While Andre the Giant was literally the biggest wrestling star of the 1970s and 80s, he was secretly a lonely alcoholic who lived a troubled life because of his gargantuan size outside of the ring. Professional wrestling may be fake, but artist Box Brown’s respect and admiration for the 8th Wonder of the World is not in this graphic novel biography “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend” from First Second Books.
Born in France, Andre Roussimoff had problems early in life growing up in the French countryside due to his size. He had to be transported to school by his neighbor Samuel Beckett (the famous playwright) via truck because the bus driver wouldn’t allow him passage. The only position he could play in football was goalie due to nothing getting past him. It wasn’t until the late 60s until he found his true passion: wrestling in front of audiences.
While his emergence on the scene caused massive ticket sales at first, they slowly declined due to no wrestler being able to defeat him and audiences wanting to be dazzled by a stunning performance. Traveling to Japan, he was a great success with audiences and soon enough he was internationally known for his size and herculean strength.
Brown’s research on the life of the wrestler relied on several different resources, all found in the back of the graphic novel, including television interviews, other wrestlers’ autobiographies, wrestling magazines and even DVD extra interviews with the cast of “The Princess Bride.” He did take artistic liberties when it came to dialogue and certain scenes, but clarified that they were based on actual events from different interviews with the wrestler.
The art is a simpler style, sometimes more animated and cartoony in certain settings, which definitely fits in the professional wrestling genre. And yet the art and storytelling still evokes sympathy in the reader seeing a man who at his height stood 7’4” and weighed 520 pounds struggle as his gigantism took a toll on his body the more he aged. His doctors said he wouldn’t live past 40; he lived to 46.
Because of his physical pains, the wrestler drank a lot. More than the average person due to his incredibly high tolerance, causing legendary stories to be told revolving around his massive consumption of alcohol. While on the set of “The Princess Bride,” Andre racked up a $40,000 bar tab and one night got so drunk he fell asleep in the hotel lobby, completely unmovable.
Brown’s graphic novel paints a fascinating picture of the legend, for Andre was a wrestler loyal to the craft from day one, never breaking character or admitting it was all staged. He entertained several generations of fans, and helped usher in a new golden age of wrestling in the 1990s. It was then that Andre passed the torch to Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania III when Andre was finally defeated. Professional wrestling wouldn’t be what it is today without Andre the Giant’s contributions to the craft.
Despite being a huge celebrity, Andre was still gawked at and treated differently when out in public. While having a thick skin from decades of name-calling, it still got to him and the only place he could really feel at peace was at his ranch in North Carolina.
“Andre the Giant” is a great read for wrestling fans and comic book readers alike. Being a biography, it does offer a plethora of information on the legend while still remaining entertaining. The drinking stories were especially riveting, everything from flipping cars to causing sheriffs to come and try to arrest him for unbuttoning his shirt at a bar.Andre may have been a towering colossus of a man, but his giant heart definitely matched his giant personality.