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Review: ‘Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven’

Andre the Giant - Closer to HeavenAndre The Giant: Closer To Heaven
Writer: Brandon Easton
Artist: Denis Medri
IDW Publishing; $12.99

In 2014 the first substantial biography of the late professional wrestler Andre The Giant was published, and it came in the form of an original graphic novel. That was cartoonist Box Brown’s Andre The Giant: Life and Legend, a beautifully crafted, 200-page, black and white comic published by First Second.

It was followed a year later by the second substantial biography of Andre The Giant, this one also in the form of an original graphic novel–writer Brandon Easton and Denis Medri’s Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven.

I mention this not to accuse Easton and Medri or their editor or publishers of anything untoward. Brown may have created the first graphic novel biography of Andre The Giant, but he didn’t create Andre, whose life is obviously one of public record and, just as obviously, many subjects of biographies have their stories told in anywhere from two to two thousand books, depending on who they are.

Rather, I think it’s useful to keep Brown’s book in mind while discussing Easton and Medri’s, which was just recently re-released, as it gives a reader something to compare with and contrast against (Also, I suppose, there’s a danger that Easton and Medri’s will eclipse Brown’s as it gains the imprimatur of Hollywood; apparently, it will be the basis of an in-development Andre The Giant biopic).

The story of both books is the same, right down to the particular anecdotes; a Venn diagram between the stories would be awfully close to a straight-up circle. Andre Roussimoff was born in the French countryside in the 1940s, and it wasn’t long before he outgrew it…just like he outgrew everything. At his biggest, Andre was almost seven-and-a-half-feet-tall and some 600 pounds.

His rise in wrestling was the very definition of meteoric, as he started wrestling in France, then took on a manager and toured Japan and North America, eventually becoming one of the vanguard of professional wrestlers that helped legitimize and popularize the sport/live entertainment in the eyes of the American mainstream. In a very real sense, the story of his career is also the story of the evolution of professional wrestling.

Like Life and Legend, Closer To Heaven–which takes its name from something a nice old French lady told Andre about one virtue of his height–tracks this path, plus the warts-and-all portrait of Andre’s hedonistic tendencies regarding women and alcohol and his anger, the high notes of his acting career (playing Bigfoot on TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man and Fezzik in The Princess Bride), his messy family life, his fight with “Bad News Brown” Allen Coage after telling a racist joke, the terrible health problems that came with his size and his climactic match against Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III.

As I said, the basic story, and many of the details, are the same, but Closer to Heaven tells it (and them) differently. Most notably, Easton employs first-person narration, which somewhat uncomplicates (and occasionally excuses) some of Andre’s lower moments. His real-life conflict with Coage is the most notable example; not only is the racial slur he used translated into “!!*$#@&” but the narration puts it down to “my haze of arrogance and stupidity” immediately.

Closer to Heaven also has the benefit of seeming somewhat authorized, at least by Andre’s daughter Robin Christensen Roussimoff, who writes the foreword, and whose letter to her father is sampled at some length during the course of the book.

Visually, the books couldn’t be more different. Medri’s full-color art is rather cartoony in design, with Andre and the other celebrities looking half-way between representational drawings of themselves and caricatures, but it is nowhere near as simplified and minimalistic as Brown’s flat, almost pictogram-esque figures in their stark black and white panels.

Different readers will likely prefer one artist’s style to the other’s, but, in terms of a biography, Brown’s is probably the superior one. It has a neutral, more objective-feeling tone, an extensive bibliography, a glossary of wrestling terms and, most helpful of all, a section of notes explaining the source of each of the anecdotes, and occasional assessments regarding how accurate those sources might be.

Closer To Heaven, meanwhile, has the advantage of Andre’s daughter’s perspective, and of the two is certainly the more teen-friendly.

Not that the two books need to be thought of as in conflict with one another, of course. Ideally, anyone interested in both comic books and Andre The Giant will want to read them both. He may have been a real person, but Andre The Giant was–and still is–a perfect comic book character, as well. Visually arresting, superlative in size and strength, often heroically facing difficult circumstances and terrible pain, sometimes failing to meet his challenges, and with a complicated inner-life that included a simmering darkness that could occasionally boil over, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many more comic books starring Andre The Giant in the future.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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