From first glance, Ben Passmore’s Sports is Hell exudes a sense of alarm. With its orange duotone, the graphic novel screams danger! panic! be wary! — a fair warning given its narrow-eyed, satirical look at activism, racism, and police brutality in the US.
The story follows Tea, who has been convinced to go out by her friend Kweku, an anarchist looking to take advantage of their city’s recent Super Bowl victory by stirring up some civil unrest. What they encounter is even more hellish than they could’ve imagined. Tea suddenly finds herself caught in a fanatic football frenzy, fighting Neo-Nazis, arguing with white liberals, and bargaining with militia factions.
A non-stop riot, the book is violent and absurd in equal measure. Passmore, of BTTM FDRS, Your Black Friend and Other Strangers and The Nib , once again displays a deft hand at articulating age-old hurdles faced by Black people just trying to live their lives. Case in point, Tea meets a white couple who exclaim they “love Black people!” but quickly backtrack when faced with racialized violence. “I feel really overwhelmed by, like, everything. What do you want me to do?” the woman asks pointlessly, as Tea and others are brutalized by white supremacists. Tea just wants to find Kweku and go home.
Sports is Hell is succinct, tight, and fast-paced, with almost every page containing a “BOOM” or “BLAM” as bombs and gunfire set the city alight in orange flame. It is hell, yes, though not one that feels particularly far-fetched these days. Passmore spotlights human folly, displaying the US at its worst and most ridiculous – it would be funny if it wasn’t so damning. Then again, if you don’t laugh, you may just end up crying.