Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
Review by KC Carlson
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown is wonderfully small story about a wonderfully giant man.
Andre Rousimoff was born with a rare condition called acromegaly, a syndrome often associated with gigantism. Unfortunately, besides just being large, other symptoms that affected Andre included aging prematurely, his brow and jaw growing more pronounced, and his heart, organs, and joints not being able to keep up with his growth. After finally being diagnosed as a young adult, Andre was told that he probably wouldn’t live past forty. And so a man who was literally fated to become larger than life found himself with an appropriate career — the larger-than-life world of professional wrestling!
This then is the amazing life story of Andre the Giant, a (mostly) gentle giant of a man who got to travel the world, entertain and be a hero for millions and millions of people, and become so famous even A&E Network devoted an episode of Biography to his life. Upon his passing in 1993 (at the age of 46), he was the first (and for a long time, the only) inductee into the World Wrestling Federation’s Hall of Fame. On an international scale, he is probably (and will continue to be) the most famous wrestler in history.
Those who don’t know him from wrestling may be one of the millions more children and adults who know him for his role as Fezzik, the gently sarcastic (and rhyming) giant of the beloved 1987 film The Princess Bride. (“Anybody want a peanut?”)
All of this is covered in writer/artist Box Brown’s impressive graphic novel of a unique man. The former Ignatz Award- and Xeric Grant-winning cartoonist has a unique style all his own. His bold, static art initially seems unsuited for the frenetic action of professional wrestling, but it perfectly fits both the character and life of Andre, which is largely told here as a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes. I am in complete awe of Brown’s amazing ability to simultaneously portray Andre as both the largest (physically) and the smallest (emotionally) character in panel after moving panel.
While much of the graphic novel is devoted to Andre’s career as a professional wrestler — immaculately researched by Brown and including a lot of seldom-told and emotionally jolting incidents of Andre’s reality — the “juice” of his story comes from the small, undersold elements of the Giant’s life. Being larger-than-life wasn’t always a plus. Normal cutlery and glasses were too small for Andre’s huge hands. He always needed special transportation, as he was too large for most cars. Airplane flights were especially difficult, as he would need two seats, and if the flight was longer than an hour or two, he would have to take special precautions, because he could not fit into tiny airplane bathrooms. And when Andre wanted to drink (a favorite pastime), he would have to drink a tremendous amount just to get a buzz. When he was on the set of The Princess Bride, he reportedly accumulated a bar bill of $40,000. (To be fair, Andre was also legendarily generous with his wealth.)
It was a good (albeit strange) life to be a friend to Andre, and his fellow travelers through life included WWF “handlers” to assist him, many of whom make cameo appearances throughout the story (another nod to Brown’s great research). Other famous characters in Andre’s life depicted in this story include Hulk Hogan (an occasional narrator), boxer Chuck Wepner (whose match with Andre was used as the basis for the famous fight in Rocky III, featuring Hulk Hogan), Bad News Brown, Blackjack Mulligan, Joey Bishop (subbing for Johnny Carson), David Letterman, and many of the cast members of The Princess Bride. There’s some hidden fun for wrestling fans, including an uncredited Pat Patterson appearance, and I always love sly, but funny, Rick Martel references.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, while having much to do with wrestling, is a giant look into the incredible life of a fascinating and exceptional man dealing with a world that is far too small to sustain him. It’s also one of the best reads this year so far. (The publisher provided a review copy.)