From one of the UK’s brightest comic talents comes Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis. One of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen was a woman few even remember. A championship player by the age of fifteen in a Europe overshadowed by impending war, Suzanne Lenglen broke records for ticket sales and match winning streaks, scandalised, and entranced the public with her playing outfits, and became a pioneer, making friends and enemies throughout restrictive tennis society in the trailblazing jazz age.
Tom Humberstone has produced some highly memorable comic strips across his career for the likes of The Nib, The New Statesman, Vox, Buzzfeed and the Eisner nominated anthology Nelson. This is his first full length graphic novel and it proves to be quite the debut. It helps when you have a subject matter as fascinating as Lenglen. Tennis is obviously a mainstream sport around the world and has led to several players becoming major stars. However, this was a radically different time and idea that a female tennis player could become a sport sensation in the early 20th century was unheard of.
Yet despite the odds stacked against her (along with having to battle with her father’s ideas and sports journalists who had no desire to see her succeed), she ended up becoming tennis’ first major star. We get to see how she rocked the tennis world with her bold attire that favoured functionality over modesty and her dynamic play style that wowed fans. But most importantly, Humberstone fully explores her character and doesn’t fall into the trap of making this a typical sporting history piece. Lenglen’s personality is one of the key reasons she made such an impact and Humberstone never loses sight of this. She was not afraid to ruffle feathers and we get plenty of examples of her refusing to back down when her principles are threatened.
Humberstone’s art is perfectly suited to the story at hand. He does a tremendous job of depicting the time period and fully immerses himself in the jazz age. His depiction of Lenglen is the key factor for the comic success as he manages to make her significantly standout from her competitors both physically and stylistically with her charisma really shining through.
In addition to being a fascinating snapshot of the jazz age in Europe, this is a brilliant exploration of a woman who revolutionised both how tennis was played and how it was viewed by the public, not to mention the impact she had on Wimbledon itself. Tom Humberstone continues to prove himself as one to watch.
Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis is out now from Avery Hill Publishing (9781910395691, h/b, £17.99)
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