The Beatles changed everything. It’s hard to imagine today, more than a half century later, the impact the four working-class Liverpool lads had on an entire generation that was there to experience Beatlemania in real time.
Acclaimed Cincinnati-based cartoonist Carol Tyler was one of the millions forever altered by The Beatles’ now-iconic 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The reverberations of that moment were deep and lasting, infecting those who witnessed it in ways not seen before. Or since.
“In The Beatles, I found something that really struck me as authentic,” Tyler says about that time. “There was no denying it. I felt shifted within, and I could stand firm with that. I wasn’t going to be told, ‘This is no good. Turn that stuff off.’ No! I knew it was good. They were mine.”
Tyler’s latest graphic novel, Fab4 Mania: A Beatles Obsession and the Concert of a Lifetime, grew out of a small book she made at age 13 — then called 37 Minutes of Madness! — about seeing the foursome live in 1965. It’s a fascinating and intimate portrait of one girl’s perspective at a time when music and culture were changing radically. Tyler’s trademark pen-and-ink illustrations accentuate her handwritten story — a narrative that focuses on the weeks leading up to and including The Beatles’ appearance at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, which was about an hour south of where the author grew up with her family in Fox Lake, Ill.
“It’s difficult when you’re the youngest child in a very busy family that has issues with unresolved trauma and stress,” Tyler says of her home life at the time. “I came to know through the years that my dad had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the military. My mother had unresolved grief from the trauma of losing her first child.”
Tyler channeled the strained relationship with her father into her acclaimed magnum opus, You’ll Never Know, a three-volume first-person account (published between 2009-2012) that doesn’t shy away from tough, emotionally piercing material.
A slightly tweaked version of the trilogy, renamed Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father — A Daughter’s Memoir, was reissued by her longtime publisher Fantagraphics in 2015. It was the capper to a decades-long road from being an underappreciated chronicler of “female stories” — she was often labeled the “wife of Justin Green,” himself a heralded underground cartoonist — to a singular artist in her own right.
While some might see Fab4 Mania as trivial in light of Soldier’s Heart, that’s in part what Tyler intended.
“Some reviewer said that, ‘This book lacks the depth of Tyler’s earlier work.’ I was like, ‘Yay!’ It’s not supposed to be about depth. It’s supposed to be about the fun and excitement of that time,” Tyler says. “I didn’t have any drama at 13. It was a very different time. My world was very small. And then The Beatles appeared.”
When asked if surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are aware of Fab4 Mania, Tyler seems to transform back to her 13-year-old self.
“I would love for them to see it because the screaming girls must have seemed like one big mass,” Tyler says. “But this is just one girl, and I wonder how that would be for them to see how boring and normal and excited we were. I’ve thought about what I would say if by some fluke they contacted me and said (she employs a faux English accent), ‘Oh, Carol, this is some fabulous work. You’re so cheeky. I love it!’ ”
The Beatles opened Tyler’s heart and mind to a previously unknown world — an opening that still inspires her life and work to this day.
“I am always reaching for the best I can do,” Tyler says. “I try to be innovative. I go deep with my content but it’s never dour or a downer. It’s always an affirmation of what’s possible in a situation or with a person. I found that in them — the pure joy of being and creating.”
Fab4 Mania is available in stores and on bookseller websites. For more information, visit: fantagraphics.com