles.
Of course, given the title and the book’s subject matter, the bulk of the narrative is focused on the band; she’s given to listing fan-mag stats, trivia and analysis of singles and albums in addition to reasons why certain members are her favorite. While this serves as an interesting look into the life of a teenager in the mid-‘60s, Fab 4 Mania does become rather tedious at times, as one would expect when faced with the prospect of reading someone’s teenage diary. It’s certainly an interesting way to present an otherwise well-worn look at the band’s history, moving the focus from the band to their fans and how the latter perceived the former. Everything culminates in Tyler attending the August 1965 Beatles concert at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
The days and weeks leading up to the storied event find her becoming increasing afflicted with Beatlemania, to the point of being insufferable to her family and very nearly to the modern-day reader as well. But her live-on-the-ground reportage of the concert is well worth the slow build, drawing the reader into the moment. Rather than looking at the concert with a coldly analytical approach bordering on lifeless academia, Tyler’s account underscores the personal euphoria behind the screams. The little details of the show—from the set list to what the band wore to their stage personae—are generally lacking in other Beatles’ histories. This first-person approach helps add a missing piece to the otherwise exhaustive (and exhausted) Beatles narrative.