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When the Beatles played Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side in the summer of 1965, Carol Tyler was just an awestruck kid. At 13, the now-established painter and award-winning cartoonist’s relationship with the Fab Four was uncomplicated: She was one of more than 70 million television viewers who watched the British act’s life-affirming performance on The Ed Sullivan Show a year earlier. From there, she morphed from reasonable Catholic school student to starry-eyed, madras-clad Beatles devotee who hoarded 45s, led a fan club chapter, and perfected a British accent. When the St. Bede nuns confiscated her fan magazines, Tyler amassed more, pasting up photos in her bedroom until a curated shrine to the band watched over her as she slept. The Beatles were her everything.
In recent years, Tyler revisited her old journals and the dusty pop culture ephemera she stockpiled back then. A massive excavation subsequently saw her writing and drawing, expounding upon her Beatles-centric diaries and creating new illustrations of those days. She kept a now-lapsed blog on the progress of her nostalgic project, and her exploration of the seven months leading up to Comiskey Park yielded Fab4 Mania: A Beatles Obsession and the Concert of a Lifetime, a full-color collection of drawings and diary entries penned from her perspective at age 13.
“Why have fans like Carol remembered those days, those feelings, so clearly and intensely?” asks authorized Beatles biographer Hunter Davies in Fab4 Mania’s introduction. “The simple answer is that it happened at a crucial stage in their early lives.”
While only partly a comics memoir, a lot of Tyler’s new work is a repository for longhand journaling. Fab4 Mania’s layouts resemble those of a scrapbook rather than mirror the structure of her award-winning Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father, which had the author sequencing events in comic panel grids. Marvelous ink and watercolored scenes here are instead single-page narrative illustrations, center-aligned and given lots of room on reproductions of her plumber father’s old company letterhead.
Tyler renders her excitable teen self as lanky and slim in Fab4 Mania, her long limbs poking out from her sky-blue school jumper. Detailed Fox Lake, Illinois landscapes or bright interiors from her parents’ home temper copy-heavy pages about school or odes to her transistor radio. Doodles in the margins are rimmed in Beatles lyrics, and ubiquitous WLS-FM radio record surveys look pasted-in amid Tyler’s blotty Meet the Beatles! LP cover paintings. Then there are the pointed critiques of whatever dreck bested the act in the charts that week. “People seem to like the Dave Clark 5,” she writes. “Half the time, I don’t know what’s the matter with people.”
Tyler is as melodramatic about her obsession as any eighth grader, and her book isn’t without spots of triviality that read like young adult fiction. But even given that and considering the glut of like-minded Beatles celebrations out there, her hangup — complete with the comparison of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan to Marian apparitions at Our Lady of Fátima — is as crisp as it is familiar. Accounts of Beatles advocacy aren’t rare, but I don’t know of many authored by women, packaged like this, or told from their teenaged selves’ perspective.
Punctuated with drawn hearts, Tyler emphasizes news in fanciful hand-lettered text about the Beatles returning to Chicago with playful bolding and caps. “There are rumors that they are coming back again this summer, and if I don’t get to see them, if I miss them again, I WILL DIE,” she writes.
There was reason for concern: Exactly one year later, in August of 1966 — just following the Beatles’ release of their visionary Revolver LP, which is flecked with tape loop experiments and Eastern influences — the band played the last show of their final American tour. From there, they became primarily interested in recording. Eager to produce the ornate, studio-intensive records that would follow, the members were tired of running through the same set lists at their frenetic shows and poor sound quality onstage. For kids like Tyler, the occasion to see the Beatles was actually fleeting. Her anxiety about securing tickets is palpable, and culminating in a meticulous play-by-play of the concert at Fab4 Mania‘s conclusion — based on the real-life, red-inked booklet she created back then, as she finally got her tickets in the mail — Tyler communicates the frenzy of navigating adolescence with grace and lyrical heft.
A warm night in June had the author climbing into a wooden row boat on the lake that bordered her parents’ home — a respite from her summer job amid crickets and lily pads. In two months, she would make her way to the concert that would change her life forever.
“I lay down, put on more mosquito spray, and think about how I share the same sky with the Beatles,” Tyler writes. “Because of the time zone, they are ahead of us — so that means the sky I see now, they already saw. It brings their lovely magic to me, drops down as starlight and moon. Even clouds.”