Graphic Novel Review: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

Author Box Brown‘s biography of the world’s biggest wrestler is an interesting read, but pacing issues and a lack of character development keep it from being an essential graphic novel.

A comic book retelling of the life of a long-gone giant French wrestler? It seems incredibly random, so imagine my surprise when I found out there was not one but two of them! Different authors, completely unrelated.

Brown’s version is done in a whimsical, almost Tumblr-esque style of drawing that keeps things simple on the surface but belies the level of talent Brown has. It’s surprising how much a few lines and dots can convey when the artist has a natural sense of shape and flow.

Emotions are conveyed wonderfully throughout the book. The problem is that they’re not conveyed enough. For a large portion of the novel, Andre Roussimoff is a naive, seldom-speaking, Golden Retriever of a man. He just smiles and is agreeable and positive. And drinks a lot. There are quite a few bar stories in this novel, and most of them are fairly similar. Roussimoff drinks an inhuman amount of alcohol, someone in the vicinity yells at him, he stays calm and basically ignores them for a while. Then he scares them off just by being intimidating.

It may well be true that Roussimoff was like this in real life- slow to anger, always mellow- but it makes for a poor central character. He just goes along with everything lackadaisically, ruminating on the goodness of life. He’s almost never upset about anything, until closer to the end.

It’s sort of jarring that throughout the novel he doesn’t show any sign of being affected by the public’s judgment, then suddenly (and briefly) lets his emotions show.

What contributes to this is the nature of the stories that Brown’s selected to be told. More than a few seem like they’ve been picked just because they were exclusive or rare, but they’re ultimately inessential. They don’t add to the plot or character development or anything. They’re just humorous little blips. One or two of them might have merited inclusion, but because there are so many of these non-sequiturs it totally interrupts the pacing of the novel.

The first three quarters breeze along, with little to no adversity standing in Roussimoff’s way. It’s only in the last quarter that his health problems begin to manifest and slow the giant down. However even then there’s a strange sense of disconnect between the various events. It’s a very episodic read, and when some of the episodes are so brief or inconsequential it’s hard to build a sense of empathy for the protagonist.

One area where this graphic novel shines is during the wrestling matches. Each one’s significance is highlighted and these scenes are often the longest and most comprehensive. Various terms are explained for the layperson, and the narration helps elucidate the “theatre” of professional wrestling.

Ultimately, the book feels slight. It skims over seemingly important parts of Roussimoff’s life and pays far too much attention to small happenings. This leads to a lack of momentum and an underdeveloped main character. It’s got some fun moments, but the lack of cohesiveness between these moments creates a stilted narrative that never fully sticks the landing.

Final Grade: C+