Box Brown remembers watching Andre the Giant on television the first time. It was Wrestlemania VI, and the veteran grappler was returning to his roots as a good guy after years of serving as one of the most reliable villains in an industry that relies as much on theatrics as athletics.
Early in his career, the French giant — his size and distinctive appearance the result of a medical condition called acromegaly — had been “a prime athlete,” Brown says. But later wrestling promoters wanted to emphasize his image as “a giant, immovable guy.”
Brown is now a comic book artist and author. “It just came to me that Andre’s life would make a great comic,” Brown said in a telephone interview. The result is “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend,” a graphic biography of the wrestler and actor.
The wrestler, born Andre Roussimoff in Grenoble, France, had “a tragic and amazing story” that many wrestling fans didn’t know about, Brown added, including being too large to fit into the school bus by the time he was 12 (a neighbor, the playwright Samuel Beckett, drove Andre to and from school for a time).
Whether playing the babyface (wrestling’s term for the good guy) or a heel (the bad guy), Brown says, Andre was always effective. “He knew how to work the crowd. He was a master of his craft.” It was this star quality that made Andre such a beloved part of the 1987 film “The Princess Bride,” a role written with him in mind, Brown says, but that nearly went to Arnold Schwarzenegger instead. (Thankfully, the tides of celebrity shifted; Schwarzenegger took action hero roles, and Andre became, for generations of moviegoers, Fezzik).
Writing about Andre brought Brown back to his childhood love for pro wrestling. Sure, it’s scripted — only the little kids watching it think it’s real, he says, and even then “it’s like little kids and Santa Claus” — but when he goes to a match in person, Brown says he can’t maintain his stance of detached researcher: “I get rid of all that stuff and just watch it as a fan again.”
Brown will read from his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.