Box Brown: 'Andre the Giant' Creator Talks, Comics, Tetris, Weed
Life is nothing without the urge to tell a story.
Box Brown is a writer, an illustrator, and a Philadelphia native who works within his greatest passion, comic books. His breakthrough graphic novel, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, was released in 2014 and topped the New York Times Bestseller List, in addition to winning the hearts of wrestling fans, comic fanatics, and critics alike.
Andre the Giant didn't arrive from an unknown. In 2011, Brown was recognized for his small press and cartooning efforts and won an Ignatz Award for his self-published book Everything Dies.
Covers for Andre the Giant and Everything Dies: Volume 1
While still earning the occasional award nomination, Brown launched comic-book publisher Retrofit Comics, completely funded by Kickstarter donations, which pushes out 12 comics per year.
His newest book, Tetris: The Games People Play, from First Second Books, is based on the creation of one of the bestselling video games of all time and is available now for preorder.
Excerpt from Tetris: The Games People Play
The KIND: What's your beginning with comic books?
Box Brown: I read a lot of comics when I was a kid, all different kinds of stuff. Until I was 12, probably. I kinda stopped reading comics for a while when I got into high school. I mean, I kinda read comics—I was reading Life in Hell comics and stuff like that in high school, but I stopped drawing for a long time.
I got back into comics in my early 20s, after I graduated college. I had all these creative ideas. I wasn't really good at drawing, but I needed to draw in order to get a story out. I loved doing it, even though I wasn't practicing, and I was so far behind everybody else. But it eventually became the goal of my life. So I started drawing comics all the time.
Andre the Giant
The KIND: Did you always mean to cater to the alternative comics scene?
Box Brown: I didn't even know alt comics existed until 2004. I read American Elf by James Kochalka; I read a lot of Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Chester Brown, and all that stuff. Once I got into that aspect of the medium, I was hooked for life.
I wasn't really into superhero comics when I was 24, but I liked the idea of storytelling in that form; so seeing stuff that was taken from a different artistic and literary perspective was great. All of these alternative cartoons were a one-man show. They would draw and write everything. That inspired me to do whatever I wanted, to tell any kind of story.
Commissioned portrait, 2014
The KIND: Did you ever think you'd have a book on the New York Times bestseller list?
Box Brown: That was definitely not something I even thought about. The New York Times didn't always have a bestseller list for graphic novels, it didn't always even exist, but I was shocked at how popular Andre the Giant: Life and Legend was. He was a huge part of my life, but I didn't know how beloved Andre the Giant was to the rest of the world.
The KIND: Have you met anyone who read your older work after reading Andre the Giant: Life and Legend?
Box Brown: A lot of people who'd never read a comic book before checked out Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. People who hadn't watched wrestling before, either. The biography form of the book—there's a lot of crossover appeal that happened to just work out.
The KIND: I don't know a lot of comic artists who openly smoke weed. Do you think it's still a taboo to smoke and create comics in the industry?
Box Brown: It's still kind of a bubble under the surface. It's much like it is in the general society, you know?
Wrestlers for Front Magazine, unpublished, 2014
The KIND: How close is Pennsylvania to legalization?
Box Brown: We have decriminalization here. It's like a $25 fine if you get caught with something in Philly, which isn't that bad.
On medical lately, it's kinda sad. A few guys want to add all these amendments to slowly kill medical. They've added like 80 amendments to the bill. The bill won't pass until they stop tweaking it. It's been a back and forth between the House and the Senate like the last seven years. Everything is moving so incredibly slow, who knows.
I feel like it's more likely to get rescheduled at a federal level, and people will start shipping over state lines. I think that's more likely than a lot of these East Coast states just legalizing recreationally. They won't want to see money going into every other state; I'll tell you that much. Massachusetts might legalize in November. That might change things. New York doesn't want people to go to Massachusetts to buy pot and come back over. That's a huge loss of revenue.
I was just in Denver for DINK, and there's a lot of smokers in Denver. It's like, two blocks from anywhere in Denver there's a dispensary.
The KIND: Was that your first time going to a recreational state?
Box Brown: I've been to Seattle before that. It's much different. There's literally like one or two stores that I saw. The whole city isn't all about weed, but there definitely is weed there. I like what they do in Seattle more than what's going on in Denver. I might just like the city of Seattle more.
Pin-up for Ben Sears’ comic Double Plus, 2014
The KIND: Do you smoke while drawing comics much?
Box Brown: I do. Sometimes it helps take it through a page or if I'm just bored. Sometimes it's just for fun. I like that it takes the idea of work away. Sometimes when you're working on a huge graphic novel, and you're on page 20, and you have like 200 more pages to go, it helps it not feel so overwhelming.
The KIND: Your new book Tetris is coming out in October, correct?
Box Brown: Yeah, I have the proof of the printing. I'm pretty excited about seeing it in print.
The KIND: Did you research and focus on this the way you attacked the Andre book?
Box Brown: It was way more intensive research. I learned a lot of stuff with the Andre book, but I had a deeper knowledge of Andre and pro wrestling than I did video games when I was doing the Tetris book. The story approach is different, too. There's less of a focus of one central character. It's more on an ensemble cast.
The KIND: And what inspired you to tell the story of Tetris?
Box Brown: I had seen a documentary on Tetris, and I heard all these rumors and hearsay as a kid. Like when it came out, you had a few friends who were super into video games, and you hear all this stuff. It was so weird and different back then. There was no Internet; so it was impossible to hear a solid story. It's a crazy story, and a good story, on how art interacts with commerce and how the world interacts with art after it's created.