Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon

Klaus Voormann is a German graphic artist, most famous as the cover designer of The Beatles' record 'Revolver' (1966). Along with Bob Gibson, Heinz Edelmann and Alan Aldridge he is one of the few graphic artists to be privileged to create official artwork for The Beatles. Voormann also made graphic contributions to other rock bands and is a rare example of a graphic artist who actually played in a prolific rock group himself, namely Manfred Mann. He remained active in the music industry as a session bass player and producer. In 2016 Voormann created a graphic novel about his Beatles years named 'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon' (2016). At age 79, this consequently made him the oldest man to ever debut as a comics artist!


Sketch of the Beatles in Hamburg

Klaus Voormann was born in 1938 in Berlin as the son of a physician. He counts Max Liebermann and George Grosz among his graphic influences. Voormann studied commercial art at the Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe in Berlin and the Meisterschule für Gestaltung in Hamburg. At this latter school he met Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer, who'd become a close friend and Astrid his girlfriend. During the early 1960s they regularly went to watch an unknown British band who performed gigs at the Kaiserkeller near the Reeperbahn in Hamburg: The Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were already members, but in those days the group still consisted of two extra musicians: Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Voormann and his friends were blown away by their music, as they weren't familiar with rock 'n' roll. They met the musicians back stage and found out they too went to art college. Kirchherr asked whether she was allowed to take photographs of them, thus becoming the first official Beatles photographer. She also became Sutcliffe's partner, but he unfortunately died of a brain haemorrhage in 1962. Voormann, Kirchherr and Vollmer also hung out with Rory & The Hurricanes, whose drummer Richard Starkey would eventually join The Beatles under the name Ringo Starr. In 1962, when Voormann moved to London he lived with George Harrison and Ringo Starr for a while. By that time he already published illustrations in German magazines, while the Beatles would soon break through in the United Kingdom and eventually become an international sensation.

In 1966 Voormann's artwork reached a wider audience when he designed the cover of The Beatles' record 'Revolver' (1966). The design featured huge stylized caricatures of the Fab Four, combined with collage art. The illustration was notable for several reasons. It didn't feature the band's name on the front and was in black-and-white rather than colour. All other Beatles records until then had been group photographs. Voormann was the band's first and only album cover designer to create a graphic illustration, except for Richard Hamilton who created the white sleeve of 'The Beatles' (1968), aka 'The White Album'. The cover of 'Revolver' won a Grammy for 'Best Album Cover'. 'Revolver' also inspired another graphic project. To coincide with the album release the London magazine Nova asked Alan Aldridge to make illustrations inspired by the song lyrics.

Over the decades Voormann kept in touch with the band. He performed with John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and during the Concert of Bangladesh (1971), alongside George Harrison. The artist designed the sleeves of Ringo's album 'Ringo' (1973), George Harrison's single 'When We Was Fab' (1988) and Paul McCartney's 'Run Devil Run' (1999). In 1995 the three surviving Beatles members, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, came together to make a hugely mediatized TV documentary about their group, combined with a three-CD set collecting interesting archive recordings and two newly recorded singles: 'The Beatles Anthology' (1995-1996). Voormann illustrated the CD covers with Alfons Kiefer. Their designs were also used for the video covers of the project.

Between 1966 and 1969 Voormann became a bassist and flute player for the rock group Manfred Mann. His contributions can be heard on all their singles during this period. He became a much sought-after session musician for artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Nilsson, Alan White, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Randy Newman and Lou Reed. In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles. By the end of the decade he moved back to Germany, where he worked as a producer for the internationally succesful German pop band Trio, most famous for their hit single 'Da Da Da' (1981). He furthermore helped out musicians like Marius Müller-Westernhagen and Heinz Rudolf Kunze. Voormann remained much in demand as an album cover designer, creating covers for The Bee Gees' first two albums, 'Bee Gees' 1st' (1967) and 'Idea' (1968), Turbonegro's 'Scandinavian Leather' (2003), 'Timeless, Timeless' (2007) by Wet Wet Wet, 'Who is jo King?' (2012) by Fools Garden and 'Music Life' (2014) by Glay. He also had a cameo as Von Schnitzl the conductor in the live-action film 'Popeye' (1980) by Robert Altman starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, based on E.C. Segar's eponymous comic strip.


2003 Klaus Voorman print with a comic strip about the creation of the Revolver cover

In 2003 he published his autobiography 'Warum spielst du Imagine nicht auf dem weißen Klavier, John? Erinnerungen an die Beatles und viele andere Freunde' ('Why Don't You Play "Imagine" on the White Piano, John?: Memories of the Beatles and Many Other Friends'). He released a solo album six years later named 'A Sideman's Journey' (2009), which featured guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Cat Stevens, Don Preston (Frank Zappa) and Van Dyke Parks, among other people. As a nostalgic memory Voormann played a cover of the very first song he ever performed on stage with the Beatles, namely 'I'm In Love Again' by Fats Domino. A collection of Voormann's artwork has been made available as 'Drawings & More - 1960-2010' (2010).

Voormann remains so associated with The Beatles that constant interest in the group also kept him and his work on the radar. He was interviewed numerous times and appeared in several documentaries regarding the group, including 'George Harrison. Living in the Material World' (2011) by Martin Scorsese. Iain Softley's film 'Backbeat' (1994) about the Beatles' years in Hamburg portrayed him, played by Kai Wiesinger. Voormann himself was also subject of a documentary, namely 'All You Need Is Klaus' (2009) by Jörg Bundschuh.


Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon

In 2016, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 'Revolver', Voormann drew an autobiographical graphic novel named 'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon' (Genesis Publications, 2016). The comic book is an account of his memories of working together with The Beatles, particularly the album 'Revolver' for which he was paid only 50 pounds at the time. Voormann's comics debut happened late: he was already 79 years old when he drew it. This makes him the oldest man to ever debut as a comics artist. The oldest person in general is Frenchwoman Geneviève Gautier who published 'Les Aventures du Pingouin Alfred' (2017) at age 95. Voormann explained in an interview that comics never quite interested him before, until he got introduced to the work of Thomas von Kummant and Jon J. Muth - who drew a graphic novel based on the 1931 film classic 'M - Eine Stadt Sucht Einen Mörder'. Voormann worked on his graphic novel for 18 months, trying to match the cut-and-paste look of his original album design. To maintain a human touch the final product kept tiny mistakes and imperfections, like Voormann's finger prints and things he rubbed out. 'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon' was released with a foreword by Paul McCartney and published in a limited edition. In 2017 he made a drawing for issue #548 of Mad Magazine, where he made an artistic interpretation of their mascot Alfred E. Neuman (a character originally designed by Norman Mingo). Alfred appears within the shades of the record cover of 'Revolver'.

Klaus Voormann is married to German singer Christine May.

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