I was reading multiple great books: a novel set in Mexico; a literary biography; a history of the U.S invasion of Iraq. Then I opened a padded envelope to find a review copy of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. Those other books got thrown out of the ring.
Looking at the title and cover art, I expected a quick, fluffy read. This book is much more than that. Andre the Giant is a serious biography that reads like a graphic novel. It is a series of fantastic vignettes from the life of Andre Roussimoff (1946-1993.) Andre’s eventful life is artfully woven from the whole range of human experience, at times funny, poignant, ridiculous, noble, generous, tragic. This gentle giant was, by and large, a wonderful human being, but he also could be a big jerk, especially when he got drunk. Box Brown has done a brilliant job of portraying Andre’s multidimensional life.
Box Brown says in the book’s frank and philosophical introduction, “The idea of truth in professional wrestling is certainly elastic.” He also explains that as an artist he had to improvise dialog and envision scenes he never witnessed to tell the this “true” story.
I was only dimly aware of Box Brown’s work. I knew he was a Philadelphia-based zinester who had some success using Kickstarter to produce Retrofit Comics. His deceptively simple illustration style is perfect here. His line drawings of Andre are spare, with just enough tonality to impart a sense of mass. He artfully designs the pages so that often his drawings of Andre fill individual panels to capacity.
There is a lot aspiring cartoonists can learn from a careful observation of Brown’s style. Consider the two panels above where the narrator’s voice overlays the ring announcer’s speech balloons. I first noticed this multi-track cinematic effect in Daniel Clowes’ work. You don’t see this in the works of a novice.
Brown ends the book with a complete bibliography. He clearly enjoyed his research, reading obscure wrestling magazines and freeze-framing Wrestlemania DVD’s. For me the story rings true. I never saw Andre wrestle, but I did see Gorrilla Monsoon wrestle Bruno Sanmartino in Asbury Park. And I just watched a midnight showing of The Princess Bride at Kutztown’s Strand Theatre. Sure, he was typecast, but Andre did great as the giant, Fezzig. According to Brown’s book, making The Princess Bride was one of the happiest time in Andre’s life. It shows.
I have been raving about this book since the moment I finished it. My daughter is pleading with me, “Dad, Can you please stop talking about Andre the Giant?” I guess I can’t.
Next post we will have a brief interview with Box Brown. Hope to get him to visit Kutztown next fall. Andre the Giant will be published in May by First Second Books. Ask your local indy bookstore to order you a copy.
UPDATE: Box Brown will share his story of Andre the Giant at Kutztown U, Weds. Sept 17 – 7pm, Sharadin Arts Building Rm 120. Free & Open to the public. He will bring books to sell and sign.