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Andre the Giant: Life and Legend Paperback – May 6, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Students may never have heard of Andre Roussimoff, a man born in France in the late 1950s, who would go on to become one of the first stars in the early modern era of professional wrestling. Born with a rare syndrome known as acromegaly, he produced too much growth hormone in his body. This rendered him so gigantic that as a child, he was unable to fit on the bus to go to school. Eventually finding his calling on the stage, Roussimoff eventually became a chronic drinker and smoker as he became more and more successful. He took frequent trips to Japan where he was regarded as an international celebrity. But his life was not devoid of conflict and strife. He was in constant pain as a result of his condition. He also had a daughter he barely ever saw. This in-depth and well-researched look into the life of the memorable actor from The Princess Bride is interesting and complex. Drawing from number of different sources, Brown has constructed as complete a portrait of Andre the Giant as he possibly could. While some of the language and situations in this graphic novel biography are definitely for older audiences, high school wrestling fans can nonetheless enjoy this intimate look into the life of an industry legend.—Ryan P. Donovan, New York Public Library
Larger-than-average André the Giant had a larger-than-life personality to match, and award-winning cartoonist Brown manages to capture the legendary wrestler’s career in charming, heartfelt black-and-white panels. After a few snippets of an interview with André’s fellow wrestler Hulk Hogan, Brown starts off with a doozy of an anecdote: 12-year-old André, too big to fit in the school bus, gets a ride to school in the back of Samuel Beckett’s pickup truck in exchange for a bottle of Beaujolais. From there, Brown covers André’s storied career in wrestling, his movie roles, his insatiable drinking (reportedly once running up a $40,000 bar tab), and the many health problems he faced owing to his acromegaly. Throughout, André comes across as a good-natured, gentle giant with a playful sense of humor and love for showmanship. He was, of course, no stranger to controversy, but Brown only lightly touches on those moments, choosing instead to keep the tone laudatory. Given André the Giant’s long-standing popularity among a wide audience, fans of professional wrestling aren’t the only ones who will line up to read this one. --Sarah Hunter
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This book is probably not going to turn anyone it to a raving Andre fan who wasn’t already one. The story is intended to be an unvarnished look that includes a scene where he lets loose a giant fart in an elevator occupied by a pair of fellow wrestlers. You can’t get much less glamorous than that. In many ways Andre comes off as a giant uncaring ass and a drunken bully but the book isn’t about putting Andre on a pedestal. Nor is it about tearing him down. Everywhere Andre went he was the focus of attention, often negative, and as anyone might do he developed a thick skin to protect himself from unfortunate comments. He was also given a lifespan of about 40 years due to his acromegaly which could likely explain his fatalistic drinking habits. Add to that his prodigious ability to consume and you’ve got the makings of some incredible stories.
If I had any issue with the book it would be that author Box Brown only seems to get his material from books and magazine articles. I’m not sure if this is standard for this kind of biography but most of the people featured in the book are still alive and probably not a huge challenge to get an interview from. The art is a nice minimalistic black and white and most of the characters are at least somewhat recognizable. Bad News Brown looks believable as Bad News Brown, Pat Patterson looks like Pat Patterson and so on. I do think Box Brown could have done a better job of drawing Andre. For some strange reason he draws his nose as if it were a prosthetic.
This is a book for fans of good stories about fascinating characters. Andre was one of a kind and although there have been other giant wrestlers, a few even taller than Andre, there probably hasn’t been a bigger personality. His is definitely a life worth remembering and I would say this book is a good way to remember it.
In telling Andre’s story, author/illustrator Box Brown did his homework. A life-long fan of professional wrestling, Brown draws upon interviews with those who personally knew Andre as well archival footage in an effort to show a complete and accurate portrayal of Andre’s life in and out of the ring. Throughout Andre the Giant: Life and Legend’s pages we see Andre as a young boy growing up in the French countryside, Andre as an up-and-comer in the professional wrestling circuit, and finally Andre the globe-trekking celebrity. Along the way, Brown gives life to dozens of anecdotes about the wrestler, moments ranging from playful to painful but always compelling and curious.
For those less familiar with professional wrestling, Brown takes pains to make the material accessible. Throughout the course of the narrative, he includes a preface in which he imparts to the reader a useful description of wrestling as business, explains all necessary terminology in text and within a glossary in the back of the book, and walks the reader through the context and culture of professional wrestling fandom during the 1970s and 80s.
Brown’s visual style is simple and fun, much like professional wrestling itself. While a more superhero-y sort of approach might have been equally fitting, Brown draws each moment in a very comic way, giving a light-hearted feel to the entirety of the work. Andre’s size lends itself well to this cartoonish format, allowing Brown to exaggerate Andre’s hugeness even further for effect, a move which lets Brown take the Giant’s legacy and spin it into the stuff of legend.
Brown’s storytelling proves both interesting and entertaining. Told as a chronological series of moments from Andre’s life, including small, often humorous moments such as clowning around with his buddies and altercations in bars and larger, more iconic ones such as his match against Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III (arguably the most important match in wrestling history) or his role in the film, The Princess Bride, Brown hopes to show his reader a balance of Andre the man and Andre the icon.
This balance doesn’t always work. Brown almost exclusively moves the narrative along at a breakneck pace. He never really settles into any scene for more than a few pages before moving on to the next one—which works very well throughout the action sequences set during wrestling matches and in cute moments such as Andre’s appearances on TV shows like The Tonight Show, but less well when attempting to bestow upon the reader insight into Andre’s true character. Aside from some of the wrestler’s quirks (for instance, he called everyone “boss”) and his hobbies (we learn that his favorite pastime was playing cards), I never really felt like I came to know the man. Perhaps because they are unheroic, the most human parts of Andre’s life get glossed over—including the most complicated and perhaps interesting parts of his reality outside of the ring, which involved his daughter.
What I can say after reading this graphic biography is that Andre’s life was both fantastic and flawed. He was adored by millions of fans while making millions of dollars. Yet everywhere he went people stared, and as he aged every step he took was accompanied by pain. Andre’s size and the condition which contributed to it (acromegaly) condemned him, as Brown writes in his introduction, “to a death sentence.” Andre’s enormity, the very aspect of his being which helped make him famous, also ensured his health would deteriorate rapidly and at a young age.
This book is a wonderfully illustrated, easy, entertaining read for anyone with even a slight interest in the Golden Age of professional wrestling. Andre’s career is truly fascinating: his journey from small-town, small-time shows to one of wrestling’s biggest stars is a compelling, satisfying story arc. Just expect to walk away knowing more about the Giant and less about the man.