With the recent 2018 Winter Olympics, what better way to prolong the excitement than reading ice-sports webcomic, CHECK PLEASE! Written and drawn by Ngozi Ukazu, CHECK PLEASE! is a popular webcomic focusing Eric “Bitty” Bittle and his college years in his hockey team. On the ice, Bitty faces new challenges. Besides learning how to get past his fear of getting “checked,” and coming out, he also learns how to develop strong relationships along the way.

Exploration of Non-Toxic Masculinity

While in real-life, intense prejudices shadow male-dominated sports, CHECK PLEASE! explores an alternative reality. The protagonist, Bitty is a Cinnamon roll (one who can bake those as well). He is a male athlete who loves baking and pop music and isn’t ashamed of it. Unlike many male athletes in our world, Bitty is not ragged on for taking interest in a traditionally feminine sphere. Bitty’s teammates accept him for exactly who he is, a boy who loves pies, Beyoncé, and his team.

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Furthermore, people who intensely love the sport and their friends make up Bitty’s team. Characters, such as best friends Random and Holster, show the beauty of intense bromance, while characters like Shitty, display the power of being an amazing ally when Bitty first comes out. Furthermore, a teammate reveals their Anxiety disorder but isn’t ashamed of it at all. While men are often shamed for struggling with mental illness, CHECK PLEASE! counters ableism by creating supportive characters who help their friend. Rather than regurgitating all the garbage that sports media is often chocked with, (homophobia, racism, ableism, misogyny, etc.), CHECK PLEASE! displays a world where athletes choose to push back for the pure love of the game and each other.

Check Please!
Image courtesy of CHECK PLEASE!

LGBTQIA+ Representation

In some ways, this webcomic reminded me of another favorite of mine, YURI ON ICE! Aside from focusing on an ice-centered sport, CHECK PLEASE! features compelling queer representation. Bitty, a gay femme kid from a conservative Southern town, went to Samwell University to find relief from being in the Closet. There Bitty made a family of loving friends, who support and adore him for all that he is. To Bitty, his team represents unconditional love. They represent a safe space for him to be himself without fear of homophobic harassment and even violence. With them, he is able to pursue whatever and whoever he loves.

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Which brings us to the essential ship within CHECK PLEASE! between Bitty and his teammate, Jack Zimmerman. Starting off as teammates/partial rivals, Bitty and Jack’s relationship develops organically and beautifully. Following the classic friends to lovers trope, the two discover their feelings for each other over the course of time. Like their initial friendship, they build their romantic relationship on communication, respect, and tenderness toward each other. While homophobia isn’t entirely absent from the world of CHECK PLEASE!, the fact that these characters can openly pursue their feelings with validation from their friends and family means something significant for queer representation.

Check Please!
Image courtesy of CHECK PLEASE!

Verdict

I first discovered CHECK PLEASE! through the intense internet hype surrounding it. Wondering why it was so popular, I decided to check out the webcomic myself. I have not regretted that decision since. CHECK PLEASE! is the emotional equivalent of drinking a warm beverage in your home during a blizzard. The comic is a welcome break from the toxic masculinity and homophobia that exists in the reader’s world, bringing a tale of heart-warming friendships and romantic love.

In an interview with NPR, Ukazu discusses how she reconstructed the traditional world of hockey into a place of acceptance, saying, “Here’s a culture, and this is how it could be in an ideal world where someone like Bitty could thrive.” And indeed, Bitty and his teammates thrive in this warm, accepting environment that they have created for themselves. Featuring beautiful artwork, wonderful LGBTQIA+ representation, and amazing character dynamics, CHECK PLEASE! is a must-read webcomic.

CHECK PLEASE! BY NGOZI UKAZU
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Characterization
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Summary
Eric "Bitty" Bittle is a freshman and newcomer to his college's hockey man and unprepared for the years ahead filled with love, hockey, and pies.
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Love on Ice

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