“The function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him.”
This quote from Roland Barthes’, The World of Wrestling Mythology, is the epigraph to Box Brown’s biography of Andre “the Giant” Roussimoff and a fair description of Andre’s career as it is depicted in Brown’s graphic novel. Andre’s staggering size and strength made him a natural star in the wrestling ring, but was he so well-loved elsewhere?
Brown’s clean, colorless artwork presents an Andre who is instantly lovable: he rides to school in Samuel Beckett’s truck, wins audiences over in The Princess Bride, and comes out of every wrestling match with a smile on his face. Brown’s faces are expressive but not too detailed, projecting a gentle persona even in the story’s most impassioned moments. Based on the events presented herein, Andre lived a good life, enjoying himself and his fame with few obstacles or scandals. However, this is not to suggest he was a flawless role model.
Two episodes in the book spotlight an Andre in need of greater sensitivity – when he hesitates to apologize after using the N-word and during the ongoing matter of his estranged daughter. Yet, the book does not pass judgment on its subject, and aside from sparse interview footage, it does not provide much evidence as to what Andre thought or felt regarding most of the events depicted in this volume. Though Brown takes plenty of artistic license in recreating unrecorded events, he does provide notes about his research.
In his personal life, Andre is shown as a happy-go-lucky guy who loved alcohol and women, while his professional life was all about putting on a good show. During the book’s wrestling scenes, Brown breaks down the components of a professional wrestling match and identifies which parts are faked to generate a response from the audience. Anyone with an understanding of wrestling entertainment is not likely to learn anything new during these sequences, but unfamiliar readers may find themselves charmed by Andre’s stage presence and his use of trumped-up rivalries. Even when Andre is in a real fight, he settles back into gestures of friendship. For someone who spent so much time battling others, he doesn’t seem like he would hurt a fly.
Unfortunately, others are not so kind in return. Life on the road can be rough and fans become upset—to the point of shouting obscenities—when Andre does not adhere to their expectations of him. His size makes him unmistakable, often a topic of derision for people who seek to make jokes at his expense or get a rise out of him. However, these social slings and arrows did not compare to the physical toll on Andre’s body, which would not carry him into old age, Diagrams illustrate the ticking time bombs that waited to enfeeble the powerful performer.
If this review reads as a basic summary of Andre’s life story, it is because Brown provides such a friendly entry point into this subject, as well as wrestling in general. Readers who are interested in the life of a man who was bigger than most will inevitably pick up some details from its depiction of wrestling. Do not mistake this work’s accessible visual style for an indicator that it is meant for children—there are several mature issues that are not resolved by the end of this volume. There is also swearing in the dialogue, as well as several non-graphic depictions of Andre’s womanizing behavior.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
by Box Brown
First Second, 2014