Andre the Giant, in case you don’t know, was a wrestler in the 70s and 80s, a guy who ‘weighed 600 pounds and stood nearly seven and a half feet tall’ – a guy who, like the protagonist of John Arcudi’s comic The Creep, suffered from acromegaly, a disease that sees the pituitary gland continue to release growth hormone leading to disfigurement and death. Running like an episode of The Office, Box Brown intercuts dramatised events from Andre’s life with ‘straight to camera’ interviews with the likes of Hulk Hogan.
We first meet Andre in person in Molien, France in 1958 – in frames that go some way towards portraying Andre as a sort of Paul Bunyan figure – and Box recounts a story that feels fantastical – a meeting between the nascent wrestler and Samuel Beckett. From the age of 12, he is too big for the school bus. Before long, he can lift up his dad’s car when a wheel needs to be changed. A short-lived career in removals leads him to Paris where, in 1969, he gets his first stab at wrestling, at the Elysee in Montmartre. From here, he doesn’t really look back, his immense fanbase – crowds shouting Gi-ANT! Gi-ANT! – walking hand in hand with the drunken big mouths bemoaning the fakery of wrestling and debating whether they could take him in a fight. The wrestling debate is central to Andre the Giant.
There’s actually quite a lot of similarity with Louis Malle’s Man on the Moon movie about Andy Kaufman. Both Andre and Andy were often misunderstood. They both struggled to find some sort of comfort with women. They could both be pretty obnoxious when they chose to be. Box doesn’t try too hard to present Andre in an always sympathetic light (which is to his credit – we are getting the full picture of the man – he could be an ass but he could also be a good friend and pretty lovable when he chose to be). The rut into which Andre got – wrestling when his health was deteriorating, because it was largely all he knew, the fact that his height crept to under seven feet with all of the injuries he suffered – is tragic.
Art-wise, it’s deceptive. When the book opens, it feels somewhat simplistic, hard black lines, simple background details, cross hatching. There is something light and comedic in Box’s style, something that has you smiling as you see Andre upend a car with two loud mouths in, chat as he and entourage fly across the ocean, that also works when pathos is called for – a solitaire board, an appearance on a TV show. You’re probably thinking is this a graphic novel I should read if I’m not interested in wrestling and the answer is a resounding yes. It doesn’t matter. It’s one of the real pleasures of graphic novels (more so even than reading which can often be more predicated on authors you like and reviews you’ve read) that they so often present you with worlds you wouldn’t otherwise engage with. Andre the Boxer is definitely worth further investigation.
Any Cop?: Imagine Joe Sacco trying his hand at a wrestling biography and you’ll have an idea about what to expect from Andre the Boxer.