It’s amazing when a creative person uses the most of an artform, with a unique style, and transforms a larger-than-life story into a brilliant piece of art, all the while capturing the humanity of one of the largest human celebrities of the professional wrestling industry.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is written and illustrated by Box BrownWhat fascinates me about this Graphic Novel (to use the modern/current/ mainstream lingo) is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
But then again, we are talking about Andre the Giant, a larger than life persona in this crazy business called professional wrestling, large enough to transcend to the mainstream, large enough to overwhelm all the warts and scars and imperfections of his character.
As an old school comic book fan, well versed in the more realistic genre of that industry, I see a lot of interesting approaches and a brilliant handling of what is otherwise a pastiche of stories of and about Andre. We see lots of names, lots of cameos and a lot of very interesting takes on the Giant’s life, many of which go beyond the obvious.
For example, one might anticipate a story about Andre’s life to focus on the drinking: tall-tales about Andre’s ability to imbibe alcohol populate every professional wrestling book featuring a name from the 1960’s -1990’s. But Box Brown’s take on those stories is to permeate the story without overwhelming it, and humanize Andre’s apparent alcoholism by showing it at various stages of his life, peppering it with poignant insight and letting it soak into the reader’s mind.
As a professional wrestling fan, well versed in the backgrounds of all the names and promotions and styles portrayed in this comic, I see a lot of fascinating glimpses of Andre, albeit a few told by in-credible sources. Then again, Dave Meltzer’s name is all over the back notes.
In that regard, I know Box Brown has well researched the stories, interviewed some big names, watched some insightful videos and truly comes across as a fan, albeit one that started in the early 1990’s and quite frankly plays fast and loose with the concept and understanding of kayfabe.
Who, these days, really understands that concept?
I hate to be one of those internet reviewers that disses anyone who tries to understand this business. So I will applaud his efforts and minimize the criticisms. Brown touches very close in talking about magicians and not revealing the secret, but then he goes a bit too far in not understanding that the business, the work, that the very nature of professional wrestling isn’t about lying on every imaginable level, but it’s about building credibility and steadfastly protecting the business.
Yeah, that’s a quaint, long forgotten concept.
One thing that I found a bit irksome is Brown leading off with Hulk Hogan talking up Andre.
I understand where he’s coming from.
Box Brown, that is.
Hogan is beyond understanding, except for a sneer, a look of utter disdain, a glance at a pathetic figure who lied his way to mainstream prominence, all the while trashing the talents who came before him, all the while pretending that he was a master of the artform because of his mainstream prominence, all the while establishing his credibility on a foundation of crap so deep that his ability to stay afloat in it actually does bespeak a talent far superior to anyone in the industry.
Of course, this is from someone who whole-heartedly cheered what seemed to be Andre pinning Hogan in that climactic match at the Silverdome, and I’m not so sure that Box Brown did justice to that moment.
I think Brown gives too much credit to Hogan, in too many ways, but I digress, to steal a line from Peter David (comic book writer extraordinaire).
Which takes me to the comic book side, and while I’d love to slam (am I not doing so) Stan Lee as the Hulk Hogan of the comic book world (Kirby rules! and ask Mark Evanier if you don’t understand), let me keep the rants under control.
Box Brown takes me back to the days of reading indie stuff, including Peter Bagge, who not so ironically wrote and drew a comic called Hate, which seems like such a quaint concept, especially since it was all about some loner type who didn’t ever fit in, excepting that the protagonist wasn’t over seven foot tall, a world traveler and a uniquely qualified performer in a strange amalgamation of sports and entertainment.
That’s the world of indie comics I loved. It was a time when the comic book industry had a place for different styles and different approaches and much unlike professional wrestling, the fans welcomed it when “indie” meant different, not more of the same.
What I love about this book is that it progresses rather slowly, but along the way spells out the way Andre interacted with the world. As a child, he was just a big (huge!) kid, already having his brush with fame, the inherent difficulty of his size, but in at the core just wanting to be normal.
That’s part of the internal theme.
Another theme is the humanity of the man-giant, as a euphemism for some ugly sides of his character. From his racism that spurred Bad News Brown/Allen to tell the bus driver on a Japanese tour to pull over to his awkward my-life-on-the-road-is-more-important-than-my-daughter attitude, Andre wasn’t the perfect and happy giant of his Princess Bride character.
It does seem like he and Allen Coage ultimately came to an understanding, and inevitably the heel turn was forgiven and the aging Andre had a final, poignant moment on the then WWF’s TV, but his relationship with his daughter never seems to have been made right, and his relatively early passing (ironically while too many wrestlers were enlarging their hearts, his wasn’t large enough for his body) just had him fade away.
To me, there are many parts to this story, many pages of an artist adhering to the craft, and a huge relevance to professional wrestling in the disconnect between modern and Andre era, between the crass and rapid storytelling of today and the simplified, dignified and in depth nature of taking one’s time and doing it right.
In the end, those parts make an altogether impressive whole. Weirdly, I marked out for the Terry Funk page, but didn’t quite get the point. I also (being the Friend of Bruno I am) saw several sidebars that could have been told, and some realities overlooked (Hogan was the jobber to Andre, Andre’s drawing power was much more closer to the portrayal of his Montreal days than the mythical assumptions) but the subtle and less-than-subtle acknowledgements throughout, and in the notes, make this wrestling cynic smile.
My thanks to First Second and Gina Gagliano for the review copy of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (Written/Illustrated by Box Brown). This Graphic Novel is priced at $17.99, and likely available at comic book stores and those other places that sell books and pretend to be comic book stores, too.
Read this book for an understanding of Andre Roussimoff that few other stories can ever match.