The Great Antonio

Elise Gravel. Toon (Consortium, dist.), $12.95 (64p) ISBN 978-1-943145-08-9
When wrestler Antonio Barichievich (1925–2002) emigrated from Croatia to Montreal as a young adult, his huge, Paul Bunyan–like physique drew attention. He weighed 460 pounds—“which is as heavy as a horse!” Gravel (I Want a Monster!) points out—and she draws him picking up a telephone pole with a dozen men hanging off it (“This is easy!” he says). Like Sampson, Antonio didn’t cut his hair, and he used to let children hang on to his braids and whirl them around, “a gigantic human merry-go-round!” Though successful for a time as a wrestler, he “mostly lived on the street” after a mysterious heartbreak, spending his days at a Montreal doughnut shop; when he died, neighbors left flowers there. Gravel draws Antonio’s story with an easy, loopy line, including both playful and haunting moments. Early on, he sits down to a dinner of 25 roast chickens; later, a cat follows him, playing with his dragging braids as he walks the streets alone. What’s to be made of lives that don’t go the way they were supposed to? Gravel shows that they’re worth paying attention to. Ages 4–8. Agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/15/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
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