Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr

by Nicolas Debon
Groundwood Books, 2007
25 pages, Hardcover

This is a fun bit of Canadian history: Louis Cyr was a Quebec circus performer who in the late 1800 was known as the strongest man in the world. Even today, with the benefit of our modern nutritional and strength training practices, some of his lifting records remain unbroken. This is why he is also known by many as the strongest man who ever lived (but those folk obviously haven't heard of Samson).

This is a artistic, but accessible graphic novel treatment of his life. By that I mean it is beautiful – simple but stunning – and yet it is the sort of comic that all but the youngest children would love to read. The book begins with the year 1900, and the doctor has just told Cyr he must retire. Cyr is going to listen... after one last performance. And as he prepares for his grand finale, Cyr looks back on his life, telling his daughter how his career began, how he met and married her mother, and how he is able to walk away without regret.

Cyr seemed like a pretty humble man, which is what made this appealing for me. Many a sports book celebrating the seemingly superhuman abilities of this or that athlete can be written in such a laudatory way it is hard to tell if the writer thinks they are talking about an extraordinary man, or a god. In The Strongest Man in the World it is always clear Cyr is a mere mortal, the book beginning and ending with him heading to retirement, and his strength starting to fail (as all mortal strength eventually will).

So an interesting bit of Canadiana, that would be a particularly good read for any boy, ten and up, who needs a little help getting interested in history.

Ironically this book doesn't seem available in Canada, but you can pick it up at here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other great graphic novel biographies

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