There are plenty of real-life characters that could be considered “larger than life,” but at 7’4”, Andre the Giant might stand taller than the rest.
The pro wrestler and actor may have died more than two decade agos, but his legend has lived on in films, video games, and comics -- plural. After the release in 2014 of Andre The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown, Lion Forge and IDW are delving into the famed wrestler/actor's life in a new graphic novel by writer Brandon Easton and artist Denis Medri. This new OGN Andre The Giant is the first to be licensed an endorsed by the wrestler's family, and Newsarama caught up with Easton, Medri and editor Shannon Eric Denton to discuss Andre’s legacy, the process behind their research, and what they learned as they delved into this legendary wrestler’s life for the new graphic novel coming out in September.
Newsarama: Shannon, just to start us off here, what got this bio comic started, and what made Brandon and Denis the right team for Andre the Giant?
Shannon Eric Denton: Andre the Giant’s story is such a powerful one. I don’t think many people understand the sheer adversity he faced in his life because he was so good at projecting this “larger than life” persona and with his size he could pull it off better than anyone. The reality was that he suffered greatly but rose above it. It’s the hero’s journey personified in one man’s life which makes for a perfect graphic novel. As for Brandon Easton that was easy. Brandon’s an amazing writer and has a love of wrestling that made all the research for this book all the easier. I partnered him up with the perfect artist, Denis Medri, who was able to bridge the gap between European and American comics in much the same way Andre was able to do with wrestling. It also helps they’re totally professional and easy to work with. Every editor should be so lucky.
Nrama: So Brandon, for wrestling fans everywhere, Andre the Giant has been known as a legendary figure. But for people who aren't as familiar with him, what makes Andre stand out among an industry known for colorful personalities and personas?
Brandon Easton: Andre was one of the primary catalysts for professional wrestling moving away from a purely regional blue-collar recreational activity toward a global entertainment machine. During the run of Andre’s most active years in the ring (1969-1985) professional wrestling grew by leaps and bounds and his performances helped to expose pro wrestlers to mainstream audiences. You have to remember, Andre was one of the first pro wrestlers to do guest spots on big TV shows in the 1970s. He was interviewed by Johnny Carson, David Letterman and other influential nightly hosts at a time when wrestling was considered a punchline.
The athleticism he showed for his size was unprecedented – there had been big men before Andre, but few of them had his speed, balance and technical ability. If you get the chance to see Andre matches from the early 1970s, you’d be blown away by his movements. Beyond that, Andre had an unmistakable charisma that touched people regardless of their background or station in life.
Nrama: With your bio of Andre the Giant, where are you starting in this man's life? How far-ranging a biography is this?
Denton: We cover his whole life. We want to give the audience a sense of where he started, what he overcame and the legacy he left behind.
Easton: I covered his entire in-ring career including the early days of his life on his family’s farm in France. The thing I wanted to avoid was delving too far into the salacious aspects of his life. He was well known to be a drinker and very much enjoyed the company of beautiful women but I didn’t want this to be a comic book version of a gossip magazine. I did touch on parts of his personal life that are generally unknown to his fanbase, yet I kept it as pro-wrestling-centered as possible without losing out on the pivotal personal moments that framed his worldview.
Nrama: Can you talk about the process you took in terms of researching Andre? What sources did you wind up utilizing to get an in-depth picture of the man?
Denton: Our Andre book was done in conjunction with Andre’s estate so we had unprecedented access to Andre’s family and friends during the process. It allowed us information we wouldn’t have been able to gather otherwise.
Easton: I’ve been a life-long fan of professional wrestling so a lot of the stuff from the late 1970s (including his runs in Japan) I already had in the back of my head. Then I reached out to my buddy Mike Johnson (from the popular wrestling news site PWinsider) for the little details about certain wrestling events and behind-the-scenes politics of the industry that I was uncertain about. As Shannon said, having access to his friends and colleagues helped me figure which stories were the best to include and which to pass on.
I also spoke to Andre’s daughter and her recollections were touching and somewhat tragic. Few have spoken to Andre’s daughter and it was a fantastic opportunity to get another glimpse into the man’s life.
Nrama: Were there any bits about Andre that surprised you?
Denton: Just the sheer pain he was dealing with. I knew he had health issues but was surprised by how well he did concealing them. It was inspiring.
Easton: His overall popularity. I didn’t truly realize how many fans he had until I started working on this project and got messages from people all over the globe asking me when the book would be released. Even now, I get at least two emails a week from strangers begging me to release the book (as if I was in control of the publishing and distribution). [Laughs]
Denis Medri: When Shannon proposed me to work on this book, it sounded bit strange to me at the beginning. In the ‘80s, I was a kid, here in Italy we began to see on TV the golden age of WWF, at that time wrestling became popular here, too.
Hulk Hogan was the man, I was a great fan of him – everyone was a Hulk Hogan fan. So in my childhood memories, Andre The Giant was just the huge threatening villain, the bad guy (against the cool one), or at least the gentle giant of Princess Bride, and part of a logo for Obey. I never thought that one day I would have drawn a book about him. I was curious to know more about this character, about his life, about his career, etc.
I remember that right before starting to work on pages, Brandon and Shannon suggested I take a look at a documentary about his life. I have to confess that after seeing it I was moved, his story completely kidnapped me, and suddenly fell in love with this character.
For me this was a surprise, discovering that behind the facade of the WWF villain of my childhood, there was an intense story of a gentle giant from the French country, that fought and laughed against the sort and reaching for the top of the world. I can say that there are few books that I’ve enjoyed more to work on.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit about Denis for a second. He's an artist who had some wide acclaim for his Rockabilly Batman designs, and is just now breaking into the mainstream spotlight with his Red Hood/Arsenal book at DC coming in June What do you like about his style, and what do you think makes him such a good fit for Andre the Giant?
Denton: Well, first I’d like to thank DC Comics for following my lead and hiring him! It’ll make his back cover blurb all the cooler (and I’m really looking forward to that Red Hood/Arsenal book as well)! As for what I like about his style for this project was his ability to capture a person’s likeness without it looking like he’s drawing from stock photos. There’s an incredible looseness to what he does that it appears effortless which, as an artist myself, I know is extremely difficult to do. Denis really was the perfect artist for this book.
Easton: I’ve been working in comics since 2002 or so. I can count on one hand how many times an artist has perfectly captured what I intended to convey in my script. Not only did Denis capture my thematic intent in his visual narrative, but he brought a fantastic cinematic quality to my words that I couldn’t predict. This dude is the real deal. A major new talent on the scene.
Nrama: Denis, for you, what makes Andre the Giant unique as a character, and unique as a figure to draw?
Medri: I’m grateful to Shannon he gave me the possibility to approach the art in this book freely. I like to approach projects in different ways and styles. In this case my idea was to use a style and an approach closer to the European graphic novels. I decided to work in mixed media, using ink, brush pens, markers, but also giving atmosphere with charcoal and adding grey tones with pantone or watercolor. Also for the coloring, made by Studio Arancia, had a precise idea, a monochromatic approach that changed along the story matching the feeling of each decade in the story.
Of course the first thing that made Andre unique, was his size, I wanted to concentrate on it, sometimes even exaggerate it. It was fun and interesting work crafting the look of Andre during his life since he was young ‘till the last days of his life. I wanted to show the changing of the character, not only in matter of aging, but being careful to add elements and details during the time, caused by his pathology. Along with the different kind of haircuts, clothes and atmosphere showed in the story. Images that retraces three decades of the 20th century.
Nrama: Did you prefer drawing scenes of Andre in the ring, or outside in the rest of his life?
Medri: I don’t have a preference, I’ve enjoyed to work on both. Of course, action pages are fun to draw, but it was interesting also working on normal pages that show a lot of different atmospheres and sets, or giving my interpretation to the other characters involved in this story.
Nrama: Were there any favorite moments in the book for you to draw?
Denton: I’ll let Denis chat about the actual book but Denis did some caricatures of Brandon and I that were a ton of fun. We snuck those into the book.
Medri: There some pivotal moments on the story, sequences and dialogues that really made me feel a sort of empathy with the figure of Andre, but I don’t want to spoil those for the reader.
Nrama: Were there any challenges that this project had that either of you needed to overcome?
Denton: Brandon and Denis were amazing to work with, so no challenges there. Our biggest challenge was probably just tracking down photos of some of Andre’s friends at the ages they would have been in the story. Sometimes we’d find a photo, but it would be 20 years after the events we were depicting. Eventually we got everything we needed, and then Denis would make it into a sweet-looking comic page!
Nrama: Finally, for those who are still on the fence about Andre the Giant, what would you say to them to get them on-board?
Denton: If you like stories of incredible people faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity and finding the resolve to rise above it then this is the book for you! Brandon, Denis, and everyone involved really crafted something amazing.
Easton: Pick this up if you want a mature, compelling story of human perseverance accompanied by tremendous, stunning artwork. Even if you’re not a fan of professional wrestling, anyone interested in the evolution of American pop culture needs to understand the importance of Andre’s career in changing the perception an industry that would eventually become a multibillion-dollar global entertainment phenomenon. This was one of the finest experiences I’ve had as a graphic novel creator. I hope to share that experience with everyone.