It seems like Box Brown has been making comics for a long time, so it's a bit of a shock to realize that when First Second Books publishes his Andre the Giant next year, it will be his first full-length graphic novel. Brown is the creator of the webcomic Bellen and Everything Dies (which doesn't seem to be available online, except for this). An episode from that comic, "Ben Died of a Train," won the Ignatz Award for Best Comic. Most recently, his The Survivalist was published by U.K. publisher Blank Slate.
Brown is also the moving force behind Retrofit Comics, which published a number of indy one-shot comics in print format, as well as several Kickstarters; the latest is an anthology in the spirit of the alt-manga magazine Garo.
Andre the Giant is a big step for Brown, who is going from self-published and small-press indy comics to a graphic novel from a big publisher. So naturally, I had some questions, which he was kind enough to answer.
Robot 6: What interested you about Andre the Giant, and why do you think his story is a good fit for the comics medium?
I grew up a big wrestling fan. And, at some point last year found myself looking up Andre on the Internet. I read that Andre got a ride to school from Samuel Beckett when he was a kid. I had two free weeks before SPX and thought that would make a good zine. Then I just kept diving back in for more. And eventually I'd assembled 100 pages worth of Andre stories.
What sort of research did you do for this? Do you intend it to be a biography or more like historical fiction?
Originally, I was kind of just drawing stories I'd heard about Andre cause I thought they would make cool comics. But, the for the book I've gone back and fact checked. I've basically started over from scratch. The book now is straight biography.
Did your research turn up anything surprising?
I wouldn't say I'm surprised but I've learned so much about wrestling in general and the way the business works. It's like a really extreme form of capitalism. Whoever makes the most money is, without a doubt, considered the best. Andre for a long time made the most money of any pro-wrestler. He's really well respected by everyone in the industry, but not without faults. Just like every other human that's ever lived. He was also, in many ways, disabled. He was so much bigger than the average person his needs could almost never be accommodated. I'm endlessly fascinated by this stuff and could go on and on.
Will this be the longest self-contained story you have written so far? I think of your work as being short pieces, but am I missing something? If not, how does it feel to embark on a project like this?
This is much longer than anything I've done before. The Survivalist was 44 pages, double-sized pages. So in terms of work for me it was like doing an 88-page book. The "Heart of Stonework" stories were serialized in Everything Dies, and I think of them as a cohesive work. But, it was done over the course of a few years. This book will be somewhere between 200 and 250 pages. I kind of hate working like this. It feels like working under a rock. It's just very different from what I'm used to.
Also, most of your work that I have seen so far has been in black and white. Most of First Second's books are in color. Will Andre the Giant be in color, and if so, how does that change the way you work?
It'll be black and white with tones!
After years of self-publishing — and being an editor yourself — how does it feel to be working with the editors at First Second? Is it the biggest publisher to ever take on your work?
It's fantastic, really. It feels good to have other people interested in helping me make this book as good as it can be.