Webcomic Review: Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu

 

 

Back in April, roughly a month into the beginning of quarantine and while we were still all hyped about the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, some random trend had taken the number one spot on my twitter. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what exact hashtag was trending, but I do remember being intrigued enough to click on it because it was completely out of left field. What I do remember seeing as I scrolled through the trend was images taken from the fic, people asking where were you when a pivotal moment occurred, somebody commenting that their daughter had asked them about hockey after reading it and many more.

I promptly clicked off the trend, slightly overwhelmed, both with everything I’d seen and the fact that I actually had to get homework done. Plus, the Animal Crossing game was still a new phenomenon at the time and I really wanted to get the museum up and running. 

Regardless, a week later while I was scrolling through fanfiction for a different fandom I clicked on a random person’s profile hoping for more recommendations to read in said fandom. Instead, one of their newest recommendations was for the same webcomic that had been trending the weekend before. Intrigued, I clicked through and read the short one-shot, found it to be adorable and then went to do some digging. The usage of a Barnes and Noble gift card and an hour later, I had ordered physical copies of the webcomic. Some more digging later I realized you could read the entire thing online, save for one update that’s not necessary to enjoy the story. But at that point, I was committed and so I waited.

A week later, when the books arrived, I was not disappointed.

The story follows Eric Bittle, who eventually takes on the moniker of “Bitty” as his hockey nickname. He’s a freshman at Samwell University, a fictional college located in the fictional city of Samwell, Massachusetts. He explains to you, the reader, as well as to his baking/life vlog audience he’s arrived a week and a half before freshman orientation because he has to begin practicing with the hockey team. Later, you find out that he sent in tape for hopes of a scholarship to the university because it was rated #1 for most LGBTQ+ friendly campus 3 years running leading up to the story. And as he’s a closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community, Bitty longs for acceptance that he won’t find back in his small town in Georgia. 

The story then follows Bitty through the next four years of his college career- navigating the ups and downs of hockey, including his issue with checking that stems from a traumatic experience that occurred while he was in middle school, and how being gay fits into the culture of hockey that normally rejects it. Plus his unabashed love of cooking, making new friends, and falling in love. There’s even a glimpse into anxiety and how that can affect players of the sport, although that’s told from Bitty’s outside perspective looking in as another character deals with said issue. 

However, the story’s not perfect and as such, I have a couple issues that I wish were better addressed. Before you go forward, there are spoilers to be listed below for the entire comic, and I would recommend you read the linked Check Please Webcomic or ordering and reading Check Please Book #1: Hockey and Check Please Book #2: Sticks & Scones before continuing. 

My number one issue with the comic is the handling of the character Kent Parson. He’s the antagonist of the comic, but barely, and the last update he’s in isn’t available to read online due to his controversial presence. I can kind of understand why he comes off as villainous, seeing as the story’s told through Bitty’s point of view, and Jack is Bitty’s love interest. However, his character arc is cut into sections that don’t really make sense.

For example, if you take even one iota of critical thinking to the text, Kent shows up at Jack’s school because Jack cut him out after he overdosed on anxiety medication and proceeded to blame him for everything that had gone wrong, and not because he wants to take Jack away from Bitty. It’s likely Kent never even knew that Bitty existed, and definitely doesn’t appear to have a problem with Bitty when he takes a selfie with him.

My issue with Jack then becomes, instead of taking accountability and realizing that he had anxiety over trying to live up to his father’s time in the NHL that was getting to him, he pushes Kent out yet again. Meanwhile, all Kent did was love him and have his heart flung back at him when he went first in the draft that year, and every year since. Jack continues to play off their previous relationship through the rest of the comic, even though there’s no way two kids who were on the same page about just hooking up would equate to one of them showing up at the other’s college 6 years later with that kind of vitriol. 

During that conversation Kent even offers to talk with his team’s management to get Jack on the team he plays for, something they had never thought they’d be able to do when they were 18 and going first and second in the draft. Which as you’re reading through Bitty’s perspective you’re supposed to take it as him trying to steal Jack away, but Bitty has no ownership over Jack, and there’s no way Kent meant it as such. He likely just figured it would be a way to assuage Jack’s fears about getting signed as he was already shopping himself around to other teams.

I will, however, own up to the fact he does say an incredibly callous thing to Jack as he’s leaving the party, but again, that’s 6 years worth of built up hurt bubbling to the surface. I will confess to having said hurtful things during an argument that lasts only a couple hours. I can’t even begin to imagine the depths of emotion Kent must’ve been feeling for just over half a decade.

But I think the part that kills me the most is the missing update from the online upload of the comic. Kent shows up at a different party hosted at Bitty’s hockey frat house and apologizes to Bitty about the things he said to Jack. Meanwhile, Jack hasn’t apologized for anything and also nowhere to be found in the scene. Why is he apologizing to Bitty who was a bystander at the previous party who didn’t even understand the context of everything happening at the time?

Kent even goes so far as to say that Jack grew up, insinuating that he didn’t — almost as though Jack and Bitty coming out by kissing on national television after a Stanley Cup win (yes this happens) is the equivalent to growing up. Which it’s not, and besides there are extremely valid reasons for Kent to remain closeted. At least one of his teammates is shown to be openly scoffing at Jack being not straight and as a smaller winger, compared to Jack’s size and stature of a center on ice, he has a lot more to lose. Especially when there’s no telling how his team will take it. Jack’s team is supportive and willing to call out illegal checks, it’s not that far-fetched to believe that Kent’s team might not do the same.

Besides, nobody’s owed your truth on your sexuality. And while the comic is lovely and light-hearted and handles a new relationship by making the characters actually communicate, the fact that it ignores the truth of the world kind of breaks the immersion. When Jack and Bitty come out, Bitty’s conservative southern family accepts him and Jack doesn’t have a target on his back in the NHL after he becomes the first out NHL player. Neither of which makes particular sense. And while I understand that it doesn’t fit the feel good vibe of the webcomic, what I don’t appreciate is the fact that the characters like Kent and Whiskey (another character at Samwell who chooses to remain silent on his sexuality because he’s worried about being scouted to the NHL later) are made out to be lesser than Bitty and Jack solely because they decide not to come out.

But I digress, the comic’s still a fun light-hearted read that does a good job making you fall for the various characters. As long as you can move past the parts that spin certain characters in a bad light by utilizing critical thinking skills, and remembering that the story is told through Bitty’s point of view and he has extremely large biases, I would still recommend it. Especially since the entire comic’s free to read online aside from update 19 during year 4 (which is the missing update that shows Kent for the last time). And who knows, maybe you’ll end up like me and get into the actual sport of hockey and in turn help diversify the sport’s audience. Because the sport should be for everyone, just like the comic suggests.