It’s 1960 in Hamburg, Germany and Klaus and Astrid love all things French — the literature, the films, the art, anything. But one night, Klaus discovers an English rock-and-roll band playing in a seedy nightclub and begs Astrid to come along. They become enamored with the music and eventually work up the courage to talk to these young English musicians, otherwise known as The Beatles. And so begins a long friendship that blossoms as The Beatles struggle through their early career, trying to make a name for themselves. Astrid especially connects with the band’s reluctant bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe. The two develop a romance and Astrid helps Stuart revive his art career before eventually parting ways with the band.
Baby’s In Black by Arne Bellstorf tells the story of the early years of the music phenomenon The Beatles. Rather than a straight biography, however, Bellstorf chooses to focus on the love story between Astrid Kirchherr, best known for taking some of the early iconic photographs of the band, and Stuart Sutcliffe, the band’s first bassist who left before their explosive success. While readers do get some glimpses of the band’s early exploits, the relationship at the core of the book grounds the narrative and gives it much more emotional heft. Coming in to the story with no real knowledge of The Beatles’ early history, I found this to be a fascinating read, prompting me to do some further research on Astrid, Klaus, Stuart, and the rest of the band.
Bellstorf’s crisp black and white illustrations really evoke the 1960s and the emerging counter culture. They are at once both playful and somber, feelings which mirror the storyline. As stated in the book, Astrid’s favorite color is black and she prefers to shoot with black and white film, so the choice is very appropriate. It’s easy to see the influence of Astrid’s photos on Bellstorf’s characterizations.
Despite the high-profile pop-culture subject, this is really a quiet, atmospheric book. It should be an easy sell for Beatles fans, but will definitely also appeal to fans of music in general, 1960s aficionados, and people who enjoy realistic graphic novels, despite the subject matter.
Baby’s In Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles in Hamburg
by Arne Bellstorf
First Second, 2012