If there’s one thing that intersects more often than you’d think, it’s comic books and wrestling. It’s something that I’ve certainly noticed the more I get older, but there seems to be a definite venn diagram of people who like one or the other meeting in the middle.
It was never something that I found the appeal of personally, but I can relent that it makes a lot of sense. Wrestling is actually not too far from superhero comics, really. From all I gather, it’s basically just made-up power fantasy nonsense with an elaborate continuity, where people with large muscles beat on each other; heroes triumph, villains are ousted and we all watch on and cheer loudly.
So if there’s any place to tell the biography of a wrestler, comics certainly seems to be the perfect place to do so. Comics allows for the larger than life aspects of it all to be delivered in a medium that thrives on the visuals of it. You often don’t see too many bio comics a year, but when you do they’re often done with such an earnest vision and methodology behind it that it’s clear there never was a place for this story other than comics.
Such is the case with Box Brown’s “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend,” a look at the life and times of Andre Rene Roussimoff. Known to many as Fezzik and known to even more as the Giant of the WWF, the book chronicles the early days of Andre from a quieter life in France to his world travels and dealings as a celebrity wrestler. It’s an impeccably researched and illustrated graphic novel, and one that establishes what is unique about both its subject and its creator.
From a narrative standpoint, the book is fairly linear. It’s a pretty straight-forward biography that takes a few liberties in scenes and dialogue, but ultimately seeks to present events as they were. There’s no epic fantasy sequences or experimental dalliances, but rather an attempt to tell the story of a life as it was; to remove some of the mystique, so to say. It’s definitely an interesting take towards the comic medium being used for biography, particularly when thinking of other recent biographical comics such as “the Fifth Beatle” which uses quite a few fantastical elements in its narrative. Yet “Andre” is something more direct, perhaps simple even; when coupled with Brown’s line art, this idea really begins to shine through.
Of course, this is a double-edged sword. Given that this book is a chronicle of the man’s life, at times its story can be hit or miss in the endeavor. Brown is certainly known for stories that are a bit more quirky, perhaps something you could even describe as stylish and weird, but those traits and techniques are not a tool he particularly utilizes for this book. It’s not your stereotypical Brown book in that he’s not really showing off his alt-comics style, and it’s a shame not to see him use this story in a way that he is perhaps more known for.
Yet, that also very much seems like the point. This isn’t about Brown; it’s about Andre the Giant. As such, the style Brown uses throughout the book does more to emphasize the reality of Andre’s situation, through sequences that detail the hardships of his gigantism and acromegaly and more.
This isn’t to say that Brown doesn’t do a fantastic job illustrating the book, mind you. Far from it; Brown’s work is often noted for its intimate relationship between the line drawn and what it in turn creates, and that’s certainly the case here. Brown brings to his pages a certain eye towards character, both in behavior and mannerisms, that’s often not present in more “big budget” endeavors. The book’s main goal seems to be to show shape and size and their relativity, frequently putting Andre into places where he doesn’t seem to fit. The inherent minimalism to Brown’s artwork aligns to the book in a unique way, and through this, we’re shown Andre’s hardships in a way that other mediums could not equally match, one in which the relationship between panel borders and characters within them is key to understanding the character more than any of the dialogue or story.Continued below
Through Brown’s illustrations, we’re given an affectionate and devoted inside look at a different world, one that both creates myths and fables while at times distorting the truth of the man behind them. It is often said that most truths lay behind a certain false exterior, and Brown’s artwork brings these aspects to Andre’s story in a very penetrating and at times quite visceral way.
What’s also interesting about the book is that, unlike most biographies of this kind, the book actually doesn’t endeavor to simply show its protagonist as nothing more than the hero of the tale. Most biographies view their lead character as some sort of tragic hero, or even someone mimicking a phoenix rising from the ashes. Andre is certainly not someone without hardship to overcome, but Brown manages to treat him more as a person than a myth; there’s quite a few scenes that give off a different vibe as to who Andre is traditionally perceived to be. It’s not necessarily something different than the Gentle Giant persona made famous over time, but it does actually do something that the stories of Andre do not usually do: make him entirely human.
This is a story about someone much greater than you or I, both in size and general scope, but Brown’s take on him conveys such a different figure than you’d expect. When you hear people speak about him, it’s often as Andre the Giant; something that implicitly brings with it certain connotations, both of literal size or general apologue. But that’s not really the Andre presented here, and that — for better or for worse — is what makes the book entirely unique.
That this is about the “Life and Legend” of Andre is perhaps the most important part of the book. The book is already aptly subtitled, but that’s only because it is what the book explores the most: the life of Andre Roussimoff and the legend of Andre the Giant, and how these two elements intertwined. That it’s done in an otherwise down to Earth fashion only emphasizes this element overall, and becomes the graphic novel’s most intriguing quality.
As fascinating as the book is from an overall standpoint, it is perhaps worth noting that at times the flow of it can be uneven. This is the story of someone’s life, and despite what most fiction would have you believe life isn’t always interesting. Andre lived a different life, one with more excitement and bombastic elements, but that doesn’t mean that his life was always in the fast lane. As such, the book does at times falter, or at least stumble, in maintaining an even interest throughout. It peppers the slower parts of the story with interesting facts and details, but sometimes the jumps between the more exciting aspects of his life and the more personal or removed moments can make for jarring transitions.
There is also a slight reliance on love, or at least knowledge, of the ideas of wrestling. While it’s not inaccessible to those like me with no interest in wrestling, there is a lean in the book towards appealing to those who are. Interestingly enough, it’s not done in an egregious fashion; it’s simply one of those things that becomes slightly noticeable when a particular reference, joke or note doesn’t hit. But it is an omnipresent factor to the book, and should never have been anything less.
Like any biography, it comes down to two things: your interest in the material, and the author’s knowledge of the subject matter. The former is a personal stake, but the latter is undoubtedly on point. Brown’s research and work to truly show us who Andre was, his influence and his legacy is immaculate. This is not just a book about Andre the Giant; it’s the book about Andre the Giant.
Andre is a fascinating character, and Brown is certainly a very talented creator. The book, if at times slow or removed for a certain half of the audience, is still a very thoughtful and heartfelt read. It’s certainly a rather considerate tome, full of facts and notations I personally was not aware of, all presented as a loving tribute to the man the book once again brings to life. And despite not displaying Brown’s inventive and more experimental side, it is never the less a compelling read.
“Andre the Giant: Life and Legend” gives you just that: both the Life and the Legend of Andre Rene Roussimoff aka Andre the Giant. If either of those two things are something that fascinates you, this book definitely rewards.