A Q&A with “Check, Please!” author Ngozi Ukazu

Writer and artist Ngozi Ukazu is the author of the popular web comic, “Check, Please!” which she began posting in 2013 and was eventually published in book form in 2018. The second book in the series, “Check, Please! Sticks & Scones” will be released on April 7, 2020, though it and the first in the series can be found for free online. Ukazu graduated from Yale University in 2013 with a degree in Computing in the Arts and went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for graduate school where she got a degree in Comic Books. After growing up in Houston, TX, Ukazu fell in love with ice hockey while at Yale and used it as her inspiration behind “Check, Please!”. “Check, Please!” is the story of a former figure skater, Eric Bittle, as he adapts to the life of college hockey in suburban Massachusetts. Ukazu, who was supposed to come to Brookline Booksmith for her book tour, instead held an interview with student journalists on April 2.

Growing up in Texas, Ukazu did not have much exposure to hockey. She fell in love with the sport while at Yale University and said, if she had to pick, the 2016 Montreal Canadians were her favorite hockey team.

What has been your biggest inspiration for the story lines of the books?
I always knew I wanted the main character to be a fish out of water. When I was in college, I wrote a screenplay about hockey. That story was so dark: it was about addiction and the main character was a big tough guy who falls in love with his male friend and it was just a lot of angst, so my inspiration for “Check, Please!” was taking that story and moving it to a happier place. I wanted to answer the question, “What if you had a character and you put them in a not necessarily welcoming environment, in this case hockey, what if a character like that succeeded and what would that look like?” I didn’t necessarily get inspired for the different arcs of the story, but that question was my biggest inspiration: “What does it look like for an unlikely character to succeed in an environment that isn’t necessarily built for their success?”

What’s something that you think is totally unique to comic artists?
When you make a comic, you are the director, the casting director, the producer, you’re the actors and you’re doing the editing. You’re involved in everything so you can really craft the story that you want to tell and you’re only limited by your own talent and experience in sequential art. Very few other modes of story let you be so precise with the vision you’re trying to convey.

Ukazu’s goal when writing “Check, Please!” was to create a story that had a main character who was part of the LGBTQ+ community that had a happy ending. Too often, she feels, literature denies them that.

Can you talk about the importance of having positive stories in queer media?
For the longest time, and even still to this day, any story that was considered a queer narrative was almost guaranteed to have a miserable ending; there is even this trope that any time there was a queer character in a story that that character wouldn’t last long. I just wanted to tell a story that was about coming out, about finding identity that didn’t necessarily mean that the character was going to be consumed by their angst and destroyed by their gloom. I felt like that’s a story I wanted to read and I felt that others wanted to read that as well. It’s important because there are not enough happy stories where a character gets to be queer and just exist and also get a happy ending.

“Check, Please!” has developed a large fandom, but fandom doesn’t always have a positive connotation. How have you learned to embrace fandom in your work?
Everything has two sides. One side of fandom is a place of community, great creation and discovery. It’s really where I grew as an artist and as a writer. When I was in high school I was on the school newspaper and I was the design editor for three years in a row. Even though I was on the school newspaper, everything I knew about drawing and writing came from fandom. That’s the plus side. The downside is that we are in the wild, wild west of the internet, meaning that people can do what they want, say what they want and be mean to each other if they’re having a bad day. Fortunately, for me, the “Check, Please!” fandom has been overwhelmingly positive and kind. People seem to take care of each other. There are moments where I feel, as an author, like “Oh my gosh, these people hate this once character,” or “These people hate me for making this decision,” or people think I’m overstepping boundaries as a creator. But I’ve learned that the best way for fandom to work as a creator is to let fandom do their own thing, and fandom should let the creator do their own thing. It’s that mutual respect and the idea that everyone gets their own space.