Monday, July 28, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

It is, probably, not quite fair of me to review this - I'm pushing it to call this teen anyways and anyone who knows me knows that graphic memoirs and biographies are not to my taste at all. I also have extremely limited interest in celebrities of any kind. However, after I'd read this, it really stuck with me, enough so that I want to talk about it some more.

Andre the Giant, probably best-known now for his role in Princess Bride (at least, that's what most people of my acquaintance know him for) was also a popular figure on the pro wrestling circuit for years. The story opens with some thoughts from the author on comics and professional wrestling - is it fake? What's true and what's entertainment? The graphic novel itself begins with an interview with Hulk Hogan in 2010, talking about the complex life and uncomplicated personality of Andre. It then follows his life chronologically from brief vignettes of his childhood in rural France to the French wrestling circuit, to the international scene where he visited a doctor for the first time and was diagnosed with acromegaly and told he wouldn't live past 40. He went on to wrestle as a pro for many years, acted in Princess Bride despite a recent back operation and growing pain, and in one of his final appearances as a wrestler set up Hulk Hogan as the next pro wrestling star. He died at the age of 47.

Box Brown tells the story of Andre Roussimoff in a series of vignettes, remembrances, and interviews. The story is interspersed with frequent discussions of pro wrestling and several bouts are described play-by-play with explanations of how the industry works and what the participants are doing. As he explains in his introduction, pro wrestling is a kind of storytelling - it's hard to find the truth, especially in stories about someone as legendary as Andre the Giant. He had to make a decision how to present the stories, how much to believe of what he was told, and where to use artistic license. In the end, I think he does a good job presenting Andre as both legendary and human, with a larger-than-life presence but everyday flaws and problems.

The black and white art is bold and striking, with sharply outlined panels and distinctive characters. I did feel that it didn't give a lot of space for emotion in characters and since there isn't a lot of action, other than in the wrestling scenes, this bothered me. In several places the author adds in commentary on Andre's emotions and feelings at the time. That felt really off to me - in my opinion, the art should be conveying the emotions, but Andre's face rarely changes expression.

Who is the audience for this? I have a lot of pro wrestling fans, but, of course, they're all kids. There are teen wrestling fans, but I'm not sure how I'd feel about putting this in the teen area. There are several crude sexual jokes, some off-screen sex, and some language. I'm not really sure those elements were integral to the story. I feel like the readers could have gotten just as good a picture of Andre without them and it would have made the book appropriate for a wider audience. The library I borrowed it from has in teen, but my teen section mainly caters to middle schoolers. On the other hand, since this seems to be assuming an audience who doesn't know anything about back-scenes wrestling, a fan is probably not the audience they're going for here anyways. Someone interested in graphic biographies and memoirs, who's willing to learn about the pro wrestling industry and might have some pop culture interest in Andre the Giant, seems the best person to promote this too. Unfortunately, I can't think of any adults in my small town that fit that mold. Notably, there are many blurbs from well-known and award-winning comic artists on the back; we do have most of their classic works and they...don't circulate.

Verdict: Despite my own personal bias against graphic biographies and memoirs, I did find this intriguing but like most artistic or literary graphic novels it just doesn't have the appeal in a small library like mine. It's most likely to be picked up by young kids who see the title and want to read about wrestling and Andre the Giant, and the potential issues with this happening aren't worth the few adults and older teens likely to read this. A large library serving a more diverse range of reading interests seems the best place for this.

ISBN: 9781596438514; Published 2014 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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