Andre the Giant was a very big man. If there’s one thing you get out of reading Box Brown’s graphic novel biography (Amazon link) on Andre the Giant, it’s that Andre was a very big man. Now, that’s not a slight on the comic. Quite the opposite. Box Brown’s choice to focus on Andre’s gigantic size is, by and large (no pun intended), one of the comic’s best qualities. That particular focus works well for the visual storytelling medium.
But how is the book as whole? Well, let’s talk about that.
In many ways, Life and Legend gives you sequential snippets of Andre’s life. It jumps months or years ahead from page to page as it presents stories about Andre, his life and health hardships, and interactions with wrestlers and some fans. For a few pages, he’s in Las Vegas, sharing a hotel room with Pat Patterson. The next, he’s on a tour bus in Japan with a group of superstars. like Hulk Hogan and Bad News Brown. The story snippets have few segues, which can be a little jarring, but each is titled with approximate dates and locations.
The other thing about each story is they’re all secondhand sources, stemming either from interviews with other wrestlers or something directly from onscreen. The best example of the latter is a near move-for-move visual account of Andre’s iconic match with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. However, because other sources are secondhand, Brown rarely dives into the psyche of Andre himself, usually projecting his own ideas or words into scenes. The final scene, for example, involves entirely made-up dialogue (admitted by Brown himself in the book’s source notes at the end).
It may sound like I’m being too critical on the book, but even if it felt impersonal at times, the book still has a lot of emotion. We get a good feeling of why Andre – while a very friendly jovial guy – could be closed off to many people. His great size – while a big and profitable attraction – made him feel like a monster or an outsider. As he is quoted saying during production of The Princess Bride, he enjoyed being on set, even just sitting around waiting between takes because “No one looks at me here.”
The book’s best strength, however, is its focus on the disease that eventually killed Andre: acromegaly. For one, the book focuses greatly on Andre’s daily struggles on even the simplest thing we take for granted: unable fitting into airline washrooms or getting drunk (he needed, at least, a full bottle of vodka to feel “tingly”). Some of the book’s best parts are full-page spreads, like this one that details individual health issue Andre suffered, via a full-sized body chart.
In fact, most of the book’s full-page spreads are the highlight and worth the price of admission. They showcase Andre’s size the best, such as my favourite page – Page 122, “On the Road, 1980” – where a massive Andre takes up the majority of the page. He sits in a chair far too small for him and talking into a phone receiver that his hand dwarfs. It’s these visual treats that best highlight just how large Andre was in comparison to the rest of the world.
Box Brown’s art is a real treat in this book. It’s a style reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim) or Jarrett Williams (Super Pro K.O.). The art is minimalistic, where only the most iconic features in the characters are showcased. The detail on Andre’s progression from a young lad to an adult is incredibly noticeable, as Brown’s art highlights the acromegaly plaguing Andre. I mentioned the full-page spreads earlier, but I would be remiss not to mention the recreated wrestling posters, including the iconic WrestleMania III poster. Andre’s deadpan stare at Hogan as he towers over him is recreated in fantastic fashion. Some of the depictions of the matches are awkward, but that might be Brown being new to drawing action sequences. For example, the famous “bodyslam heard around the world” looks extraordinary as a large panel taking up most of the page, it still looks slightly…off, Having not read any of his previous work, I can’t confirm whether Brown has drawn many action sequences.
Overall, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. It belongs on the bookshelf of any wrestling fan. Non-wrestling fans will certainly enjoy reading some of the fantastical tales of Andre throughout his career, including some great snippets from his time working on the set of The Princess Bride. The visuals are impressive, especially in its full-page spreads. My only complaint, as I’ve said, is the biography feels like unconnected fragments or short stories of Andre’s life. Given that they’re all secondhand accounts, it was clearly difficult for Brown to really get to the heart of Andre as a person.
Still, it’s an incredibly well-researched book and Brown’s passion for both Andre and the wrestling business unquestionably shines through. I can’t recommend it highly enough.