I first encountered Box Brown long ago and far away in an era when he drew a semi-autobiographical, totally romantic webcomic called Bellen, which chronicled the relationship of nerdy little Ben and Ellen with all their foibles and joys. Since then, he has meandered through existential explorations, teenage reveries, and all manner of independent, self-published work online and in print. Throughout these comics, Brown has kept drawing in his bubbly, yet geometrically precise style, a subtle gift that can express more emotion and tell more story than it might appear to at first glance. In Andre the Giant, his formidable but little known talent finds a great muse and, as it’s published by First Second, a great platform for much-deserved broader exposure.
Although some readers may know Andre the Giant from his wrestling days, I’d wager to say that most of us know him from his work as Fezzik, the kind-hearted giant in The Princess Bride. Don’t worry, it’s an important part of this book! But for the majority of Andre’s career, he was a professional wrestler, often playing the Bad Guy, and consequently, much of this book is about Andre the Giant, professional bad guy, and how that affected his life and health in what were ultimately tragic ways.
Andre Roussimoff was born with gigantism and acromegaly, and grew so quickly that he was already over 200 pounds by the time he was twelve. His condition made him an outcast in his hometown of Grenoble, France. So, when he was offered the chance for world-wide recognition as a wrestler, he embraced it. However as a wrestler, as the book recounts, he remained an anomaly, an oddity, a man apart and alone because of his physical deformity. Brown’s story gives us both the manufactured narrative of Andre’s wrestling career and the sadder, stranger story of Andre’s real life–worldwide travels, bar fights and hotel trashings, health problems, and alienation from friends and loved ones. Beaten down both by his degenerative disease and his own choices, Andre’s life was a difficult one, and you end up walking away from this story with a large pit in your stomach.
Though at times it simply seems like a catalog of Andre’s dark days, what was the most impressive about Andre the Giant is Box Brown’s utter, nerd-tastic dedication to telling Andre’s story comprehensively using interviews, articles, personal sources, as well as a nearly encyclopedic understanding of professional wrestling. What you’re reading is more or less completely true: a real, heartfelt biography in graphic form. Brown’s ability to suck you in and make you care deeply about something (professional wrestling) and someone (Andre) which you had no idea you had any interest in is a true talent. In the end, it’s an effective, precise tribute to a man who truly had a hard life and a great showcase of Box Brown’s ever-versatile and ever-evolving talent as a cartoonist.
Andre the Giant
by Box Brown
First Second, 2014