I’ve been a fan of Box Brown’s comics for years now. His style (somewhere near the intersection of Seth Boulevard and Kochalka Avenue Extension in the artcomix part of town) really resonates with me as a reader. From Everything Dies to The Survivalist, I’ve really liked everything of Brown’s that I’ve come across. So that’s why I set aside my loathing of professional wrestling (I lost interest in the sportsertainment of it all around the time my age hit the double digits) to check out the cartoonist’s new biography of Andre Roussimoff, a now-deceased pro wrestler who looms largest in my memory for playing Bigfoot on The Six-Million Dollar Man. (I looked up some YouTube clips, but they are pretty dire. If you have fond memories of those TV appearances, I’d recommend not revisiting them, just let them glow nostalgically in your mind.)
Brown humanizes Andre without painting him as a saint, sympathizing with Andre’s pains suffered as a result of the disease that terribly distorted the man’s biology; the same distortion that made him a superstar in the seedy world of pro wrestling, at a time when it was unusual for there to be 600 pound human beings. Brown balances whimsy with candor, here showing us how Andre’s phone looks like a tiny toy in his giant hands, there showing us Andre using race-baiting to pick a fight with an African-American colleague.
The world was a challenging place for Roussimoff to make his way in, and I suppose the mid-to-late 20th century was still backward enough that using his size to make a living was more out of necessity than cynical opportunism. His career began, after all, not long after the days of Vaudeville and when entertainers could make more money driving or flying from place to place rather than entertaining through mass entertainment media like TV or the internet. Much of Brown’s narrative involves depicting Andre in transit, and given that that was a large part of the man’s life (to the detriment of his family relationships, as we see), that seems appropriate.
Brown appears to have conducted copious research in the creation of this book, and it pays off. From recounting an appearance on David Letterman to a series of anecdotes from Andre’s fellow wrestlers and other people he worked with (like actors Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Guest), an expansive vision of who the man was begins to open up. He was bigger than life in more ways than one, and he clearly made an impact on the people he met and worked with. No doubt Box Brown and publisher First Second are aware of the lingering fascination with Andre the Giant, or this graphic novel would not have been produced. As I said up front, my interest in wrestling is non-existent, and my interest in Andre The Giant isn’t far behind. Despite that, Box Brown kept my attention throughout and fascinated me with the details he discovered in his research. If you don’t care about the subject matter, I suspect you’ll still enjoy Andre The Giant: Life and Legend; if you do care about wrestling in general or Andre in particular, I have to think you will love this book.
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review. Buy Andre the Giant: Life and Legend on Amazon.com.