CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY by Ngozi Ukazu
CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY brings Eric "Bitty" Bittle's freshman and sophomore year of college to colorful life. Ngozi Ukazu's endearing characters are more than enjoyable goofballs. These hockey players prove that loyal teammates don't have to perpetuate toxic masculinity.
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One part GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF and one part QUEER EYE, the comic CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY is the tribute to bro-hood we didn’t know we needed. Sure, it doesn’t make sense to throw a young man’s coming out narrative onto the ice with a bunch of rowdy straight frat boys, but Ngozi Ukazu makes it work. With the help of adorable characters and Beyonce lyrics, Ukazu bakes up a perfect mix of characters who share a love for hockey and friendship.

Ukazu began CHECK, PLEASE! online as a webcomic about Georgia figure skater Eric “Bitty” Bittle. Bitty earns a spot on the Samwell University men’s hockey team, but his spirited vlogging and passion for baking wins a spot in his teammates’ hearts. CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY from First Second follows Bitty through his first two years at Samwell, including his triumphs and slip-ups on and off the ice. The comic challenges toxic masculinity by combining unlikely friends on one talented team.

Image courtesy of First Second.

Comics On Ice: Nothing To “Chirp” About

Ukazu’s charming writing gets to the heart of hockey bro culture. The smack-talking team indulges in playful hazing, with arbitrary rules and traditions. They also hold raging “kegsters” at the hockey team “haus,” complete with “tub juice” and other absurd college antics. Additionally, CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1 acknowledges the important hockey tradition of nicknames. Each player, from “Shitty” to “Lardo” has a hockey nickname. CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1 also introduces several key hockey slang terms, as if Ukazu herself was a born hockey player (the Texan author admits in her Foreword that she could barely ice skate when the process began). “Chirping” or trash talking may be a large part of hockey, but there is nothing to chirp about Ukazu’s smart work. Indeed, her comic work deserves a “celly” – a celebration after a goal – because CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY is a smash hit from start to finish.

Along with cleverly introducing readers to hockey culture, Ukazu’s writing cheerfully captures each character’s persona. Indeed, while Bitty’s flamboyant southern charm makes him an instant favorite, other characters are equally striking. For example, senior player “Shitty” stands out as the kegster king with dynamic lumbersexual appeal. There’s also “Chowder,” the braces-wearing goalie who sincerely says things like “swawesome” aloud. But as delightful as these characters are, they also have depth. Bitty’s coming out is a tender moment in the books. And star player Jack Zimmerman, whose father is in the NHL, is more than a dedicated jock. Ukazu goes deep with Jack, addressing the pressure of having to constantly achieve a high standard. Jack manages his severe anxiety with the help of his team, who all respect him despite what the local media makes of his faults.

Image courtesy of First Second.

LGBTQ+ Inclusive

LGBTQ+ representation is critical, especially in sports, which are traditionally accompanied by hyper-masculine attitudes and behaviors. Indeed, sports like hockey stereotypically exclude participants who do not fit the model of masculinity. The added implication of violent body checks adds to the expectation that real men are physically more powerful. Bitty is graceful and verges on delicate (his fear of being checked on the ice often stands in the way of practice). However, his perceived femininity does not stop him from being a talented player. Nor does it alter his teammates’ feelings. CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1 imagines a world in which masculinity and heteronormativity don’t impact great sportsmanship. Indeed, Ukazu shows how the Samwell men’s hockey team improves when they accept Bitty with open arms.

As lighthearted as CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1 is, the comic offers an important vision for inclusivity in colleges and college sports. Bitty isn’t the only quirky member of the men’s hockey team. In fact, not all of his teammates get along when they first arrive at Samwell. It’s common to butt heads with people who are different from what we’re used to. However, with Bitty as a role model, the team starts to recognize how well they play when they have each others’ backs. Moreover, there are added benefits when you start to appreciate the strengths of others. For example, Bitty’s obsession with baking at the Samwell Men’s Hockey Haus benefits everyone on the team!

Image courtesy of First Second.

CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: Recipe for Success

Ukazu’s first two chapters of Bitty’s college life fly by. One of the key reasons for the comic’s success is its clever structure. As the comic follows Bitty’s vlogs and confessions, readers will fall in love with the whole team. Additionally, the colors add vibrancy to the comic that the webcomic lacks. Online versions of the first chapter only appear in black-and-white. Ukazu expertly chooses colors for the book with reds and whites that give Samwell University a particularly collegiate atmosphere. Moreover, Ukazu’s adorable character design matches the sweetness of the narrative. Bitty’s wide eyes and small stature charm readers who feel equally excited to be experiencing college parties, new friendships, and romantic crushes alongside the young man.

With Bitty at the helm, readers can enjoy college sports and feel that they, too, are part of a team. Book 1 takes readers on the whirlwind adventure of freshman and sophomore year. And quite the whirlwind these years are! From championship upsets to broken ovens, the exciting trials and tribulations of college life will leave readers wanting more. Indeed, Book 1 gets readers ready for Book 2.

CHECK, PLEASE! Book 1: #HOCKEY is available from First Second.

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