Ask just about any person on the planet, even people who have never seen a pro wrestling match in their lives, to name some wrestlers and you’ll find that just about everyone can muster three names: Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Andre the Giant. IDW/Lion Forge Comics has a new graphic novel chronicling the life of the last man in that list, Closer to Heaven. Is it good?
Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven (Lion Forge Comics)
Andre the Giant has always been a fascinating character in pop culture. The man has been downright mythologized in the realm of professional wrestling (especially within the carefully constructed ‘history’ of WWE), and even non-wrestling fans see him as an iconic figure for a variety of reasons, from his gigantic stature to his role in movies like The Princess Bride (anybody want a peanut?), so I suspect even people not deeply invested into the world of sports entertainment will be interested in a book like this from the get go. Once you start reading writer Brandon Easton’s take on the man, though, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down: this is a wonderfully written book about the man behind the monster that will keep you turning the pages without giving it a second thought.
Sure, wrestling fans may get a few extra kicks out of it—seeing Antonio Inoki’s showdown with Muhammad Ali, or the infamous Piper’s Pit segment where Andre turned his back on the fans immortalized into a graphic novel was certainly a thrill, but the real attraction here, surprisingly, is how beautifully poignant this book is. From the first page, a foreword written by Andre’s daughter Robin who barely knew much more about her father than the people who watched him on TV, you get a sense that this is going to be much more than a rasslin’ comic or a lighthearted look at the man’s notorious appetite for alcohol. Those are explored, obviously, as they were a huge part of Andre’s life, but the tone of the comic is that of deep introspection and what it means to be truly happy.
Historically, judging from what I know as a wrestling nerd, everything seems to be in line here—his early days in France, to honing his craft in Japan, to meeting Vince McMahon Sr. and becoming the ‘Giant’ we all came to know are all represented faithfully, as is Vince McMahon Jr.’s purchase of his father’s company and rapid global expansion that took pro wrestling from dingy local attractions to world wide pop culture. It’s all told from the perspective of Andre himself, narrated in the first person. They even went into WWE’s infamous revisionist history, exploring how Vince’s belief is “if it didn’t happen on TV, in America, it didn’t happen,” which in the early days was an easy way to milk extra mileage out of something that already happened—a lost art of wrestling now that every event ever recorded is instantly accessible from YouTube.
Denis Medri’s artwork is fantastic as well. It’s cartoony, but every person is instantly recognizable and faithful to their real-life counterparts. Each era of Andre’s life is well represented too, from his huge afro stage in the 70s to his weathered look toward the end of his tragically short life.
I also really enjoyed how the narration was presented within the artwork. Andre the Giant is, obviously, a mammoth of a man, so to represent that within each panel he’s going to naturally take up a lot of space. They work around this by having the lettering appear within his shirt, on his back, or even within his massive thigh. It sounds strange when I try to explain it, but in execution it’s a clever and unique way to mesh heavy narration with big, beautiful artwork.
It is heavily narrated, by the way. I don’t say that as a negative at all, but be prepared to read this more like a short story than a traditional comic book. The artwork serves to complement the great writing, and both work in tandem to prop up one another wonderfully. There is some action in the book—it is predominantly about professional wrestling, after all—but Andre’s surprisingly profound outlook at the world around him takes center stage.
Is It Good?
It’s hard to overemphasize how much I enjoyed reading Closer to Heaven. Andre the Giant is a fascinating character, mythologized by both wrestling fans and non-fans alike, but this book digs much deeper than the character to get at the soul of a man in a beautifully written, poignant way that will have you reflecting on your own mortality and pursuit of happiness. Backed up by stunning artwork, this is a can’t miss.