Thien Pham's Sumo

Thien Pham's first solo graphic novel Sumo (First Second, 2012) traces the story of Scott, a former American football player who moves to Japan to train as a sumo wrestler. (Also see stephenhongsohn's earlier review.)

The narrative is sparse on text, and the illustrations are mainly black-and-white ink drawings with monochromatic color overlays that designate three different times in Scott's life--as he is training to move up in the sumo ranks (orange), as he is about to leave the United States for Japan (blue), and as he befriends a Japanese girl Asami (green). The interwoven storylines are not presented chronologically, but the sequencing of the sections helps to highlight resonances in Scott's sense of himself as an athlete (both in the past and the present), how he relates to a possible romantic interest, and what he hopes for his future.

The book is definitely centered on a kind of young adult male anxiety about succeeding in the world. The women in the story (his new love interest Asami and his ex-girlfriend Gwen) come across as somewhat enigmatic creatures, offering or withdrawing their love in elliptical ways. There's something in the story about being or becoming a man and how that involves heterosexual romance and demonstrating physical prowess (as an athlete and even as a man who can catch fish).
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