Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven is a new graphic novel memoir from Brandon Easton and Denis Medri, chronicling the life of Andre Roussimoff from his early life on a farm in Molien, France, all the way through his wresting career and early death at the age of 46. As a young man who was six feet tall by the time he was 12, Roussimoff feared that, while he was told his size only brought him “closer to heaven,” he would eventually “outgrow the world itself.” This quest for identity and belonging would set Roussimoff on his path to becoming Andre the Giant, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all-time.
Easton’s prose is well-done, although Andre’s inner narration is stronger than the sometimes stilted dialogue. Easton paints an understated picture of a man who got a bit more than he bargained for in his quest for a place in the world. Known for working his way through 30 cases of beer a week and countless groupies, Easton doesn’t shy away from showing the less audience-friendly aspects of Andre’s life, but it never grows tawdry or without compassion to its subject. Medri’s artistic style is muted yet expressive, all brown tones and strong lines, a far cry from the often flamboyant world of professional wrestling. However, this contrast works; it is clear that with all of the outsized personas that fill up the page and the ring, it’s all a show. Everyone has a part to play, and that’s a huge draw for a giant of a man who always felt too big to belong.
The best section of the graphic novel chronicles his transition into North American wrestling. Leaving behind the more straightforward rings of Europe and Japan, Andre eventually found himself in the the brightly colored world of the WWF and into a professional rivalry with Hulk Hogan. Still, while wrestling is the backdrop of our tale, it isn’t the focus. Instead, it is what served as the fire in which he was forged; his asylum, but also the cause of much of his pain. Another highlight is Andre’s complicated relationship, or lack there of, with his daughter, Robin. She provides the intro to the book, and a heartbreaking letter that she wrote to her father weaves its way through some particularly effective panels.
The narrative of this graphic novel was simple and effective, but something in the end doesn’t quite ring true. Most of the story does a good job of showing a nuanced portrayal of a complex man, but the end is tied up a little too neatly. As his body betrays him, after years of hard living, harder punches, and a losing battle to acromegaly, Andre passes away with a “my life wasn’t so bad after all.” While this may be the kindest ending, it feels a little too sweet. Perhaps it is best to end on such a positive note, though, giving Andre the superhero’s ending he deserved.
Still, a small stumble at the end doesn’t negate all the good in this graphic novel. Whether you followed his career into the WWF or only knew him as Fezzik from The Princess Bride, this is an engrossing and emotionally rich story worth checking out. Andre Roussimoff lived a life of legend, whether it was actually closer to heaven or not.