The webcomics blog about webcomics


There’s not a lot to say about Check, Please (don’t forget to click the > in the upper left to open the menu that will get you to the archive and other features) by Ngozi Ukazu that hasn’t been said — it’s about gay college hockey bros, it’s incredibly full of heart, only those who hate joy dislike this comic¹. The Kickstarts for the first three books have raised a collective US$826,574, and that’s before :01 Books decided to release a pair of collections to encapsulate the entire run.

So when they sent me an advanced copy of the first, subtitled #Hockey, I didn’t think I’d have much to say beyond I enjoy this work a great deal.

Then I read the first two years worth of story, no clicking, and the sheer joy that Ukazu has for her characters, for the narrative she wants to tell, and especially for the game of hockey, came charging at me. Her skill at creating clearly distinct personalities, her command of casual shit-talk, her flair for writing scenes where the characters are interleaving three to five distinct conversations at once — jumping between argument threads and back to earlier points just to bust on each other — are all top-notch.

But none of that would work if it weren’t clear that she is crazy about this game and the people that play it. From the foreword, on the topic of a screenplay she wrote in college:

But being a Texan, a woman, and a first-generation Nigerian, I knew that writing about a white, Boston-born hockey bro would require weeks of anthropological study…. And when I emerged not only was [the screenplay] done, but I had suffered an unintended side effect.

I had become obsessed with hockey.

The minute I began research, hockey suddenly transformed into this fast-paced, explosive, wild, and beautiful game, with a culture filled with strange rituals and cute nicknames and intense yet stoic men and women who strap knives to their boots and chase around slabs of vulcanized rubber.

I get the feeling; I know nothing about hockey², but this story makes me feel like I have a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the culture. Mostly because it takes that degree of love to not only celebrate hockey (and those that play it), but to mock them ceaselessly³.

Only a writer in love with the sport could casually mention hockey’s glories in the same breath as its crippling unpopularity in most of the United States. It takes affection to dig down to the soft mushy center of these characters beneath their squalid exterior:

Ransom: What the fuck is that smell? Goddamn! It’s like my aunt’s house but with more love and innocence.
Holster: Bro, I’ve been to your aunt’s house? And no offense, but compared to this, her house smells like a shithole.

It’s no coincidence that both those links feature Ransom and Holster; I love those guys. They are best friends, they bust on and celebrate each other, they’re occasionally idiots, loyal to the end, and hilarious. Anybody else would make them the center of the strip, turn it into a goofball fest; they’re not supporting players, per se (everybody gets their time to shine on this team/family), but they aren’t the central focus.

That’s Bitty and Jack, and the ways they learn to deal with who they are (individually and together), who the world expects them to be, and how to be okay with themselves. They didn’t get a meet-cute, but their journey from the object of ironic, secret shipping to main couple would be the envy of any rom-com.

For those that are familiar and thought about skipping the book, it’s got some production cleanup that improves on the original. The book features new lettering, and tighter word balloon placement (shorter, more direct tails, better choices about what to cover up) than the online strips. The first few strips are now in color, and the ever-delightful Hockey Shit With Ransom & Holster strips now form something like a narrative. We also get a complete collection of Bitty’s sophomore year tweets (Ukazu occasionally locks the account, when it gives away things happening in the strip), and they add an additional perspective to what’s happening in the book.

Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey releases on 18 September from :01 Books; it is highly recommended for anybody that likes any or all of hockey, sports bros, romance, queer stories, and fun.

Spam of the day:

your Ductwork repairs are covered (And then some!)

This is not only giving me nightmares about Brazil and form 27B/6, it’s also making me scratch my head because it came to my Fleen email, not the general purpose Gary The Homeowner email.

¹ Okay, one negative thing, and it’s purely my hang-up. The updates encompass enough pages to make up a full story scene, and they come out at irregular intervals. But my brain only makes sense of longer stories either a) via regularly predictable updates, preferably three or more times a week, b) via big huge chunks. As a result, I read Check, Please once every 4-6 months, taking in big chunks of updates and that’s too long to wait.

² Other than the fact that I met my wife at a hockey game. It ended with a brawl in the last 10 seconds that resulted in every player on the ice other than the home (that would be RPI) goalie being sent off, and the visiting team (that would be Brown) having a snit-fit and refusing to finish. They were losing 4-1 anyway.

³ Similar to the Biblical studies that judge the authenticity of purported scripture by looking at how much it describes Jesus in glowing terms. Those that have a critical or mixed view are more likely to be true observations by contemporaries, goes the thinking, instead of later writings by believers that emphasis divine perfection.

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