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Check, Please!: Where Hockey Meets Great Storytelling

bittyWhat do maple-sugar-crusted apple pie, Beyoncé, and ECAC ice hockey have in common? Well, you’d be surprised.

In 2013, a recent Yale graduate by the name of Ngozi Ukazu put her knowledge of New England collegiate life to good use with a simple web comic on Tumblr. Four years later, what began as a grad student’s side-project has become a phenomenon in some cultish circles of the internet, with two wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns and two printed volumes on the way.

What exactly is the comic about, and why is it so popular? Check, Please! follows Eric “Bitty” Bittle, an anime-eyed figure skater turned smaller-than-average hockey player from Georgia whose scholarship depends on his ability to keep his head despite his phobia of physical violence. In a sport where physical violence is key, Bits needs all the help he can get.

But hockey is only a part of the equation. Bitty is also an avid baker and vlogger; his series of videos about food and college life give the comic its title—ha, puns!—and often serve to frame the story, with Bitty serving monologues directly to the reader as though they are a part of his in-universe audience.

Above all, however, the appeal of Check, Please! lies in its representation of friendship and camaraderie that anyone who has ever been a part of a team can relate to. Fraternity, self-acceptance, and diversity of experience are major themes throughout, which explains why so many fans tune in for the adventures of a fictional college hockey team despite having never watched a game.

Check, Please! also owes its storytelling success and cult popularity, in part, to its showcasing of mental illness and very personal LGBT issues which often go unexplored in more lighthearted media. Jack Zimmermann may be the very talented son of a hockey legend, but it is that very pressure which helped lead him to overdose at 18; Eric Bittle may have accepted his identity as a gay man, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to come out to anyone back home just yet. Each and every character is lovably flawed and facing their own dilemma, which makes the relationships between them all the more special in the eyes of the reader.

Ukazu’s work is real and relatable in its tragedy, its humor, and its examination of what it means to be a young adult making a place for oneself in the world. Documentation of Bitty’s first two and a half years at Samwell University currently exists on its own brand new website (though it can still be found on Tumblr, as well), but if one prefers to consume comics on real, tangible paper, the first of two volumes is set to be published by First Second Books and released in the fall of 2018.

Meanwhile, Bitty’s junior year adventures continue to be published online by Ukazu herself, with updates every other month. And once you’re all caught up, you can always have more while you’re waiting for the next episode—there are countless extras, notes about each update, endlessly entertaining fanworks, and a plethora of tweets from an active (but currently protected, for spoiler-type reasons) Twitter run by everyone’s favorite skating pâtissier. Fans are never at a loss for Check, Please! content, so the best thing to do is dive right in with Episode 1: Eric Bittle. You’ll be ‘swawesome friends with Johnson the Metaphysical Goalie in no time.

Almost American