It’s not often that genuine emotion is captured on the pages of a comic book, but that’s exactly what Sumo has managed to do. Split into three timelines, the story follows Scott on his journey to find himself. It’s a journey that everyone can relate to, in a setting that hardly anyone will ever experience themselves.
Scott is a big white guy that has moved to Japan to Sumo wrestle, hence the title. The problem is he’s not exactly finding his place in Sumo as he was once hoping. He wakes up one morning and wonders what he’s doing. This becomes the question of the entire story as we journey back to the months before he became a Sumo. At his going away party we see that some of his friends have reservations about him leaving and what his true reasons are. Scott has just gotten out of a long relationship with his high school girlfriend who dumped him. One of his friends speculates her motives being beccause Scott didn’t go pro with football, but Scott honestly doesn’t know the reason for the break up. The story continues to bounce between the past, recent past and present as Scott comes up against the match that will decide his entire Sumo career.
There isn’t actually a lot of Sumo wrestling in this book since that is only the back drop for Scott as he works out the different ailments troubling his life. I said that this is a book about finding one’s self; which is true, but it’s also about learning how to be yourself after a break up. That I think is a journey that nearly everyone can relate to. Was Scott’s choice to fly to Japan and become a Sumo a bit crazy? Yes it was, but the sometimes the craziest decision after a break up can lead to something sane.
The book is filled with scenes of character interactions and each one is more genuine than the last. From the goodbyes between Scott and his friends, to his interaction with his ex-girlfriend; each moment captures a raw emotion while building Scott as a character with the earnest dialog. In a story like this, the dialog is the key. If it even remotely came off insincere then it would destroy the entire story, but it doesn’t.
The art is very stylized and the book appears in only three color tones: blue, green and orange. Each color represents a different time line to help the reader as the story bounces back and forth. To me personally they also have a different subtext that represents the different mind sets that Scott is in. Blue is used for Scott’s going away party and for the days leading up to him leaving for Japan. It fits the gloomy tone for that segment and represents Scott’s angst in leaving the life he's known.
If we remove the colors and look at just the character design and the style then we’re left with a look that is comic strip inspired and I mean that in a good way. The art and characters have a simple look to them, but the expressions and body language that the characters use humanizes them. Because there is so much raw emotion to the story the simple character designs are perfect for implanting your own friend’s on to the different characters. In that regard the writing is excellent as it finds some way for you as the reader to connect to the story.
The ending of the book is very powerful and moving. I was honestly taken back by it and the story really stuck with me. Not just because I could relate to the subject matter, but because it was the complete package: story, art and production. Sumo is not to be judge by its title; it’s one of the most original graphic novels of the year and hopefully a break out hit for creator Thien Pham.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Thien Pham
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: 12/11/12