Professional wrestlers are some of the most interesting people. It takes a special piece of lunacy to go through with being a wrestler and live that life. That’s why I find certain performers more interesting as people from the peeks we see of them behind the curtain than the characters they portray in the ring. For better or worse, people like Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Haku, Matt Hardy, Sycho Sid, Mick Foley, Ric Flair, John Cena, and Perry Saturn are just plain fascinating.
Andre the Giant is on the top of the list because he was larger than life both inside and outside the ring. I recall Vince McMahon once saying that not a day goes by in the offices that Andre’s name doesn’t come up. He’s a world famous man who knew he was going to die young, so he decided to live it up. A biography for him has been a long time coming. WWE tried one a few years ago called Andre the Giant: A Legendary Life and it’s absolutely terrible. While there are some fun stories early on, it wastes time by describing every single move in every single one of his major matches to fill pages, all while keeping it within the fourth wall. Stay away from that one.
When I found out Box Brown was going to do a graphic novel biography on Andre, I was intrigued. If you were going to tell a story about such a man, visual is the way to go, just to hit home how much he towered over everything. Plus I’ve loved Brown’s take on wrestling stuff, like that adorable Bobby Heenan comic strip he did one time.
If you are a wrestling fan, that is the cutest thing.
Andre is best described in a scene from 1977, where he’s in a Las Vegas casino with Pat Patterson. They’re in the bathroom and while washing his hands, he smiles and inspects his own gnarly teeth, a side-effect from the acromegaly that would cut his life in half and force him to live a life of pain. After staring for a second, he simply tells Patterson to join him to play some cards. He was a man who knew his time was short, so he tried not to dwell on it. He just wanted to experience the good times as long as his cursed body would allow.
Andre is considered like a folk hero in the wrestling world and it’s those stories that make up Life and Legend. Brown scoured through countless interviews and books with different wrestlers who had something to say about him in order to best paint the picture of his life. For instance, there’s a scene from 1980 in the book where a bearded Andre is on a tour bus with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, Stan Hansen, and others. On the ride, Bad News Brown overhears Andre laughingly using a racial slur and gets outraged, leading into a confrontation between the two and a lot of bad blood. I have actually seen the interview Bad News Brown did where he discussed the incident and Box Brown translates his words rather perfectly.
2/3 of the book is nothing but those kinds of stories and they’re fantastic. There’s no basic narrative, so the scenes speak for themselves as slices of Andre’s life, merging together to give you a good look at what kind of person Andre was. Kind-hearted, generous, mischievous, incredibly stubborn… very, very stubborn.
The other 1/3 of the book is about Brown translating real footage into comic form. Stories about Andre pranking One Man Gang or forcing Terry Funk to watch Princess Bride multiple times are easy to do because it’s up to Brown’s imagination to turn the verbal recollections of others into an illustrated story with his own artistic license. But then you have stuff like Andre’s interview with David Letterman and his boxing vs. wrestling match with Chuck Wepner. Brown draws them and transcribes them, but he also inserts his own opinion of what Andre had to be thinking. Like how he feels Andre is seconds away from breaking down in tears when cutting a promo on Earthquake during an interview segment, but is able to hide his emotion at the last second.
Those parts aren’t as good as the rampant hearsay stories of Andre being wrestling’s Paul Bunyan, but they do lead into the moment that really makes Life and Legend go from amusing to a fantastic piece of work. There’s a piece of comic-translated footage late in the book that theoretically could have been missing and nobody would have noticed, as it isn’t even followed up on in any way, but it really acts like a curveball and a punch to the gut. I don’t want to spoil what it is, but it is something that Brown doesn’t even add his own personal flourish to. He lets the words and images speak for themselves. It ultimately shows that at first glance, we might admire Andre for his credo of living life on his terms because of his short lifespan, but it isn’t so cut and dried. There are actually seriously tragic repercussions to his actions.
It also makes you look at another double-edged sword in Andre’s life, which Brown may or may not have done on purpose. There are so many stories told and he shares these moments with so many different wrestlers, but none of them really stick around. Hulk Hogan is the absolute closest this book has to a supporting character when all he does is open the prologue with an interview, appears without dialogue during the Bad News Brown bus incident, and has his WrestleMania III match with Andre. Andre’s company is like a revolving door and it’s hard to know how to feel about that. Did he have so many friends or did he just have too few real friends?
That said, it works out great for me because Brown’s art has so much personality to it and as a wrestling fan, I want to see him draw as many recognizable (even if they aren’t outright mentioned by name) wrestlers and personalities as possible. His Andre is exceptional, mainly in the fact that he’s constantly evolving, whether it be from his body growth or personal style. Other than his hugeness, Andre’s appearance seems to alter itself from story to story and he rarely looks exactly the same twice.
It’s a book I can’t help but recommend to any wrestling fan. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, you still might find it just as interesting. Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a great look at one of the most unique people to ever walk the Earth. He was flawed and at times ignorant, but overall certainly someone to look up to.
No pun int… eh, who am I kidding?