Writer without portfolio
Suzanne: Almost lost to history
I fell in love with Suzanne at first sight. Leaping athletically across the front cover of Tom Humberstone’s graphic novel, Suzanne Lenglen is a legend I’d never heard of.
There are so many female athletes lost in history with amazing stories, and Suzanne is one of them. A prodigious tennis player in the 1920s, initially coached by her father, she went on to win Wimbledon six times and smash numerous records. She possessed guts and glamour. A true queen of the Jazz age, Suzanne was as fashionable on the court as she was outspoken off it. A 1920s Venus Williams.
Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis explores how this influential tennis player changed the history (and fashion) of the game forever. It was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Lord Aberdare Literary Prize, awarded each year by the British Society of Sports History for the best book on any aspect of the history of sport.
Creator Tom Humberstone, who researched, wrote and illustrated this beautiful book, has recently moved from south London to Leith. I needed to understand Tom’s inspiration in undertaking such a mammoth creative project:
How did you find out about the story of Suzanne and why did you choose to tell her particular story?
“I’ve always been a tennis fan but started to follow the tour a lot more closely in 2015. It was around that time too, that I started to pick up a few books about tennis - reading the favourites like Andre Agassi’s Open, and the collected essays of David Foster Wallace.
I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game that follows the sport from its inception as a Victorian pastime to what it has become today. An early chapter discusses Suzanne Lenglen and the impact she had on the game.
I knew the name, but honestly, other than knowing there was a court named after her at the French Open, I had no idea about her impact on the sport or any of her astonishing achievements. I fell down a rabbit hole, and tried to find out as much about her as I could. But, surprisingly, there weren’t many books available.
The more I discovered about her story, the more I found myself telling friends about her: how her life almost perfectly mirrored the rise and fall of the Jazz Age, or how she was arguably responsible for changing the way women dressed in the 20th Century. I couldn’t believe there weren’t 10 graphic novels about her already. So I started to think that maybe I would try to write and draw one.”
Sometimes you come across a book that you can’t help but devour in one sitting. Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis caught my imagination with its storyline, beautiful illustration and attention to detail. Tom has captured everything about the life of Suzanne in this book.
In fact, when I went to do further research on her life, I discovered all the essential detail was already covered in this story – it’s not only a stunning work or art, but a skilful narrative.
I read it a second time to pick up on the detail and marvel at the action scenes. Capturing a marathon game of tennis with deft illustration - you can actually hear the ‘thwock’ of the ball. The sweat, the grit, the competitiveness, something that women’s tennis had not seen before. After writing this, I’m pretty sure I’ll return to enjoying it for a third time...
If you’d like to pick up your own copy of Suzanne visit Tom’s online shop, or support your local book shop, Argonaut Books. ■
Info: tomhumberstone.com tomhumberstone.substack.com
An early training routine from Tom Humberstone’s comic book/homage to Suzanne Lenglen