Apparently I missed out on Check, Please when it was being released as a webcomic, which is actually slightly surprising because I feel like I spend a lot of time reading webcomics and talking about webcomics, but I’d never heard of this before a glowing review of the volume 1 book release put it on my radar. And I’m so glad I did.
On its face, Check, Please seems like combination of words drawn from a hat: a gay hockey player vlogs about his love of baking. From this bare description, and from the impression I got from the review, I assumed he was a closeted hockey player who had to keep his love of backing a secret. That is not remotely true. (I went back just now and checked out that NPR review and it said nothing of the sort, so I guess I just made up all that myself.) Instead, we get Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a Southern guy who may not be out but is proud to share his pies with the rest of the team. He’s earnest and friendly and kind and just a little timid on the ice, but that’s nothing a little early-morning training with the NHL-bound star of the team (and resident heartthrob) can’t fix.
Smell that? It’s not a pie baking; it’s romance in the air.
Or is it? I loved almost everything about Check, Please, so much so that after I finished book one I had to immediately go get book two, and I’ll get to my thoughts on that in a minute. But first, a quick break for a wee bit of criticism. Because while I love how nonchalantly Bitty wears his identity on his sleeve—not right away, but fairly soon, and what seems to be relatively painlessly, the biggest whiff I got of the aforementioned romance in the air (besides the early-morning practices existing at all) was when Bitty says wistfully, “Never fall in love with a straight boy.” An odd inclusion, I thought at the time, only to be proven completely wrong when, on the very last page of the first book, the heartthrob, Jack, kisses Bitty.
w h a t
Which is in part why I had to rush out and get book two, but also why I had to go back and see what foreshadowing I missed. There was only a little more I could have drawn from. It was just not foreshadowed especially well, I think.
But that’s a relatively small criticism, because the whole thing is just so fun. You can’t not love Bitty and his dedication to excellence and buttery, flaky crusts.
Book two, then, is all about how life gets better—and harder—for Bitty and Jack. As a pro hockey player (and fast-rising star), Jack has an image to maintain, so although Bitty is out to the team, he has to keep his relationship under wraps. When the pair outs themselves in a pretty spectacular way, they have to deal with individual fallout: Jack, for being the first out professional male athlete and thus a precedent setter with every move he makes, and Bitty, who hadn’t quite come out to his parents yet, let alone the league. And more serious than that, Bitty’s mother and aunt have a long-standing feud over whose jam recipe is better—and Bitty’s been using his aunt’s recipe.
As should be evident from the premise and the description, Check, Please is largely a fun, light-hearted story about a hockey player keeping his close-knit team supplied with plenty of baked goods. Bitty is a delight, if maybe a little more sure of himself than any freshman has any right to be. The ever-changing cast of supporting characters in the form of other teammates and various other hangers-on bring a feeling of wholesomeness that extends beyond Bitty and his overworked oven. Although there are fears of consequences should Bitty and Jack be outed too soon or in the wrong way, the tone of Check, Please won’t allow for real tragedy.
But I did check, as I started reading the second book. I just didn’t think I could stand watching Bitty’s tender little heart get broken. Spoiler: it does not.
I’m comfortable giving that spoiler because the joy of Check, Please is not in the will-they-or-won’t-they; I don’t think that sort of tension was ever the goal. Rather, it is in the utter delight of watching an eager kid grow into a confident and gifted adult—and in hearing about the seemingly endless array of drool-worthy confections he makes. The only thing Check, Please is missing is a recipe section at the back.