Visit Andre the Giant with Philly artist Box Brown before an HBO première

3 minute read
A bestselling graphic novel followed worldwide street art celebrating Andre. (Box Brown images courtesy of the artist.)
A bestselling graphic novel followed worldwide street art celebrating Andre. (Box Brown images courtesy of the artist.)

Over the course of his nearly 47 years on this planet, Andre the Giant enjoyed a career and reputation that were, quite literally, larger than life.

There was the pro wrestling career, of course, during which he became one of the most iconic performers sports entertainment has ever known.

There were film and television appearances, including the role of Fezzik in the beloved 1987 movie The Princess Bride.

There was even Shepard Fairey’s street-art campaign, Andre the Giant Has A Posse, which began in 1989 in Rhode Island and quickly spread around the world.

A Philly artist tackles Andre

Now there’s an HBO documentary, titled simply Andre the Giant, debuting April 11 — which means this is as good an opportunity as any to visit with Philadelphia’s Box Brown, a two-time Ignatz Award-winning artist whose excellent graphic novel, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, was published in 2014.

“I got into drawing comics in 2005,” says Brown, who grew up in New Jersey and moved to Philadelphia in 2008. “I had never really explored art as an adult, and I'd had a lot of false starts as a writer. Then I discovered comics like American Elf by James Kochalka and Daniel Clowes and just the entire output of Fantagraphics Books — it was a gold mine to me. I had no idea this type of stuff existed. I felt like I could make art like this.”

“In 2008, I moved to Philadelphia and was jobless during the financial crisis of 2008,” Brown continues. “Right around that time, I received a Xeric Grant to publish a book of comics. Comics was the only thing that was working for me. I just kept self-publishing for a long time, and in 2011 I started making mini-comics about Andre the Giant.” After Life and Legend came out in 2014, it spent three weeks on the New York Times Graphic Novel Best Sellers list.

A mesmerizing figure

What was it about Andre the Giant that intrigued Brown?

“He was really such an iconic figure of my own childhood. I kind of became obsessed with his story as an outsider and tragic hero. I saw such a small part of his life as a kid, and I was mesmerized that there was such a long story that wasn't talked about.”

Along the way to completing the graphic novel, there were surprises.

“Andre’s work ethic was the most shocking thing to me. Every day and night, wrestling and traveling for decades. Back and forth to Japan three, four, five times a year. And traveling wasn't easy for him! It's really amazing to me.”

Other names you oughtta know

As a Philadelphia-based graphic novelist, Brown also recommends three graphic novels and three Philly-based artists locals should know about. From the graphic novel side, Box notes My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf; Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware; and Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt. As for artists, he recommends paying attention to Rebecca Kirby, Joe Burochow, and Hawk Krall (who’s already on the BSR radar: here’s his interview with Matt Bevilacqua).

So that gives you plenty of homework to do, BSR reader, but here’s a bit more. Catch Brown’s latest book, Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman. Released in February, it provides as fine a portrait of the legendary comedian as Brown gave to Andre.

HBO’s Andre the Giant gets its TV premiere on Tuesday, April 10, at 10pm, and will be available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now the same night, and available On Demand on Wednesday, April 11. You can buy Box Brown's book online.

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