Whether you know him as Hulk Hogan’s nemesis at Wrestlemania III or Fessick in cult movie the Princess Bride, Andre Rousimoff was quite literally one of wrestling largest characters and in this new biography Andre the Giant Life and Legend cartoonist Box Brown takes an unconventional look at his story.
At 7’4″ tall and 520 pounds Andre the Giant became a household name in the 1980s thanks to his battles in the World Wrestling Federation as well as a host of cult movie appearances. However his life was tinged with sadness as this hard drinking, hard-living Frenchman dealt with a chronic medical condition known as acromegaly, that caused his gigantism and left him in constant pain that would see him die by the age of 46.
This comic book version of his life comes courtesy of indie sensation Box Brown and makes the story of this larger than life character seem even more extraordinary by being drawn as a comic strip. Although it may at times look like a cartoonish adventure, Brown does an excellent job of balancing his stylised caricatures with the darker elements of Andre’s life and in doing so he creates a brilliantly balanced and emotive story of this extraordinary man’s life that is as thrilling as any of his matches in the squared circle.
From his early days in rural Grenoble, France, flipping cars, the story traces his journey to international wrestling superstardom via the wrestling territories of the USA and Japan in the 1970s and 80s. For wrestling fans, Andre was one of those characters for whom a mythos has been created around him thanks to his wild life and Brown cherry picks some of the most extraordinary tales associated with him for this book. They include parking lot fights with fellow wrestlers, taking on police who wanted to stop him drinking and overturning cars to get his revenge. Brown carefully chooses stories which are documented in other wrestlers’ interviews or biographies to help give the book a sense of authenticity and some of these interviews are intercut with the narrative to give the whole thing a pseudo-documentary feel.
It’s not all happy go-lucky drinking stories though as the cartoonish Andre of the early pages evolves into the forlorn giant ravaged with pain and numbed by drink in his later years. Brown does a great job of taking on the more personal elements of his life, including his difficult relationship with his daughter (who he abandoned at birth) and also his chronic pain issues which he handles in a delicate and sympathetic way which gives the book a really heart felt core. Often using simple images and sparse words instead of overwrought soliloquies it is every bit as emotional as long form wrestling biographies. If all you knew of The Giant was a lumbering mono-syllabic beast then this book will be a revaluation as he is portrayed as a complex and intelligent man who made the most of his physical gift and his limited time in the world.
Inevitably with a biography the story leaps around in time, missing out some parts and focusing on others and for hardcore Andre fans this may mean that it lacks a complete narrative. However for the more casual fan it means the story has a much more logical and dynamic narrative as this is not supposed to be a comprehensive timeline of his career – it is still a comic book after all! – and by taking the best [and worst] parts of the story, Brown pieces together a fantastic collage of Andre’s life that gives us a superb insight into the man and the legend.
By using the comic book form so expertly it helps to take this book from being just another wrestling biography and manages to make Andre both an epic superhero and also a tragically flawed man and all of that makes for a inconceivably good read!