Review: Andre the Giant – Closer to Heaven

I’ve loved pro wrestling almost as long as I’ve loved comics, but it takes a lot to get me interested in those two things joining together. Comics that take on real-life wrestlers tend to go one of two ways. The first is that they just present wrestling as it is, like the old Marvel World Championship Wrestling comic, focusing on the in-ring action and the struggle for championships in the same style that you can see on TV every Monday. It’s interesting — usually because it’s weird as all hell — but it’s also ultimately self-defeating, because the comics clearly don’t matter in the scheme of things. Throw in the delay that you get from publishing and the shifting alliances and feuds that keep people interested, and they seem pointless and out of date from the word go.

The second option, the one taken by books like the Ultimate Warrior’s legendarily unreadable Warrior or the hilariously terrible Nash comic that Image put out in the ’90s, is to take the characters from pro wrestling and remove them completely from the ring and put them into some other setting, and again, it just doesn’t work. As appealing as those characters might be, they’re pretty inextricably tied into the world of pro wrestling. As much as you might like the Warrior, you probably like him for reasons that are not related to talking armbands and the philosophy of Destrucity, and even if you were the biggest nWo fan at the Nitro party, absolutely no one wants to read a comic set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that opens with a drawing of Kevin Nash’s sex face.

That is why this graphic novel is like a breath of fresh air. Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven is an incredibly touching narrative that reveals a new side to Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff.

In the 1970’s and 80s era of professional wrestling, there was no bigger star  both physically and perhaps in terms of popularity — than Andre the Giant.

It’s hard to imagine someone more larger than life, from stories of his brute strength to drinking prowess; it’s hard not to wonder what he was like as a person when the lights and cameras weren’t around.

Andre indeed was the biggest star of his generation, and not just physically. He was listed as highest paid for many years in the Guinness Book of World Records. Author Easton did an exceptional job of researching Andre’s life and times, with plenty of detail form his early life in Molien, France.

How does a 7-4, 500 pound man get about?   The things we take for granted were hard for him, such as getting on a plane, getting a hotel room, etc. The loneliness of being on the road so much also weighed on Andre. The novel deals authentically with those aspects of Andre’s life. A giant of a man looking to fit into the world.

In wrestling, he was king. His size was an asset and people were staring in awe instead of horror or derision. Andre’s story is impossible to tell without also discussing the rise of wrestling; however, Closer to Heaven quickly establishes that Andre was more than a character in the ring or on the screen. Wrestling is where Andre always felt at home, where he returned because it was familiar and was the source of his few fleeting moments of happiness, but it also brought Andre a lot of his pain.

The illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Easton’s story. The style compliments our emotional connection to the story. The stark lines, hard, angular shapes, and muted pallet along with the succinct dialogue set a moody, reflective tone and atmosphere.

Andre was a great performer, a hero to a lot of people, but also a man and this story gets to the bottom of that. A rich, multi layered delight.

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