At various times in his life, Andre Roussimoff was larger than life. Better known to the world as Andre the Giant, he was a wrestler, he was Bigfoot, he was Fezzik, and thanks to the WWE he even became a cartoon character. His implacable gaze still exhorts hipsters to “OBEY” in street art. But he was still a man — one in pain, who dulled it every chance he got, and once, a very long time ago, he was a normal boy.
Writer Brandon Easton captures all of that in Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven, a new graphic novel from Lion Forge Comics and IDW Publishing. By having most of it narrated by Andre himself, Easton also keeps it from being maudlin. Though it’s warts and all, Andre’s reflections seem more matter-of-fact than self-absorbed. He made a lot of mistakes, and at times you could wish he truly had been a better human being — and that he wishes it, too — but ultimately, there’s a kindness that undercuts the potential tragedy.
That kindness is captured over and over by Denis Medri. Though the style is cartoonish — matching that Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, perhaps — there are shots of Andre where you can see the gentleness that he exuded as Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Occasionally Medri captures the arrogance of Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon, Jr. just right, too. Somehow even the action in the squared circle feels kinetic here.
It’s absorbing if you’re a wrestling fan, though you may already know a lot of the detail. If you’re not a wrestling fan, some of it can glide right by, though it’s important to understand how this man could have been huge in that world and still not quite feel like he belonged. These facets of his life are in broad strokes, sometimes with a repetitiveness that really show how repetitive that life could be.
But that also means the rest of Andre’s life tends toward the broad strokes. By giving in to an episodic nature, Easton sometimes leaves out the build. It’s very important that Andre was diagnosed with acromegaly late in life, but the incident seems to come out of nowhere. His manager shows up looking sad, and takes him to a doctor who gives him the bad news. But how did that situation come about?
Names and places weave in and out, and occasionally “Andre” stops to explain. But that also means sidestepping Andre’s own story, and the emotional impact of some of his choices get left out to cover more beer and wrestling. Which, come to think of it, probably was true of how Andre lived his life. Though Easton includes excerpts of a letter from Andre’s biological daughter, the story leaves out the few efforts Andre did make to connect — efforts Robin Roussimoff mentions in her own foreword. Easton and Medri also frame the story with Andre reminiscing over memorabilia in his farmhouse, but the device fades after a couple of pages.
The overall story works, and delivers an emotional wallop. It just doesn’t step outside the ring as much as non-wrestling fans might like; then again neither did Andre.