Professional wrestling has a, shall we say, interesting relationship with the truth. The charge that wrestling is ‘fake’ misses the point: wrestling matches are designed to tell stories, and their staging is an essential part of the art form. Of course, the best wrestling matches are the ones that cause even the most jaded, or ‘smart’, fans suspend their disbelief and get swept up in the story being told in the ring. As Box Brown explains in the preface to his new biography of Andre the Giant, “The culture of professional wrestling is, in some ways, built on mass deception. It’s no wonder it’s often a misunderstood business.”

The distinction between the ‘real’ world outside the ring and the fictional one created and inhabited by the wrestlers –referred to as ‘kayfabe’ by those in the business– is often a blurry one, which makes discovering the ‘true’ lives of the wrestlers themselves a difficult proposition. Brown’s book makes a compelling case that, at least in the case of Andre Roussimoff, the truth is overrated. It’s no mere coincidence that when he first began wrestling in France, Andre was billed as “Géant Ferré,” a Paul Bunyon-like figure from French folklore: Andre truly was larger-than-life, so he had to become a legend just to survive.

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The subtitle of Brown’s book, “Life and Legend”, is fitting since the two cannot be separated in Andre’s case. Although many people know him best as the lovable giant Fezzik from The Princess Bride, wrestling was Andre’s life and passion because it was the one place his size was an advantage and not a burden. That said, even the other wrestlers who spent time traveling and working with Andre were in awe of his size, heart, and seemingly unquenchable thirst for life –and alcohol. By focusing on their stories, which are almost certainly exaggerated, Brown’s book captures the complexity of Andre’s life better than a more ‘objective’ biography ever could. The Andre in these pages is one whose life was filled with great passion and pain. He was a man who loved entertaining people but was unable to leave the spotlight. The great tragedy of Andre’s life is that the very thing that made him famous was slowly killing him. And yet, despite the physical and emotional pain he suffered, he was able to make people all over the world happy, and that’s what made him giant.

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Saying that the truth is stranger than fiction feels like an understatement in Andre’s case. For example, the first story in the book is about the Andre –already over 6 feet tall at age 12 and unable to fit on the bus– getting a ride to school by the famed playwright Samuel Beckett. Even if that isn’t true, it’s not unbelievable since, when it comes to a legend like Andre the Giant, no story seems too far-fetched. Not all the stories here are flattering, however, such as Andre’s relationship –or lack thereof– with his estranged daughter. Brown shows all sides of Andre’s personality: he could be charming and friendly with his friends, but sometimes surly toward fans. The result is one that doesn’t diminish Andre’s legend, but humanizes it. The fact that all these stories happened to a real, complex, person somehow makes them that much more incredible.

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The complexity of Andre’s real life is also captured in Box Brown’s simple, yet nuanced, art. He draws Andre as an imposing, immovable object in the ring, and a lonely, almost frail-looking man when he’s alone. The changing size of the characters subtly underscores the blurred line between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ in both professional wrestling and storytelling, and Brown draws Andre as the people in the stories being told remember him: he’s shoulder-to-shoulder (or, at least shoulder-to-forehead) with other wrestlers, but towers over his Princess Bride co-stars.

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Some of the best sequences in the book are the wrestling matches Brown analyzes. It’s clear that he’s a wrestling fan, and he uses the opportunity here to explain how the matches are choreographed and how they ‘work’. Readers unfamiliar or skeptical about pro wrestling will probably find these passages illuminating: Brown offers a peek ‘behind the curtain’ while highlighting the art and skill required for an exciting match. His blow-by-blow account of Andre’s battle with Hulk Hogan –arguably the most famous wrestling match in history– is actually one of the best explanations of the art of wrestling I’ve read, and Brown even points out a few moments in the match I’d somehow missed despite seeing it a dozen times.

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With this book, Brown has captured both Andre’s legend and the the harsh realities of his life. Fans of professional wrestling will find a lot to enjoy here as Brown offers a fresh look at both Andre’s career and the business itself. For readers who only know of Andre from his role in The Princess Bride, this book is an excellent look at how professional wrestling made Andre a star, and how he helped take the business to new heights. All told, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a perfect biography because it humanizes Andre without ever making him look small.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop or digitally through the publisher, First Second Press.

Overall Score
95 %

Rather than bringing the Giant down to our size, Box Brown captures the larger-than-life story of Andre Roussimoff by celebrating both the man and his legend in a book that wrestling and comic book fans alike will enjoy.

About The Author

Paul R Jaissle is a philosopher, collage artist, and musician. In his free time, he enjoys reading comics (especially ones with Batman in them), listening to power pop, and watching wrestling.

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