“OMG Check, Please!” is a web comic by Ngozi Ukazu centered on former ice-skater-turned-hockey-player Eric “Bitty” Bittle, who discovers that his no-checking club team didn’t exactly prepare him for the reality of college hockey at Samwell University. Recently, it has been announced that, under the supervision of the company First Second Books, years one and two of the comic will be bound in one volume and sold commercially in fall 2018. The remaining two years will be published the following fall, in 2019.
An MFA graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), artist Ngozi Ukazu began her journey into hockey and pies as a senior at Yale. The project required a depth of hockey knowledge Ukazu did not previously possess, leading to an entire screenplay she later tabled. During the long stretch between undergrad and art school at SCAD, Ukazu said in an interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” “I wanted a project to work on before I began art school, so I used all of my new-found hockey knowledge to launch ‘Check, Please!’”
Web comics finding a place in print media is not a new phenomenon; notable examples include “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh and “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson. Each experienced a great deal of success after being bound and placed on bookstore shelves nationwide. It’s not very surprising either; current traditionally printed comics have been suffering lately, in part because they’re expensive and there’s nothing new. In addition to being free, web comics are different. Plus, releasing bound copies of web comics appeals to that desire in everyone to own every hard cover in the world—or is that just me?
Prior to the book deal, Ukazu ran Kickstarter campaigns, allowing her to raise the funds necessary to bind the volumes herself and self-publish. The first fundraiser accrued nearly $80,000. The second made $100,000 in a single hour, making it the most-funded web comic on Kickstarter. Numbers don’t lie when it comes to a passionate fan base, which Ukazu had cultivated well and with personal experience as a self-professed fangirl.
To further supplement her income, Ukazu runs a Patreon account with nearly two thousand patrons. Currently, there are three levels of donation that allow access to different aspects of the comic. Donating $1 per month is a thank you with special access to a newsletter, while contributing $3 permits viewing Ukazu’s drawing live-streams. The third and last level rewards $5 patrons with everything plus an “OMG Check, Please” blog where patrons can view comic panels early and other additional content.
Ukazu’s meteoric success on Patreon and Kickstarter stems from the voracious following she gathered on Tumblr. As the primary platform for updates, each new post on the web comic’s blog gains at least ten thousand notes, circulating all over the site. If you’re a regular Tumblr user, there is no way to ignore the indomitable reach of fandom. For Ukazu, “OMG Check, Please” hits a particular sweet spot in the fandom taste palette. Have you seen the hockey fandom? They’re intense.
“OMG Check, Please” begins in a vlog-style format, told primarily through Bitty’s point of view as he begins college at Samwell University. The story is updated in real time through actual social media accounts “run” by the characters. Ukazu describes the first year of the comic: “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.” Bitty radiates warmth and openness, a sharp contrast to the other more intense, but equally likable characters. While Bitty and team captain (as well as upcoming hockey legend and love interest) Jack Zimmerman steal most of the focus, readers get to know a supporting cast compelling and hilarious enough to weather the occasional filler panel between story-heavy updates.
People love “Check, Please” for one reason: Eric “Bitty” Bittle.
It’s a general rule in most forms of media that a main character needs to be someone you care about. Whether they are likable or not is a different question, but having a personal stake in a character drives your interest in the plot. Eric Bittle is the embodiment of this idea. Bitty begins his journey as an enthusiastic but nervous boy with an ingrained sense of Southern hospitality that never becomes campy or trite.
The struggles Bitty faces coming to terms with his sexuality and the difficulty of telling his friends on the team resonates with readers who see themselves in his character. Ukazu handles every tough issue, like a gay hockey player falling in love with his (assumed) straight teammate, with commendable grace. The world might be a little idealistic, but fiction is fiction for a reason. It’s the representation everyone has been asking for but never thought they would get. Everyone loves a heartwarming love story.
Ukazu said, “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 fanfiction is no joke; currently on the website “Archive of Our Own” are nearly six thousand stories written about Ukazu’s own characters. The story has grown to encompass more than just a side-project between undergrad and art school.
And it’s not just fans who praise “OMG Check, Please” as brilliant—the National Cartoonists Society announced in May 2017 that Ukazu was awarded the Reuben Award for “Best Online Comic” in a longer format. In addition to this, the original Tumblr for the comic is nominated for the Shorty Award “Tumblr Blog of the Year.” The publication of “Check, Please” brings it from niche to mainstream, proving that if you can’t find a market for your art, you are capable of creating one.