What does baking have to do with hockey? As fans of Ngozi Ukazu’s webcomic sensation Check, Please! can explain, quite a lot.
The highly popular series — its second year (Check, Please!: Year Two) is the most-funded webcomics on Kickstarter — follows the adventures of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a Georgian figure skater champ (and amateur pâtissier) who enrolls at Samwell University in Samwell, Massachusetts. Only there’s one thing the young vlogger didn’t account for: defensive techniques using some form bodily contact, better known as checking.
“My senior year at Yale, I ended up writing a screenplay about hockey and totally immersed myself in this brand new culture while doing the research,” says Ukazu, who writes and draws the Reuben Award-winning comic. “After graduating, I wanted a project to work on before I began art school, so used all of my new-found hockey knowledge to launch Check, Please!.”
Since then, Ukazu has self-published the first two “years” of the series as two separate volumes, promoting them herself, and even graduated with a Masters in Sequential Art in 2015 from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She’s even signed on for representation (George Rohac of Organized Havoc).
So what’s next for the enterprising creator? Well, EW can exclusively announce that Check, Please! will be published in print by First Second Books. The first volume, which hits stores Fall 2018, will collect the first two “Years” of the comic, while the second will collect the latter two, and is set to be published in Fall 2019. Both books will feature extra content not included in the Kickstarter editions.
With such exciting news, on Ukazu’s horizon, EW asked her a few questions about the series, her process, and if there’s anything she can share about Year 3. Also, get a first look at some exclusive Check, Please! art created by Ukazu (below).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe this first arc for readers who may not have heard of Check, Please!?
NGOZI UKAZU: Check, Please!: Year One follows Eric “Bitty” Bittle during his freshman year on the Samwell University men’s ice hockey team. This first book is entirely about Bitty getting used to his bro-y new teammates, facing his fears, and becoming more comfortable with himself. And baking a lot of pie.
One of the most charming aspects of the series is the art style. How did you settle on it? Did you know right away or was there some trial and error?
Art style is kinda like narrative handwriting — you can push it in a certain direction, but it’s really the product of who you are and what you enjoy looking at. I started Check, Please! illustrating however I was used to — drawing from American cartoons and manga — and pushed myself to improve with every chapter.
Check, Please! has such a big online following, what do think it is that people have connected with so much? When did you first realize how big the fandom around the series had gotten?
Readers at conventions usually talk about how deeply they’ve connected with characters and how they enjoyed exploring the world of Check, Please! with Bitty. I started realizing how big the fandom was when completely different friends began to let me know that they had coworkers or family members who were readers. (Also, once people started writing fanfiction!)
The protagonist of the series is Eric Bittle, who loves baking, and is a former junior figure skating champ. Was this always a part of his character or was it something you developed as you started working on the concept? How did Bitty come together as your main character?
I wanted a resilient fish-out-of-water character with a big, fun personality. So Bitty started off as this figure skater scared of checking, but then I drew him holding a souffle and then stress-baking and suddenly had another different aspect to his character. Hockey is very much cold, stoic, and rough, so I wanted Bitty to be warm, open, and kind.
Jack and Bitty’s relationship is quite central to the series. How did you navigate transitioning it from a friendship to a romantic relationship?
SPOILERS! I knew from page one that Jack and Bitty would end up as an item, so dedicated Year One to making them butt heads while Year Two is entirely about them growing closer to one another. A lot of their romantic arc was Jack acting on increasingly strong emotions without being able to identify them, while Bitty continuously denies how close he’s grown to Jack.
Your story is organized into seasons. How do you go into planning each one? Is there something specific that you’re thinking of in terms of themes?
Check, Please! is a story about hockey organized into school years and semesters, and I’ve found it to be a great way to outline the overall story. Not only is it a good way to track the progress of the sports team this story centers around, it’s a nice way to divide the narrative arcs of the comic. The fall semesters tend to be lighter conflict and about getting to know the characters, while the spring semesters end with heavy-hitting storylines.
A huge part of the story is that it’s also a transmedia experience, where readers can follow Bitty’s social media accounts. Is that something you’re thinking of as you craft the story?
For about two years I tweeted as Bitty in real-time as the comic updated in real-time! It was a huge commitment! The stories that developed and the reader interaction added an extra layer of narrative to the webcomic and made people feel like Bitty was real.
Is there anything you can tease about Year 3?
It has a big season finale where Bitty and Jack make a decision…