Backgrounds in Ngozi Ukazu’s Check Please

Note: this is a repost of an article from my little comics blog. It was originally posted on November 5th, 2016.


I am probably the last person to find out about this but Ngozi Ukazu’s Check Please [thanks, Yash], a webcomic about hockey and pies among other things, is top-notch. Seriously, what’s not to love here? The best sport on Earth, baked goods, cute dudes, hilarious hockeybros, and all around solid storytelling. One of the coolest parts of Check Please, besides how it makes everyone hungry for pie, is its quality use of backgrounds. Backgrounds in CP are not there only to place its characters in a setting, but rather do an admirable job with providing us with essential information about its characters. The following are only a few examples.

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This is one is not necessarily about the panel’s background but is more about how everything comes together to convey just how Jack feels in the moment. I like how Jack’s apartment is completely empty and devoid of life, yet occupies the vast majority of the panel. At the same time, notice how, even though Jack is alone in the apartment, his and Bittle’s conversation fills in the empty spaces. This trend of of Bittle having an effect on Jack’s apartment despite being far away continues in the next few panels. For example, the kitchen light comes on the moment Jack takes out Bittle’s note out of his bag.

The moment the light comes on is when we finally see colour in Jack’s apartment. The page culminates in the panel where the prominence of Bittle’s little love notes becomes unavoidable. The last panel of this page has Bittle’s notes on the same level as Jack, almost in the middle of the page.

check-1-confetti-lost-game

This is a relatively minor detail, but it has got to be my favourite panel in the entire comic so far. The underdogs of Samwell hockey make it to the NCAA championships, but, unfortunately, drop their elimination game. The hockey match happens between pages 13 and 14, with only the team’s preparations and the game’s aftermath being shown to the readers. Page 14 is a silent page which makes it stand out immediately, as Check Please is a pretty mouthy comic. We’re also not explicitly told that our Samwell boys have lost their game, but the page makes it pretty clear. Even then, we’re so invested in these guys that we refuse to believe it, at least for a bit. Panel 10 (right side) is what cements the team’s loss, at least for me. It is my favourite page of CP due to how impactful yet subtle it is. We see Bitty, his red Samwell shirt on, walk through the mostly deserted stadium filled with blue and white confetti. We don’t even know what colour Samwell’s opposition wore, but we can sure as pie tell that the confetti is not meant for Samwell. The page gets even more heartbreaking by the end, but the confetti panel is the one that had the most impact on me. With a tiny background detail Ngozi Ukazu says everything there is to say about the team’s most important game of the season.

These are just two examples but there’s plenty more to look at. Check Please showcases quality comics work, which makes me very excited to see what it has in store when it comes back this December.

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