Unfortunately, there is going to be a lot of comments about how big Andre the Giant was in this piece; not much I can do about that because he looms so big (see!?) in both pop culture and wrestling culture. Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown is a biographical graphic novel that does it’s best to capture what it meant to live life as Andre Roussimoff, the man who would become Andre the Giant. It’s a remarkable book that manages to take this semi-mythical figure and explain so much of how he lived and the events of his larger than life career. In some ways the book is quite sad, very melancholy; Andre, for all his fame and money and success, was doomed to a life of massive discomfort and oddity that would follow him until he died. The beginning of the book starts with an interview with Hulk Hogan in which he says, “People don’t get it… there was never a fork or a knife… Even a bed! There was never a situation where he could be comfortable. He was a seven-foot-four giant. With all the injuries and everything he shrank down to under seven feet. I watched when he’d walk ahead of me at the airport. I heard people say horrible things and make fun of him. He lived in a cruel world. If you really understood what he went through and what he was all about, he was a gracious person with a kind heart. But he didn’t put up with any games or chicanery. Most people don’t understand the big picture.” Hulk Hogan captures what it’s really like to be Andre the Giant and it sets the tone of the book really well.
The book is mostly told in a chronological fashion. We meet Andre as a teenager and follow him up through his years of fame and eventually to his death. A lot of the events recounted are supposed to be real, but due to the nature of the books subject, and the field that he lived and worked in, it’s hard to really tell what is true and what is not. It seems outlandish that he just picked up someone’s care because they were making fun of him and yet does it really sound that outlandish? It fits really, which is the interesting thing about Andre and this book. The man was a legendary figure in an industry where make believe and tall tales are part of the game plan so when we are told unbelievable things about him, they suddenly become much more believable.; Brown does some serious research and did his best to discern reality from fiction, anecdote from legend, and he does an admirable job but the reader should be warned about just how real some of these things are. Most of the book shows us the more everyday aspects of Andre’s life; traveling, life on the road and how they get matches set up. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of narration boxes in these parts of the book, which is not a bad thing except when I’m not sure where Andre is or what’s going on. I suspect this is done on purpose because Andre comments that it doesn’t matter what city they are in: it’s all the same, the show must go on. Andre sounds especially tired when he has these little asides with his road buddies. We only actually get in depth matches maybe once or twice. These little interludes and vignettes give us great insight into the difficulty of his life. Plane seats are too small, he can’t fit in their bathrooms so he can’t eat or drink on planes, and buses are also too small just like every bed in every hotel in the world. It really must have sucked to be Andre the Giant in so many ways.
Accept in the squared circle, where it must have been the best to be Andre the Giant. The big showpiece of the book, and Andre’s career in my opinion, is WrestleMania III, where he fought Hulk Hogan and got body slammed for the first time (only it wasn’t the first time he got body slammed, but that’s not the narrative the WWF needed so it was quietly forgotten. See? Truth is tricky in wrestling.). Brown goes into great detail and shows the match almost move for move, explaining so much of the drama, science and psychology of what is one of the greatest matches of all time. He captures the unique combination of skill, athleticism and showmanship that makes wrestling so great. Both fans and civilians of wrestling should appreciate the skill and knowledge Brown brings to the book to explain wrestling. I could read those panels with no words and get much of what is being put forward.
Box Brown, whose name is almost as good a wrestling name as Andre the Giant, is a master cartoonist; his art is expressive, simple and captures the soul of his subject with just a few lines; Andre looks and feels so much bigger than everybody else and it’s not just that he’s drawn bigger; his legs are thicker, his head is large, everything about him is larger, heavier and wider and the art expresses that in a wonderful way. Brown breaks down what is happening to his body as he ages and the art convey how hard and sad it must have been for Andre after the age of thirty or so. The action in the book is top notch as well. The WrestleMania III match against Hulk Hogan is intricately shown and explained and it’s beautiful to watch; I really got the ebb and flow of the match from panel to panel. The moment when the tide turns and Hulk Hogan hulks out and finally body slams Andre is perfectly rendered and paced. For a match I’ve seen many times, it was almost as exciting as seeing the real thing.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a great read. If you enjoy wrestling or just American pop culture, it’s a book that you will enjoy. Andre the Giant transcends wrestling in a way that few other wrestlers do and none have managed to maintain fame so long after their deaths. Box Brown captures the life of a man who didn’t have long to live, found way to make the world love him and lived his life as well as he could. It’s an incredible book about an incredible man.
Next Book: Celia, A Slave: A True Story by Melton A. McLaurin
Next Movie: Ben-Hur