Life is coming at Eric “Bitty” Bittle kind of fast. The slimly built, junior figure skating champion from Georgia has just entered Samwell College in Massachusetts on a hockey scholarship and faces some of the biggest challenges of his life.
Check Please! first appeared as an online comic in 2013. It was released in sequential ‘episodes’ as Bitty’s online vlog, as he introduced the reader into the world of collegiate men’s hockey and baking (two of his biggest passions).
In 2017, Check Please! became the most-funded webcomic on Kickstarter, allowing creator Ngozi Ukazu to release the story in a two-part graphic novel.
The plot centers on Bitty and his switch from a small town, Southern co-ed hockey league to a player on a Northern college’s men’s hockey team. Smaller (but quicker) than a lot of his hulking teammates, Bitty has some big adjustments to make and fears to overcome. The first is his fear of getting checked.
Checking is best described as a move meant to separate a player from the puck. While it’s not allowed in co-ed hockey leagues, in men’s hockey, it can be physically brutal. Learning to deal with this aspect of a contact sport may mean whether or not Bitty can remain on the team.
Another challenge is Samwell Hockey’s team captain, Jack Zimmerman. The French-Canadian son of an NHL legend, Jack’s fighting his own personal battles and his stern intensity and the demands he places on Bitty may prove to be too much for the rookie player.
Bitty easily charms his colorful, quirky teammates with his fabulous baking skills, learns to stop freezing up on the ice when faced with a check, and even comes to terms with Jack.
Then he’s faced with yet another big challenge: Coming out as gay to his team.
Beautifully rendered in full color, the artwork is clean and bright, with witty dialog and funny characters. Bitty’s college career unfolds with excitement, fear, uncertainty and happiness as he finds his place on the team and with himself.
The pacing of the story is so well done, keeping the reader on the edge, wondering how Bitty is going to succeed. And while the dialog is fresh and funny, there are wordless panel series which still pack a huge emotional punch.
Ukazu brings the reader into an insular world and makes it familiar. The jargon and strategy of the sport is no barrier to anyone unfamiliar with the game of hockey. The format definitely shows Ukazu’s focus on digital art. I’ve compared the online comic with the digital e-comic as well as the printed graphic novel. The digital e-book version has a pop-up concept that makes it more interactive than most e-graphic novels I have read.
The combination of the story with the extras—even the print version includes pages of Bitty’s Twitter feed—give this book a modern feel that may lessen the jump from a digital format to a printed one.
The book is rated for older teens in YA and it is a great read for adults as well. But it is peppered with salty swears, some minor sexual references and collegiate alcohol abuse. Bitty’s character brings a bit of sweet naiveté to the team, and Jack, recovering from an implied drug problem is a sober team leader. But the other skaters on the team drink, party, and swear with abandon.
But they are also a group of young people looking towards their futures. As they move from freshman to seniors, they grow and plan and try to succeed.
The book is packed with emotional highs and lows for many of the characters, which makes it an addicting read. It has the added plus of some additional information on hockey, hockey culture and team sports. Ngozi Ukazu’s in-depth research into the world of men’s hockey not only shows, but pays off for the reader.
Volume two is planned for release in 2019, but the comic is still being serialized online at checkpleasecomic.com.
Check Please! vol. 1: #Hockey
By Ngozi Ukazu
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Series Reading Order
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Gay
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator