Please keep up with all of my old Graphic Novel Reviews here as I quest for 365 in 365 days!
First Second Week continues with a Guest Graphic Novel Review by Adam Ebert. Do me a favor and give fellow Comic Book Teacher Adam a follow @MrAtomAbort on them Twitters.
Title: Andre The Giant: Life and Legend
Author: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second (2014)
Age Rating: 13+
Andre The Giant: Life and Legend provides its reader with both a crash course in the sport of professional wrestling and a portrayal of the life of a mythical figure.
This graphic novel by Box Brown (Tetris: The Games People Play) tells the story of André René Roussimoff or “Andre the Giant,” a professional wrestler known for his enormous stature and larger-than-life (pun intended) personality. Jumping off directly from the title itself, the narrative presents Andre as a man who drank more, lived more, and laughed more than just about any other person alive. The story constantly toes the line between history and legend, reminiscent of Paul Bunyan’s tall tales and Greek myths. This wrestler was a true legend, a direct result of the time period in which he lived. In an age before social media, Roussimoff and his collaborators made very specific decisions to build the myth and legend of “Andre the Giant.” Their plan included to limit the public exposure of the man himself, pair him with shorter opponents, and play up the sideshow-esque aspect of his size and stature. Some of the anecdotes illustrate Andre as a truly mythic individual, drinking enough beer and liquor to kill the averaged-sized man, but only ever getting “a little tingly.” There are plenty of scenes that seem almost unbelievable but Brown did an immense amount of research to ensure the scenes were accurate depictions of the man’s life. Andre the Giant was truly an anomaly in regards to his anatomy and this book plugs directly into that idea.
Throughout my entire life, I’ve had various occasions in which I’ve dabbled in the sports entertainment known as professional wrestling. However, there are still a handful of terms and concepts about the sport that I am still unfamiliar. When necessary, Brown provides the reader with some quick side-notes on what is being referred to in any wrestling-centric conversations. For instance, Andre the Giant notes he will “put [Hulk Hogan] over” in their Wrestlemania match. With an asterisk under a panel, the term is translated to mean “make your opponent look good.” For any reader coming to this book without wrestling knowledge, the creator makes the sport approachable and understandable. The story doesn’t spend much time on any given match, instead it uses tiny vignettes to paint the picture of his life.
Biographical texts are often difficult in that they often lean to one side in how they portray their subject. I personally feel as though Brown skews honestly with the stories he’s illustrating about his main character. In one scene, we’re giggling along with Andre and a friend as they watch his performance in The Princess Bride. While in another scene, Andre has an altercation with another wrestler after ignorantly directing a racial slur at him. It’s in this back and forth that we see Brown isn’t pulling punches with his subject. Despite his gigantic stature, Andre was still a human being and ultimately, we are all flawed at our core.
The story eventually concludes with a segment touching upon Roussimoff’s estranged daughter. Documented through a TV special, the reader learns that Andre rarely ever saw or acknowledged his daughter, usually only doing so when there was legal action involved. While that portion is presented very quickly at the end of the book and paints Andre in a more negative light, it is also preempted by an extended sequence in which he plays the heel (wrestling term for villain) in a match with Hulk Hogan.
Finally, Brown’s particular art style is what really makes the book for me. A unique cartoonish presentation, one could easily see his style being used for an Adult Swim series. His clean and simple lines have a weight that plays very well with the physiques of his wrestlers. If one could consider using this text in their classroom, I believe that the presentation of this book is very approachable and visually appealing. While there is some material (language and sex) that would be more appropriate for older students, certainly excerpts of this text could be used in a mythology or historical fiction unit.
Essentially, what Brown crafts is a myth and a legend that we’ve experienced in our own lifetime, in our own reality. Larger-than-life figures can be brought closer to home when we see the cracks in their armor and feel the warmth of their hearts.
Thank you, Adam for the great review of this awesome book! First Second has made quite an impact on many of my fellow Comic Book Teachers, and that is why I’ve featured two guest reviews this week, and I thank Adan and Adam for their gusto and efforts!
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