A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I must warn you in advance that this won’t be a review, but a recommendation. I’m not a big Beatle fan and my knowledge of the band’s history is pretty much nil, so I’m not qualified to comment on the accuracy of this biographical graphic novel that covers the Beatles’ early years from 1940 to 1962. Other online reviews say it is quite accurate, but it doesn’t really matter, as the book tells a very vivid, entertaining story about a cartoon band that comes to life on the page even if it had absolutely nothing to do with the real Beatles. The book’s Finnish title, Piitles, seems to imply as much: kind of like the real Beatles, but a funnier version.
Mauri Kunnas is a very popular writer-illustrator here in Finland. I’d go so far as to say that all Finnish people of about my age and younger have read at least some of his books in their childhood. I’ve always loved his works, with their anthropomorphic animals and wonderful illustrations, which rather remind me of Richard Scarry in their wealth of detail. Though Kunnas and Scarry differ in the style of their illustrations and their stories (and the humour, which can be quite cheeky in Kunnas, sometimes bordering on the bizarre), they both create vivid, colourful worlds for children – and grown-ups! – to lose themselves in. I really can’t recommend Kunnas’s children’s books warmly enough: it’s a shame that only some of them have been translated to English, and those seem to be now out of print.
That said, Beatles with an A is definitely not a children’s book. There’s enough bad language, bad behaviour, dirty jokes and even some nudity to make it unsuitable for the youngest readers, but it is to Kunnas’s credit that the book retains the same vividness and cheerful energy as his children’s books. His cheeky brand of humour suits the subject matter well: these teenaged boys are naughty, fun and very rock’n’roll indeed. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea that the band had started out with much more ‘street cred’ than The Beatles I’m familiar with, those nice young men in neat suits and iconic haircuts.
It is also to Kunnas’s credit that he has managed to make this story utterly enchanting to someone like me who has never even watched a Beatles documentary on TV and had, before this, never even heard of Stuart Sutcliffe or Pete Best. Everyone in this book is a Character with a capital C, the minor characters and the bittiest bit parts just as much as the central ones. Kunnas is apparently a huge Beatles fan himself, but he doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at his idols. Sometimes the jabs are even quite pointed: there is a half-sad, half-funny frame towards the end where poor just-married Cynthia Lennon has been forgotten almost as soon as she was wedded. The young Beatles are far from perfect little cherubs, but these cartoon boys are intriguing and charming despite their many flaws – in large part thanks to Kunnas’s fabulous sense of humour. I read this in the English translation, and though there were some typos, the translation was better than Finnish-to-English usually tends to be, and the humour came across well. The pictures themselves were usually enough to have me rolling with laughter – one notable example among many being ‘the man on a flaming pie’.
So what can I say? If you’re at all interested, do read Beatles with an A – you won’t regret it, I promise. Buying this book through conventional channels may be a bit challenging, but it can be ordered directly from the publisher’s Beatles with an A website, which also has a few sample pages from the book – including the aforementioned man on a flaming pie!
Otava, hardback, 80 pp. ISBN 978-951-1-27395-0. Translated by Will Moore.