Cast a giant shadow
A no-holds-barred, unvarnished look at the life of a true titan in the world of pro wrestling.
Andre The Giant
Publisher: First Second Books
Writer/Artist: Box Brown
They called Andre the Eighth Wonder of the World ... mostly in adulation. To his face, they showered him with praise, requests for autographs and snapshots, and sometimes even challenged him to fights to prove pro wrestling was not fake.
But behind his back, some laughed and whispered mean things.
Andre the Giant, the largest professional athlete the world has ever seen, would just soak it all up. His own mean comments and enormous alcohol intake led him to set a few tempers on edge as well.
To read the pro wrestling legend’s life story the way Box Brown tells it – compiled from interviews with his peers, bosses, associates, opponents and other sources including 1999’s Larger Than Life biographical video released by World Wrestling Entertainment – even these questionable moments were the result of a child-like temperament that couldn’t see the wrong in it.
Born Andre Rene Rousimoff in France, he suffered from acromegaly, which resulted in his gigantism (he was usually billed as standing 2.24m and weighing 240kg).
Whether the world knew him as an unstoppable force, an immovable object, or a wrestling legend, his condition in truth caused him no end of misery, especially later in life.
His heart strained to pump blood throughout his body, while his spine and joints were under tremendous pressure whenever he moved.
A few major events in Andre’s storied life are covered here, including his time making the classic 1987 fairytale flick The Princess Bride, and his feud with Hulk Hogan that “culminated” in the famous showdown at WrestleMania III (also 1987). This graphic novel more or less echoes the popularly held version of events, with Andre willingly putting over Hogan in this match.
(For the uninitiated, “put over” is pro wrestling parlance for when a top wrestler allows an up-and-comer to shine and become a fan favourite in a match together. Another interesting term is “squash match”, where a powerhouse – like Andre, for example – obliterates an opponent without letting the guy get in much offence. And this was coined years before our very own Datuk Nicol David would make squash matches out of so many of her ... squash matches.)
Another tidbit from this graphic biography you’ll find interesting: Andre the Giant fought boxer Chuck Wepner in 1976, on the undercard of the infamous Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki boxer-vs-wrestler fight. And that fight apparently served as the inspiration for the Rocky Balboa vs Thunderlips spectacle fromRocky III.
Now, yours truly is always quick to jump on a wrestler’s biography to check out the untold tales behind what was seen on TV, but the Dwaynester felt that this tome skimps on a few important milestones in Andre’s life, glossing over or not even mentioning them.
His daughter, for example, appears in the narrative from out of nowhere. There’s a brief anecdote on Pg 122 where he’s telling a woman on the phone that “I couldn’t be any kind of father to your baby” and then nothing for 56 pages until Andre tells a buddy he’d love to have his daughter visit except for “the situation with the mother” (see pic right).
It could be that Brown is trying to set us up for the eventual impact of the mother’s summary on Pg 225 of just how many times in the child’s life Andre saw her. Still feels kind of abrupt, though.
Secondly, a lot of Andre’s significant wrestling career milestones are hardly acknowledged, such as his feud with Big John Studd and his post-WrestleMania III career in the (then) World Wrestling Federation, when he famously won the championship from Hulk Hogan and then sold it to the Million Dollar Man! (And he also did a fair bit of “putting over” another rising powerhouse, the Ultimate Warrior.)
Yet, the sheer scale of anything that involved Andre is awe-inspiring enough to overshadow a few glitches.
The main points that Brown seems intent on getting across are: Andre could drink an entire bar full of boozehounds under the table; he had a tendency to meanness that often set people’s temper off (and you can imagine how mad he made them, to get them willing to throw down with a guy his size); and he was just as quick to make amends and offer an apology.
Brown’s clean, simple, cartoony art also helps move things along at a good pace.
You don’t get bogged down stopping to admire the sights, and a second reading will throw more light on Brown’s achievement in nailing the look, mannerisms and expressions of major players in the saga with just a few simple and consistently arranged lines. Very often, the feeling is that you’re right there in the car or bus with these grizzled veterans of the road.
As a snapshot of the legend’s personality, then, this works, and it works really well; I couldn’t put it down on my first read-through.
Brown doesn’t sugar-coat Andre’s behaviour, the language is coarse and on occasion approaches the offensive. Nor does he attempt to apologise for Andre’s force-of-nature personality, or try to evoke sympathy, or even once get maudlin.
By presenting the unvarnished facts as he heard them, Brown only reinforces the legend of the man whose life he summarises within these pages, and a worthy effort it is too.
They called Andre the Eighth Wonder of the World. Life dealt him a difficult hand, but he made the most of it. He called everyone “Boss” and they rarely said otherwise to his face; but the truth was, everyone knew who really was the boss.