Box Brown, the author of the new Andre the Giant graphic novel talks about the similarities between the art of comics and professional wrestling and his admiration for the subject of his new book.
Comics and wrestling seem like a natural fit to me. When, as an adult, you tell someone you’re interested in comics you have to be prepared to defend that. I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about what comics are and what comics can be, like that they’re only for kids or perhaps a generation of older men still living in their parents’ basements. As a comic artist (and reader) I know this just is not the case. Comics is a medium capable of an infinite range of expressions—an art form. I believe that pro-wrestling is an art form too.
Surely then, if pro-wrestling is an art form, it has had no greater master than Andre the Giant. Andre had a condition known as acromegaly, which caused him to grow too large for his own good. When he was told he wouldn’t live past the age of forty, he decided to live the life he had to the fullest. Andre had a leg up in the pro-wrestling business, because he was a huge man who was naturally foreboding. But he didn’t rest on that. He knew how to work a crowd the way great comedians and MCs do. He knew how to play both a “babyface” (good guy) and “heel” (bad guy) to perfection. He also worked constantly for many many years to develop his craft.
In pro-wrestling when two wrestlers are developing a match they say they are telling a story in the ring. So, in addition to all the storylines that go into a pro-wrestling television show, the two athletes in the ring are telling a story. It’s a sequential story that has the qualities we look for in the greatest works of literature. The hero sets out on a quest and is tested and beaten down and eventually he rises to the occasion to defeat and overcome his detractors. Each story is different and can be a drama, tragedy or comedy. Each wrestler has his own unique style and way to depict his character. Is it that different from using a brush and ink (and Photoshop) to tell this type of story on the comic page?
I think of Andre’s story as a tragic one. He was disabled for a large part of his life and he died at only forty six years old. He was mostly portrayed on TV and spoken of as a kind man with gentle heart. But Andre was only human. He had all the flaws and personal idiosyncrasies that we all have. He was imperfect at times. He spent a lot of time in pain. I think he felt disconnected to this world that he didn’t quite fit in. Every aspect of his life had to be special fitted for him, from his clothes to his cutlery to his cars.
Towards the end of Andre’s career he was in a lot of pain. People said he probably should have retired and he could have, financially, but instead he persevered. I think this is what I admire most about him. I think those moments when he was in the ring creating stories were extremely important to him and really made him happy. I hope one day when I’m nearing the end I continue to persevere and create the way Andre did.