Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 72

Sumo

by Thien Pham
Genre notes: sports, coming of age
112 pages
ISBN: 159643581X (Amazon)

At its most basic and pared-down, Pham has written a graphic novella whose content is perhaps enough only to fill out a short story. Scott is a former American football hopeful who, in the wake of losing that dream and the girlfriend who came pre-packaged with it, is attempting to rebuild his life as a sumo wrestler in Japan. Pham isn’t interested in Scott’s whole story but instead approaches him in the first (and therefore most important) of many do-or-die moments in his career: just as he prepares for his final try to make the transition from rikishi to sekitori (that is, from lower division to upper). Sumo's entire present tense may only occur over the space of a couple days, but it’s clear that Pham is putting forth a representative pericope of a whole life lived. What occurs in Sumo's narrative span is Scott’s day of judgment—on this story will hinge our evaluation of Scott as a whole person. This is his past, present, future—weighed on the scales of the readers’ subjective evaluation.

Pham presents his story in a patterned series of segments that alternate between the present and two themed flashbacks, one in America and the other in Japan. The present-day narrative is coloured in orange, the American flashback in periwinkle, and the Japanese flashback in green. The way Pham alternates between eras in Scott’s life gives the most time to the present and splits evenly between his two pasts.

And beyond just his conscious staggering of narrative streams, Pham uses a technique whereby the length of each segment telescopes in ever-diminishing increments so that, finally, Pham is spending only a single panel in any given story period.

Generally, Pham uses episodes from Scott’s past to inform our immediate reading of the wrestler’s present; but from the included image you can see that he ends the book in a longer segment from Scott’s past in Japan. It’s a surprising conclusion, but effective: using a moment from Scott’s past not only to guide our reading of Scott’s present but of Pham’s book as a whole.

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