Was he the eighth wonder of the world, a deadbeat dad or a compassionate warrior? Join Jay and Phil as they grapple with Andre the Giant by Box Brown.
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[00:00:10] I have had good fortune in my life. If I were to die tomorrow, it would be with the knowledge that I've eaten more good food, drunk more beer, more fine wine. I've had more friends. And I've seen more of the world than most ever will.
[00:00:42] Welcome to Dogeared and Cracked, the podcast, where we recommend a book for each other and then engage in conversation about it. We don't discuss the books at all before we hit the record button, so we never really know which way this podcast will go. We might roast each other's picks. We might be pleasantly surprised. And either way, we get to read books we probably would not have picked up on our own. If you want to read along with us, head over to dogearedandcracked.ca to see our upcoming titles. I'm Phil. And I'm Jay. And this week we're discussing Brian Box Brown's 2014 comics biography of Andre the Giant. And it's called, quite simply, Andre the Giant.
[00:01:25] Before we get into the book, if you like the podcast, please write more reviews on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Ratings and reviews make the podcast easier to find and allow us to reach more people. You can also leave us feedback at dogearedandcracked.ca. And who knows, we might even read it on the show.
[00:01:44] Jay, I have no idea what, if anything, your history is with wrestling in general, or Andre the Giant in particular. So I'll just say that upfront. But before we get into the book. Tell us a bit about Brian Box Brown.
[00:02:01] Well, Brian Box Brown was born in 1980. He's an American cartoonist whose first work was the online comic Bellen!. He was awarded in 2011 a Xeric grant for a comic. Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing. What I found interesting was in 2011, Brown started a Kickstarter fund raiser. This was to create a new publisher called Retrofit Comics with a goal of publishing 16 alternative comic books over 16 months. Since completing that goal, Retrofit Comics has continued to publish new comic books every month or two. Brown's full like graphic novel about the professional wrestler Andre the Giant debuted as a ninth bestselling The New York Times bestseller list for paperback graphic books and remained on that list for three weeks.
[00:02:47] So, yeah, I guess, you know, the title pretty much gives this away. But tell us what the book Andre the Giant is about.
[00:02:56] So Andre the Giant is a biography of a man most famous for his work as a professional wrestler. Andre Roussimoff is his full name, was a large man at seven foot four inches, and he weighed over 500 pounds. In this book, we learn about Andre's life as a child and how he got his start as a wrestler after using his strength and size as a furniture mover. He was very successful in the world of wrestling. On the darker side, Andre the giant has been unofficially crowned the greatest drunk on Earth for once consuming one hundred and nineteen beers in six hours. Now, normally, I would ask Phil, why did you want me to read this? But considering you showed up to one of my parties, in a wrestler’s singlet and folding chair with your wife dressed as your manager. I think I already know the answer.
[00:03:44] I think my favorite part was showing up at the door with the steel chair and being told, ‘oh, we have enough chairs’.
[00:03:54] I enjoy wrestling and I've written about it. And I've had the opportunity to get to know local wrestlers, which has given me some kind of you know, I feel like some insights I didn't have before. So, you know, I'm interested in all that wrestling stuff. And I like this book enough to have bought one of the pages of artwork from Brian Brown. I'm actually looking at it right now. It's on the wall in front of me. But also because I know that you and I have talked about comics and graphic novels in the past. And, you know, you've said that. You were interested in them, but didn't know a whole lot about them, and one of the things about Brown's work is that he's he has said that people tell him that, you know, I'm not really into comics, but I liked your work. I found it accessible. So that was one of the reasons I wanted you to read it, because it seemed like kind of a way to a way to maybe get into the style of book a little more. Did was that your experience? Did you find it accessible as someone who hadn't read a whole ton of comics, graphic novels or biographies?
[00:05:01] So I would say that Brown's book accommodates readers at different levels and does so well, comics, graphic novels. I consider them both the same art form. I've learned to appreciate that they do a really great job of portraying events in a very economical manner drawings, words, panels, sketches, and they're able to adequately depict very complex emotions and action sequences. It's an impressive art form.
[00:05:30] So before we get into that, we could look at some of the specifics of the book. Tell me what you knew about Andre the Giant and wrestling in general. And I know a lot of people know Andre the Giant, maybe not from wrestling, but through The Princess Bride.
[00:05:44] Well, my experience with wrestling goes back to the mid 80s, those are the days of Hulk Hogan and Jake the Snake Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior.
[00:05:53] I appreciated wrestling, its style, but more on a peripheral basis. say I'm channel surfing some night. My thumb would hover over the scan button just as macho man Randy Savage is flying off the ropes. That kind of thing would catch my interest enough to set the remote down. Watch for a little while.
[00:06:11] I knew about Andre the Giant, but not in any respect of fandom. He was just one of several wrestlers like King Kong Bundy that are even now playing around the edge of my consciousness.
[00:06:19] You know, King Kong Bundy was like probably my all time favourite. He was the bald one, wasn't he? Yeah. He died last year, actually. He just seemed to revel in being the bad guy, you know, standing there while everyone's booing him. Kind of like egging the audience on and for some reason that really appealed and Andre was big when we were kids in Montreal.
[00:06:45] Right. Like, you know, I have a friend who would go see him when he was there as Le Geant Ferre. And you probably noticed the Montreal Forum and a few of the drawings in the book.
[00:06:54] I mean, I can recall under the giant's name, but his memory and his specifics would really be conflated with others of that time. I do remember Ted DiBiase, Million Dollar Man sitting at the bar that nobody from Cheers in downtown Montreal of course at that age.
[00:07:13] I'm thinking to myself, he's not so big.
[00:07:16] Wrestling's fake. He doesn't know how to fight.
[00:07:21] I actually found myself wondering about the book's intended audience.
[00:07:26] Brown's book is meant to be read by people who are not familiar with wrestling. Then I was wondering if you gave any thought to why would they pick the book up in the first place?
[00:07:35] Yeah, it's an interesting question. Like, I read a novella last year called Hardway Juice and and Hardway Juice refers to wrestlers making themselves bleed in the ring. And it had. And it's like such a hardcore wrestling fan kind of book. And it had a glossary at the back. And I thought, nobody who needs this glossary would read this book. So I'm assuming it's because Andre had a wider cultural kind of presence that a lot of wrestlers do. Right. And he seems to have somehow I don't know why and I'm not sure the book answers this, but what it was about him. I mean, sure, he was huge. But even when he was a reader, even when he was a villain, I think people kind of loved him. And so I'm guessing it's a good question about the audience, but I'm guessing, you know, there was just a broader appeal to Andre. And so the hope was people who were like, oh, yeah, I've seen this guy like I want to know about his life. And there's also the inherent tragedy of the thing that made him famous in part, which was his size, is also the thing that killed him because he never stopped growing and his body couldn't handle it. So I think he's more of a tragic figure, which lends itself maybe to biography into a broader audience.
[00:08:54] You love wrestling. You recommended it to me to read so that I could kind of get drawn into that world. So maybe it served its purpose.
[00:09:04] It's the gateway drug. It’s a gateway book to wrestling.
[00:09:09] So what did you think of how the comics format lent itself to biography. Comics format made for an easy read and captures in panels key points in his life? Brown does do a great job in mixing in third party perspective or relating. Talk show interviews and comments from under his colleagues. But where it fell short was in its depth.
[00:09:32] So Box Brown has entire panels that is filled with simple sketches of an airplane or just a building. And when I left that box last page, I kind of felt slightly unfulfilled, as if I'd only really gained a cursory understanding of Andre the Giant.
[00:09:50] So remind me the last title. Is he on a plane? Is it does it show a plane? Is that it?
[00:09:56] That's right. It's just a little plane in the big sky.
[00:10:00] And what does he say something or do we just see the plane?
[00:10:04] So deal the cards, boss. It's a long flight.
[00:10:07] It's almost like there's two characters, right? Like there's Andre and then you if you have an awareness of Brian Brown as the narrator telling us about Andre.
[00:10:17] I hadn't thought of this when I was reading the book, although it seems kind of obvious to me now. To me, I guess it has a kind of intimate sense in some way. On the one hand, it seems very surface. I do see what you mean. And then there's a kind of intimacy of it's almost like this guy is telling us this story. Which we're seeing in drawings at the same time.
[00:10:36] That's right. I mean, biographies suffer from that same challenge. All biographies, because you don't know what that subject is thinking. There's some good humour in this book.
[00:10:45] There's a scene where I really enjoyed where a patron of a bar where Andre is drinking a man decides that he's tougher than Andre because, of course, wrestling is fake. And Brown does a great job of portraying this man's bravado by drawing him in a separate panel. Filled out in a muscular pose.
[00:11:01] And this is where Brown suddenly Asterixes the patron’s newfound physique as, quote unquote, beer muscles.
[00:11:09] I thought one of the things that I noticed about that scene is, oh, no, you know what? I'm mixing it up with another scene. There's another scene where Andre takes us, opens his shirt because it's too hot, right in Texas.
[00:11:22] And the bar or the bar owner tells him he has to do up his shirt and he refuses. And the bar owner calls the cops and the cops come. And then they're looking at the size of him and then they're just thinking about how much backup they're going to need. And then they say, you know what? Why don't you just let him drink with his shirt open? And throughout that time, Andre says almost nothing. I think, other than just ordering more beer. He's simply using his size. He doesn't make any threats. He doesn't say, yeah, make me put my button, my shirt up. He just quietly keeps drinking and they're so intimidated by his size that they just go away in the end.
[00:12:01] Brown actually does a really good job of conveying the enormity of how gigantic Andre was. And it's because it's it's not as simple as just showing him standing next to someone who's smaller, but he does. I will give him credit for conveying that gravitas and sense of possessing a room.
[00:12:25] You said earlier it's something about how how he can convey a lot in a few panels. And I think. You know, the book is very episodic, like the structure is pretty simple, it's linear, right?
[00:12:39] We start with Andre when he's a kid and the other kids make fun of him on the school bus. He doesn't want to ride the school bus. And Samuel Beckett drives him to school and tells him he's a playwright. And so we just get these little and that's the only scene we see of him at that age. And then it's a few years later, and it's a series of scenes from his life. And sometimes they're a few years apart. Sometimes there are longer stretches. It's like brand just picks these. I imagine a timeline of Andre's life. It's like Brand is going at this moment and this moment and this moment. And there's often not a lot of connection or segway between them. So I'm wondering if if that worked for you, if you found it off putting.
[00:13:20] No, it worked fine as a structure. And it did get me thinking, though, about how we tell the story of someone's life or how we even tell a story. And with biographies there's a challenge with basically cognitive bias. So Bronw would have started out with hypotheses about what he thought of Andre the Giant, the segments that we choose to write down in a book. Define that character. So, for example, you could have left out all the fights. You could have left out all the good acts that Andre did.
[00:13:55] You did create and produce a fairly balanced perspective in view of Andre the Giant. But when you're using snapshots like that, when you're taking segments of someone's life, you're consciously picking certain segments. And by doing so, you’re.
[00:14:13] Basically, you're biasing the story.
[00:14:18] So I was curious what you thought about that in terms of the problem with that and how you how do you how can you avoid that? How can you create a balanced view of someone?
[00:14:27] Well, I mean, you'll have a bias no matter what. Right. Yeah, there's no objective telling of someone's life right now.
[00:14:35] I mean, I don't fault Brown for picking smaller segments from someone's child, because typically, if you think about someone's life and frankly, like if someone is reading a book about Andre the Giant. They're more interested in his wrestling. So you start with a few anecdotes from his childhood.
[00:14:53] You show him as a mover moving furniture and then you really get into it.
[00:14:57] He picked a lot of segments in the wrestling, though, that were very similar. That was one thing I thought was interesting.
[00:15:06] But maybe, again, that was really under the Giants life, really. He was defined by either drinking too much. Staying in bars when he should have left or wrestling matches, and that was kind of his life.
[00:15:20] There's no there's very little there that reflects on his relationships with people outside of wrestling. And maybe that is just a function of the fact that Andre really didn't have a life outside of wrestling, which is probably true.
[00:15:36] Right. When we learn he has a daughter that comes out of completely out of left field, right?
[00:15:40] It does. And it's strange. So one thing I thought was strange is and this isn't this sounds harsh as a criticism and it really isn't.
[00:15:48] But there's about three pages devoted to Andre's ranch where he enjoyed hanging out. And there's a man, Frenchy, that he refers to.
[00:16:00] And they compare height, size. And Frenchy says, I wish I had your height. Andre says, no, no, you don't. want my height that was kind of the end of it. But I was watching a video later on and he left a third of his fortune to this man, Frenchy. Really? Yeah. So the friendship.
[00:16:16] There was a little deeper than I think Brown captured.
[00:16:19] I had a lot of respect for how Brown was upfront about these liberties that he took because he captures them in the end notes and he explains very explicitly where he got his sources, where which stories were from accounts and which ones he actually embellished himself. Brown's storytelling is well-thought-out. Do you remember when the reader when you first learned that Andre the Giant has acromegaly? It's through a conversation between his Japanese handler and his agent over the phone. Andre isn’t even in the panel just I find it really well constructed. I mean, it's a sad condition, but it's what created who he was. If you want to take anything away from that story about Andre's life, it's really that he made the most of what he was.
[00:17:24] Given he used this size to his advantage and he ended up really in the one industry that embraced that, it's obviously a sympathetic portrait of Andre.
[00:17:37] Like we can it's clear that Brownfield's feels sympathy towards him, but he also doesn't avoid kind of less savory stuff. He does include scenes that reflect poorly on Andre. Right. He can be lewd. Like you said, he's drunk a lot of the time. His bar tab on The Princess Bride is forty thousand dollars. And there's the scene where he has to have surgery on his back and the anesthesiologist doesn't know how to dose him is like, well, you know, after a couple of bottles of vodka, he starts to feel a bit of a tingle. So he's a he's a heavy, heavy drinker. He's racist towards a black wrestler. Bad news, Brown. We learn about this daughter that he has, who he pays no attention to. And, you know, he's become this really beloved kind of character. So I respected Brown for including this stuff and not kind of going the easy route of just, you know, not including the more unsavoury aspects of him. And so I wondered what you thought about these revelations about him, if they tarnished his image or just like while, well, he's human.
[00:18:44] Well, he does paint a picture of a selfish man. And at the same time, he presents both sides of the story. For example, countering these revelations that we read concerning, you know, he's abandoned his daughter and his propensity to drink and fight. Brown also sprinkles smaller anecdotes in the story about giving money to street people. I don't know. I think people in general are complicated.
[00:19:08] Well, it's kind of interesting, too, that he starts with Hulk Hogan telling us that some people think Andre was a jerk. Right. But I don't really think he was. And also, you know, Hulk Hogan being an incredible jerk himself.
[00:19:22] Right. And it's. You know, I have to say on the you know, drinking aside, he was he was a force. He was a force of nature. He drank too much. Fought too much.
[00:19:36] But he seemed to have a soft spot for certain people in his life. And the other part of this Phil, it is we don't know what it would be like, people continually staring at us, ridiculing us.
[00:19:48] And he was formed by that to some degree. And I am sympathetic to that aspect of his life as he could never fit in that world because of his size.
[00:20:00] Right. And that's what he said he likes when they're shooting The Princess Bride. Right. Is that nobody is staring at him
[00:20:05] Right. Exactly.
[00:20:08] So I wanted to look at a couple of scenes in the book that are detailed explorations of specific wrestling matches. Now there's a couple of things, if you'll allow me to digress a bit. I guess there's a couple of things I learnt from hanging out with wrestlers. One of the things that shouldn't have surprised me but did was how much time they talked about taking care of each other and protecting each other like they come out of a match and say that was a good match. We took care of each other. So what you're seeing in the audience is them apparently beating the crap out of each other. But one of their core values is making sure you don't hurt the person who's in the ring with you. Right. And one of the other key parts of what they do is their psychology. So one guy told me that the best part of Jake the Snake Roberts is wrestling was his psychology, that he could make you believe anything he wanted you to believe. And this guy had worked with Jake the Snake when he was older and waiting for hip surgery. And he said he didn't have to do much. He could stand there in the corner and a tag team match coming at the end hit the guy with the DDT. One, two, three. Everyone goes home happy. So there's a couple of wrestling matches in the book that Brown looks at in in detail, I think, showing some of those aspects, like normally one restorable kind of jump while the other one is lifting him up to make it easier on him. And then he looks at the psychological and the physical aspects of how those matches work. So one of them is early in his career where it's against these kind of No-Name guys. And at one point, Brown says it was a terrible acting job from one of them. And then near the end, when it's Andre versus Hulk Hogan at Wrestle Mania 3, where by losing Andre is really helping to pass the torch to Hulk. And I have to say, I actually paid to watch Wrestle Mania 3 at the Montreal Forum on the big screen. And that's where I first, I think, or one of the first times I saw King Kong Bundy. So I'm just curious about, you know, what you made of those scenes where he really explores these matches in detail. Like, was that was that interesting to you? Did it get tedious? Did it provide insights? How did you see them?
[00:22:28] I thought it was fairly well balanced. Did you know that Andre drank previous to the match, 14 bottles of wine?
[00:22:37] No, I didn’t.
[00:22:38] I would agree with you that the real magic in these matches occurs when the wrestlers exercising those psychological skills and playing the audience.
[00:22:49] I like the way Brown takes us through the specific steps in that performance and then where they're trying to play out the match to capture the emotions of the audience. The best performances are ones where the audience forgets that they're being manipulated and they leave that event happy and content.
[00:23:09] It's funny, I went to one show in Winnipeg it was a WWE show. And I was actually disappointed, and I'll tell you why. And I couldn't figure it out whether it was the stands, because they're filled with unimpressed, lukewarm fans.
[00:23:25] Or was it that there are no announcers? So being used to watching this on TV, I'm used to deafening thuds accompanied by frenzied high pitched screaming and the announcer. And this was just quiet, muted. It's like watching a golf tournament. And I was actually very disappointed.
[00:23:45] Now, again, I had never figured out why, but I've never been to another match and I would have expected the WWE show to be more like what you've described.
[00:23:56] Yeah, I talked to a guy who saw Hulk Hogan at his peak at Maple Leaf Gardens, and he said the energy was like far more intense than anything he'd ever experienced at a hockey game.
[00:24:07] You know, I will add, I actually watched that wrestling wrestle mania 3 match on YouTube. And again, I just compared it to Browns play by play.
[00:24:19] And he does a great job, great job of hitting the high points and explaining kind of behind the scenes.
[00:24:26] And to your point about protecting each other, about Andre doing headbutts, about really doing them into his own hands.
[00:24:33] So I haven't asked you about this, but we didn't talk about and I'm no expert in this at all. But Brown's drawing style, like, it's quite simple. Or maybe it's deceptively simple.
[00:24:44] Not a fan. He did not overwhelm me at all. There are sections where I almost felt he was just being lazy. I'm sounding harsh, but his style of drawing is not what I would really hope to see for a graphic artist.
[00:25:03] He was able to capture the size of Andre the Giant. He did that quite well, but he didn't capture emotions well. I don't feel like he captured fear of others.
[00:25:14] Some of the reactions of people appeared comical in nature, which is ironic. There are sections and panels where he hasn't put the detail into another rustler. So the rooster looks like. You know, basically the start of a drawning. And it's not a style that that I appreciated. And maybe it's a certain type of style, that I'm used to. Kind of the more detailed, vibrant drawings with backgrounds filled out or at least more realistic capture of human faces, human bodies.
[00:25:56] And as I say that, I realise now that I have potentially severed our friendship.
[00:26:01] As I recall, the fact that you're what right now in front of you, is a panel from his book.
[00:26:08] But I've got only about I love his drawings. He's a great artist from the sense of the entire package. I have a favourite moment. Do you recall how Brown talks about Andre's declining popularity in 1972? Do you remember that when he starts headlining at in Montreal?
[00:26:26] Is this just because he's performing too often?
[00:26:29] That's right. And the way the way that Brown portrays it and illustrates it is the first he's got the first panel depicting the marquee sign and it's black lettering. The white panel celebrates that tickets for Andre. They use the stage name.
[00:26:48] And at that time are sold out. Next panel modestly announces that some tickets are available for his match against Martelle. Then we're down to quarter panels as a hapless vendor offers first two for one tickets for Andre versus the Butcher. And then the panels progressed smaller in size.
[00:27:08] I was a phenomenal way to do the pick Andre's decline in popularity.
[00:27:13] It reminded me a little bit of Spinal Tap where you know, where you wind up with Puppet Show and Spinal Tap at the end.
[00:27:22] I had to find that movie somewhere. I really want to watch. You've never seen it? I've seen the highlights of it. We’re digressing here. The Stonehenge is too small.
[00:27:38] Before we get to a ratings, by the way, I should tell you that the page that I owned, if you want to look it up, is page143.
[00:27:45] So we you know, we've come to the part of the podcast where we each offer a personal rating and we have a scale of one to five. So this time around, I would say 1 means you want to hit me or Brian Brown with a pile driver for making you read this. And 5 means ring the bell. We have a winner. That was a very bad sounding bell. But what's your rating for Andre the Giant?
[00:28:10] So this is difficult for me. As regular dog eared and cracked listeners have learned about me. I tend to overthink, overanalyze and over philosophize. And there's some around my existential dilemma was, are we rating a graphic book on its ability to tell a story?
[00:28:31] The selective use of prose, of the quality of its imagery?
[00:28:35] Can I interject? Yes, please. I think it's the whole package. You know, a great, great story. But art you don't like you know, it's not it's not. You can't really separate them out.
[00:28:49] No, that's right. It is the entire package I elected to rate it on its merits as a storytelling vehicle which would incorporate the elements of the art, the words panels, how everything is laid out. And on those terms, I thought it fully captured the essence of Andre the Giant struggles and his complicated nature. Well, it was a very enjoyable read.
[00:29:12] I did feel Brown's artistic talents, needed a little more work. Some of the panels, some might argue, is a minimalist approach.
[00:29:21] Details just not there. And so as a storytelling device, I'm writing in a respectable three point five.
[00:29:30] Now, if Brown would go back to art school and hone those drawing skills and rerelease the book I’d happily aware it a 4 out of 5.
[00:29:38] So you're ensuring we should not tag him on Twitter when we make this podcast episode live, I would imagine that minimalist style is deliberate. Is this the first time that we're going to agree? I like this book a lot, but I think, you know, I would go with a. I keep wavering between a three point five and a four, but I think I would go with a three point five as well. I think it's a great introduction to Andre. It's a great look into the world of wrestling. It's kind of captivating. But I do get that sense, you say, of some of it being just kind of skimming along the surface as well, and whether that's a result of the format or, you know, the limitations of the format or him really trying to capture as much of Andre's story as possible without going really deep. Although he does go into the psychology, but without going really deep into it, I do get that sense. There is a bit of a there is a bit of that sense of kind of skimming along. Yeah. So I don't know. I can't remember. But I think this might be the first time we've actually agreed on the book.
[00:30:51] Really my last thought on this book is I would say it succeeded, really succeeded well in generating an interest in under the Giant. I would never have given Andre a second thought before I wrote this book. And now I've been watching video after video about Andre.
[00:31:06] And so I give full credit to Box Brown for that. There are cultures that believe we die twice, once when we no longer consume the air we breathe.
[00:31:16] And then again when those who knew us no longer speak our name. So for that, author box, Brown deserves credit as he successfully has kept Andre the Giant’s memory alive.
[00:31:27] Now we'll just have to get someone to do a biography of King Kong Bundy. I think we were talking to him right now.
[00:31:39] So before we go, we have some, I guess, listener feedback or a two sentence review to share. And then you were referred to as some guy named Jay. So, Jay, do you want to read it?
[00:31:51] I do. This review is from Tim Bousquet of the Halifax Examiner.
[00:31:56] He listened to our transmigration of Timothy Archer episode and had this to say about the podcast. It's great to hear two smart people discuss books without getting too highfalutin about it. It's a fun, easy listen.
[00:32:09] I would say that's exactly the tone we're going for. So I really like that.
[00:32:13] Well, that's it for this episode of Dogeared and Correct. Next time we'll discuss Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. This is one of Klosterman earlier books, and it's ostensibly about growing up in North Dakota and how listening to heavy metal impacted his life. It's a biography of sorts as well. But I believe it will be really intriguing to hear his thoughts on that music. Now, that he is an adult. Heavy metal literature. What more could you ask for?
[00:32:39] As someone who spent five hours this week listening to the roots of Metal playlist on Spotify, I'm looking forward to it.
[00:32:47] We'll see you then.