This week’s Web Crush is one of those “I can’t believe it took me this long to write about this!” type of deals, since I’ve been reading and rereading and sighing over this webcomic for months now—but let me back up a little and actually introduce it. Today I want to tell you about a sweet little thing called Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu. It has cute art, soft bros, young men falling in love and having a healthy relationship, and for those of you who are into that sort of thing—ice hockey.
But let me elaborate (with some spoilers!) below.
The comic follows Eric “Bitty” Bittle, who is a freshman at Samwell University. Bitty is a former figure-skating champion, but he gets an athletic scholarship as an ice hockey player. He loves baking. He is also gay. Bitty has trouble adjusting to the rules of “real” college hockey, namely of getting “checked”, that is, of someone slamming into him to take the puck away from him. Other important characters, nicknamed affectionately by their teammates, are Shitty, Ransom, Holster, and Lardo. The only one without a nickname, it appears, is Jack Zimmermann, the team captain, living in the shadow of his famous hockey player father. Ransom and Holster are the softest of bros and best friends. Lardo is team manager and the only girl at the team house. Shitty is the mystical straight white guy feminist who rocks a
porn stache mustache and stars in all the weirdest stories.
I have to admit, when I first checked out this comic, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, since I have zero interest in hockey and very little patience for stories with almost all-male casts. But the hockey isn’t the hook of this comic (at least not to me), it’s the characters and the relationships between them. Yes, almost all of them are men, and athletic men at that, but they’re not your typical aggressively masculine jocks. Soft masculinity or soft bros are terms that describe them best. With the exception of Bitty and perhaps Jack, the team likes to drink and to party, personal hygiene is not a priority to them, and the team house is your typical gross frat house. But they’re also unafraid to show emotion and to offer emotional support; they accept Bitty 100% even though he sticks out like a sore thumb, what with all the baking, singing Beyoncé songs in the shower, and hanging curtains in the house. Every member of the team is very protective of all other members of the team.
Another thing that this comic has going for it is the relationship between Bitty and Jack, which is (spoiler!) an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers kind of story, and it’s absolutely lovely. When they finally get to the “lovers” part of the story, Jack is already graduating and moving away; thus, their relationship starts as a long-distance one, with even more strain added by the fact that Jack is not publicly out to protect his professional hockey career. But they talk about issues they have as they come up and always discuss how they feel. They’re very supportive of each other, and I just love that so much. Most media so often uses the lack of communication in relationships to create conflict and drive the story, so it’s just so nice to have an example of healthy communication in a romantic relationship, and a relationship between two men at that.
Additionally, even though Jack and Bitty (arguably the leads of this comic) are both white, the cast of characters is filled out with a number of people of color. The most prominent of them are Lardo, Ransom, and Chowder (another member of the hockey team). But there are also others who have not been featured as much yet, such as the assistant general manager of Jack’s professional hockey team, Georgia Martin, a player who joins the Samwell team in Bitty’s second year who’s nicknamed Nursey, as well as a few guys on Jack’s new team. Some of these characters only get a passing mention, but others, like Lardo and Ransom, have fleshed-out, distinct personalities and relationships with other characters, which ensures that none of them are just token minority characters.
The only thing lacking in Check, Please! are female characters. There’s Lardo, of course, and Bitty’s mother and Georgia Martin make a couple of appearances, but that’s about it. It is understandable that a story focusing on a men’s hockey team has a mostly male cast, and Lardo is the coolest, but still, I always wish for more ladies in the media I consume.
Check, Please! has been going for three years now, and while its update schedule is rather irregular, there is a lot of extra content and it’s about to successfully complete a second Kickstarter campaign, so it’s unlikely to be abandoned (which is always my biggest fear!). The premise of a gay boy on a hockey team may appear a tad cliche, but it doesn’t follow an expected narrative and gives us beautiful relationships between friends, boyfriends, and teammates. It excels at its portrayal of soft masculinity, and the art is just adorable. So go on and follow it on Tumblr to stay updated! You can also support the author via Patreon and follow her on Twitter.