Scott dreamed of playing in the NFL, but now his football days are over. After he is dumped by his longtime girlfriend, he decides to move to Japan and become a sumo wrestler. In Japan, he lives in a heya with other rikishi, his day regimented and hierarchical, practicing for the five bouts that will determine the fate of his career.
Sumo, Thien Pham’s first solo graphic novel (he previously illustrated Gene Luen Yang's Level Up), is a spare and understated story brought vividly to life with bold, single-tone washes of color.
It's probably not the first choice for a former football player these days (UFC, perhaps?). But back in the 1990s, before the influx of sumotori from Mongolia and Eastern Europe, Konishiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru were among the top sumotori competing in Japan. Musashimaru had played high school football, and I seem to remember reading about several former football players who decided to give sumo a try, too.
So I am a bit curious about Pham's inspiration, part of the reason I wish there had been a short afterword or note. But the bigger reason is that I think many people still view sumo as “rolling around with sweaty, half-naked men,” as one of Scott’s friends puts it--a brief word about the training, stables, traditions, such as throwing salt in the dohyo before a match (as on p. 78), could have added some context.