Writer: Brandon Easton / Artist: Denis Medri / Lion Forge Comics
Whether you crave panel-to-panel action or characters with deeply empathetic dramas, Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven is a book that should be on your shelves as soon as possible. Believe me, as someone who before this comic would not have once considered wrestling worth a moment of interest (sorry, Omar), I can almost guarantee this comic will have you questioning and re-framing your own beliefs about the nature of art and sport before you’re even halfway through.
From the very start this biography leaves no doubts that the late Andre Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant or Fezzik a la the Princess Bride, left a greater impact on international popular culture than many people realize. Framed by a touching introduction written by his daughter, the book recounts Andre’s struggle from a mammoth adolescent fitting in to his rural French town to his wrestling debut and the thrilling love affair that would ensue. Beyond the exaggeration of the camera Andre the Giant reveals the very human man whose grueling sacrifices and fight for meaning launched a brilliant career and unforgettable rise to stardom.
From a reader’s perspective Brandon Easton’s Andre occupies an almost mystical space between flawed human and wise narrator, yet the balance never fully tips one way or the other. Admittedly the poignant quote that begins the book made me nervous for how heavy-handed this tale could become but Easton maintains a firm grip throughout on simplistic and believable language. Rhythmically I was surprised to find how sharply thematic lines like, “I ceased being a human. I became an immoveable object” fit so neatly next to wild descriptions of wrestling maneuvers. Cliche as it may sound, there’s an art to the words that occasionally feels downright poetic. Similarly, Easton’s pacing between dialogue and narration is near seamless; every page seems planned down to the very meter of its syllables and sentence lengths, all while continuing to honor the actual life portrayed.
If the written story is the sucker punch of human vulnerability, however, then Denis Medri’s artwork is the cushion that softens the blow. At once playfully cartoonish yet respectfully distant from grotesque caricature, Medri’s soft, rounded edges visually feel like the warmth of holding a trusted friend’s hand. Without it, words like “monster” and wrestling’s sheer performance-grade violence would overwhelm the pages and rob us of the comic’s intimacy. All this isn’t to say that Medri can’t draw a solid action scene; if you’re used to the typical superhero spars then Andre’s bouts in the ring are a refreshing treat as the line art never shies away from a single dynamic angle within the realm of possibility. Rarely have I seen an artist with this much control over their medium create panels that rival animation or live action footage. Additionally Medri displays an impressive mastery of the human form that individualizes every single person to the slightest of facial expressions, a talent that even a few mainstream comic artists could stand to learn. His characters are lifelike not for their realism, but for the ability to take on a life of their own.
With nearly 100 pages of storytelling and art this strong, what can I say other than you’d deserve the body slam coming to you for not buying this book immediately?