Webcomics Wednesday: Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please!

If you’re already a fan of comics, this week’s pick, Ngozi Ukazu’s charming Check, Please!, might be old news: The internet’s been abuzz about it because, apart from the fact that it’s simply wonderful, comics publisher First Second recently announced they’re publishing it in print in 2018, and NPR included it in their 100 Best Comics and Graphic Novels list. Okay, so I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but I’m not going to let that stop me from enthusiastically jumping on the Check, Please! bandwagon, and I hope you won’t, either.

At the heart of Ukazu’s webcomic is  Eric Bittle, aka Bitty, former figure skater turned hockey player in his freshman year at Samwell University, whose speedy skating skills are matched only by his superb baking chops, sweet southern charm, and die-hard love of Beyoncé.

Ukazu cleverly frames the episodic story in Bitty’s vlogs, which include musings on his new teammates, his anxieties about playing a contact sport, and, of course, his many baking projects. Occasional guest appearances by Bitty’s teammates, bromantical BFFs Ransom and Holster, offer snarky insider commentary on hockey terms and culture, like the sanctity of locker room privacy (which is tempered by the inevitable “hellscape of bodily fluids” that occurs in a room inhabited by a bunch of dudes), the prevalence of “hockey butt,” and the all-important rules surrounding nicknames. 

Among all the fast-paced hockey, witty banter, and baking, though, the warm-hearted story of Bitty’s coming of age remains the main focus. Through his vlogs, he reveals his anxiety about coming out, feeling a little out of place in a macho sport like hockey, falling for a teammate, and more. Best of all, Bitty’s teammates are totally, matter-of-factly supportive and accept him just the way he is (it doesn’t hurt that “just the way he is” also includes a near-manic drive to make delicious food for everyone).

Bitty’s first year at Samwell is dominated by his ambition to be a better hockey player and bond with his teammates, particularly hot-shot junior Jack Zimmerman, whose initially steely reaction to Bitty melts into a kind, supportive friendship, particularly when Jack helps him overcome his fear of being checked. As the story progresses, Ukazu fleshes out Bitty’s teammates even more, and the rich ensemble cast makes the story as whole even more endearing and engrossing. Ukazu’s characters are deliciously easy to love.

The warm vibes of the storytelling trickle into Ukazu’s bright, cartoonish artwork and cinematic pacing, which makes great use of comedic timing and subtle emotional cues, like Ransom and Holster’s obliviousness to what’s developing between Bitty and Jack, or Bitty’s determined expressions during game play. She tells as much of the emotional heft of the story through her artwork as she does in the dialogue, and she expertly generates tension in the tension between both elements.

At the moment, Ukazu updates with a new episode every other month, but there’s more to this comic than just the comic! She also posts Bitty’s twitter feed (currently locked at the moment to avoid spoiling the plot for new readers, but viewable on tumblr), and her tumblr page includes extra short comics that aren’t included on the dedicated site. With such deftly rendered characters and a captivating plot, you’ll be glad there’s so much Check, Pleaseto find on the Internet. I know I’m eager to get my hands on a paper copy, too.

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About the Author:

When Sarah Hunter is not reading for her job as senior editor at Booklist, she's baking something tasty or planning trips to the Pacific Northwest. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahBearHunter.

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