Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black
by Arne Bellstorf

Published: 8th May, 2012
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Graphic Novel
Format: Ebook
Pages: 208


I loved the art in this graphic novel. It is black and white in a very clear, crisp way...a charcoal vibe as well but without the smudginess! It is more sketchy than smudgy and has an unfinished feel in some places. The way the characters were drawn was very distinctive and simple which gave them a bohemian feel and an imperfection. I particularly loved Klaus's rosy cheeks! It was all very clean and minimalist which suited the story perfectly and made it seem very 60's and quite classy and sophisticated as well as a bit dark and underground. 

Plot Synopsis

This graphic novel paints a portrait of the Beatles in their early years...in fact right at the very beginning of their careers before anyone has heard of them! It tells the story of the “fifth Beatle,” Stuart Sutcliffe, who falls in love with the beautiful Astrid Kirchherr when she recruits the Beatles for a sensational (and famous) photography session during their time in Hamburg.

Other things to know about this book...

  • This is all based on a true story. Astrid and Stuart really did meet in Hamburg were the Beatles were performing in a down-n-out bar and asked if she could take photos of them. They became a couple and later married, with Stuart quitting the band to focus on his painting.

Astrid and Stuart:

  • 'Baby's in Black' is a song by the Beatles. Wikipedia says: 'AMG described the song as "a love lament for a grieving girl that was perhaps more morose than any previous Beatles' song." The lyrics are about Astrid Kirchherr, a friend and photographer The Beatles met during their first trip to Hamburg. She was Stuart Sutcliffe's fiancée, and was distraught over his death.'

My Rating:


I very much enjoyed 'Baby's in Black'. Although I'm not a huge Beatles fan (not because of their music but because I feel I was born a generation too late...my dad adores them) I loved the story and found it fascinating to read about The Beatles before anyone cared about them. They are a band so engrained in British culture that they have been put up on this pedestal of greatness and reverence, so it was nice to see them depicted as normal, fun-loving young people who drink and smoke a lot! I have never seen John Lennon as this type of guy; the impression I have always had of him is taken from his later years when he became a hippy and stayed in bed with Yoko all day and wrote 'Imagine'. I liked the feelings I got from seeing them as passionate, creative, warm, silly (at times) boys, who knew what they were about and worked really hard to get the success they wanted from making music they loved.

The setting of Hamburg is also intriguing- I don't seem to read many books set in Germany that don't involve the Holocaust in some way! It made the underground music scene seem painfully cool and you just wanted to be there. I loved the panels depicting people dancing while The Beatles performed as it seemed so much more fun and rock-n-roll back then; not in a 'YEAHH ROCK AND ROLL' way, but in a spin people round and dip them while wearing a polka dot dress kind of way! Why can't people dance like that in clubs nowadays?! It was like that scene in Grease where they have the dance and everyone is doing the lifts and the hand-jive...that should be brought back! 

I loved Astrid. I loved her gorgeous pixie hair cut and the way she had a lit cigarette in her hand on every single panel. Seriously, these people never stop smoking. It's like Mad Men...everyone smoked back then and so it is authentic to portray it...no point leaving it out even though people are so against it these days (for good reasons but I like the authenticity of including it!) It also adds a bit of humour. 

Stuart and Astrid's relationship made me feel happy because they really love each other and even a language barrier doesn't prohibit them from loving each other. They are both creative and just...painfully cool. Stuart is rarely seen without his shades which is accurate going by the pictures I found in Google images! In this way I think the pictures in the novel did a really good job of conveying their love, and the growing feelings they were experiencing towards each other, as the images communicate the things they aren't able to say to each other.

I liked the way The Beatles' Englishness came through as well- they use words like 'scallies' (very Liverpudlian/Mancunian), 'blokes' and 'the lads' which all, to me, seemed to stand out as very British in the German setting. I liked that the author didn't shy away from making them look a bit awkward in their surroundings and a bit unsure of themselves; they don't understand the food and often seem like fish out of water!

If I had to make criticisms I would say that I did get quite confused between characters at times because they all look very similar! All of The Beatles look almost identical so sometimes I wouldn't know who it was who was talking! The dialogue also got a bit muddled on some panels but I think this was partly because I was reading it on my laptop which made it hard to make out the little lines which connected the dialogue box to the character.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this comic and if you love The Beatles you should definitely check it out. It did make me cry as it is very sad in places, but it really adds a new perspective to one of the most commercially successful bands ever to walk the planet and portrays them in a way that makes them feel very human.


  1. Looks good! I haven't read a graphic novel in ages, the last one was a firefly add on - cause there were two between the end of the tv series and the movie, Serenity. Thanks for sharing

  2. I have not read a graphic novel in what seems like forever. How fascinating that this one is based on a true story.

    1. If you want to read this it's on NetGalley and I don't think you even need to request it! x

  3. I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but I love GNs and really love the premise of this one. Plus, the art is really great, from what it looks like. Thanks for the review; I hadn't heard of this one!

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