Sumo is a gimmick comic. That might seem like an insult but when a gimmick comic concept mixes with a solid story it can become something far greater. When the story is weak in a gimmick comic than you often just wind up rolling your eyes as you call out the novelty piece of the story. But with Sumo its storytelling twist adds to its great story to give you the feeling you are reading something innovative.
The story in itself is simple. A washed out NFL hopeful moves to Japan to become a Sumo wrestler after a devastating breakup. While he has an amazing amount of promise he has been doing rather mediocre and his next match is a pivotal point in his career. The story jumps back and forth in time with each period in time being its own color. This lets the reader know when each piece of the story takes place without text balloons or exposition but at the same time also lets the color of the time period reenforce the mood of the story at that point. The blue really helps reinforce the melancholy feel of Scott’s time in America, the green shows Scott’s awkward transition to life in Japan as he gets to know his manager’s daughter, while the orange helps express the spirit invested in Scott’s critical match.
If the story was not there, this would merely read like a slight curiosity. But instead this instead demands your attention and begs to be used as an example for anyone wanting to explore the use of color in comics.
Sumo is by Thien Pham who worked with Gene Luen Yang on Level Up which we liked a lot.
The story of Scott is a fairly simple one told in alternating time frames but each piece meets up at the end with poetic force. Though I was a bit surprised we don’t know the full outcome, but we do know that Scott’s life and his understanding of what he wants has changed.
Thien’s simple artwork is bold and iconic using strong lines to express a variety of emotion. One minor quibble I had with the art was during the Sumo matches, it was sometimes hard to tell who was who. The use of color as Hisui mentioned is very important in the book with oranges for Scott’s life in the present, bright with possibility; blues for his past in America, a time of coming-of-age and letting go; and greens for his (more recent) past in Japan, new life and growth taking over. All of this makes the sparse amount of dialog more powerful allowing you to let the emotions wash over you.
Sumo is a quiet story that has immense power.
There is a preview available, too.