Teen Press Corps member, Ivy, interviews Ngozi Ukazu, Author and Illustrator of Check Please!
Ivy: How did you react when you first found out First Second was going to publish Check Please?
Ngozi: I was really excited! It was more like when my second Kickstarter did well, there were publishers approaching me and my manager to see if a deal could be struck, and when it landed with First Second it felt right because they’ve published so many books that I’ve read and enjoyed. Knowing the enthusiasm behind it was really wonderful.
Ivy: Why do you think Check Please is popular? What do you like about it, what do you think makes it popular for any audience?
Ngozi: I think what makes Check Please popular is that the art style’s appealing, it’s light, it’s vibrant. Just from the art style, it indicates that there’s a story that’s going to be fun and vibrant and welcoming. A lot of comics nowadays, unless they’re graphic novels, don’t start from book one, so [Check Please] is an easy thing to jump into. If people are sharing the comic, they just link to one thing and you’re ready to go It’s actually a pretty quick read as well, and it’s a positive queer love story, which you don’t get very often. People were really surprised when Jack and Bitty, SPOILERS when their romance really starts to flourish. I was like ‘Uhhh, that was the plan from day one?’ I think all those things together make [Check Please] accessible and fresh
Ivy: What part of Check Please or what’s one of the parts that you’re most proud of?
Ngozi: People often cite the improvement in the art, just inside this book from page one to the last page. I started it before grad school, and then the end of year two was published the summer after grad school, so I’m really proud of that.
Check Please in 2013 vs. Check Please in 2017
Ivy: When you were a kid, did you want to be a writer or artist? What did you think you were going to do?
Ngozi: Well, I was always writing and drawing. I remember in second, third, fourth grade I would create my own little zines out of notebook paper, so I was always doing that, but I figured that I was going to be a scientist or a pharmacist or something that would please my Nigerian parents. I’m really glad I just kept drawing because all the stuff that I thought was ancillary to my actual education is my career now.
Ivy: Who’s your like favorite character to draw?
Ngozi: I would say that the easiest character to draw and the easiest character to write is Chowder. He’s fun, his face is just a bunch of very straight lines. For whatever reason, whenever I draw Chowder, I don’t have to like erase very often. Bitty is the worst to draw because his eyes vary in size and go all over the place and his nose is impossible!
Chris “Chowder” Chow from Check Please
Ivy: What’s one of the best fan reactions you’ve had?
Ngozi: I was at a signing two days ago and I was showing people the next comic that’s coming up that’s called Haus 2.0 and there was one panel that I showed where everyone gasped and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, how exciting!’ I didn’t think I would get that reaction, but it’s nice to hear the immediate response.
Ivy: I’ve heard pieces of the story of how you got the idea for Check Please, but why did you want to make it?
Ngozi: It started off on a whim. It started off as practice. I just wanted to tell a story using all these seeds. I wanted to tell a story that was about hockey from all the research that I did about hockey and I wanted it to be fun, where a gay character didn’t get beat up or demonized or have a terrible ending. I just wanted it to be a happy, happy story, to make it fun, make it a little bit of a sitcom, and really explore this world of Samwell.
Ivy: What is one of your favorite graphic novels that you’ve read recently or webcomic?
Ngozi: To be honest, I read more graphic novels and more ‘novel’ novels than I do webcomics. I think my favorite one so far, like, recently, is My Hero Academia. I’ve read the entire series, I own books one through twelve at the moment. It’s just really good superhero world building. I think I’ve cited this in like every single interview I’ve done this year, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, which is the best autobio ever, in my opinion. If there’s a better one someone will have to point it out to me.
Ivy: Do you have ideas for the future on what you want to do?
Ngozi: I’ve been working on a superhero story, and it’s kind of in a weird frantic mode right now. When I bring it up in front of people I kind of turn into a crazy person cause I’m embarrassed by it, but that’s probably what I’m going to be working on after Check Please.
Ivy: Who are some of your graphic novel/writing/author heroes? People you’re inspired by?
Ngozi: People who I’m inspired by are people like Issa Rae, who just hustled forever, and now she’s writing her own TV show. In terms of artists, I wish I could learn a color pallet like Gigi DG, who does Cucumber Quest. If I could reach that level I will be happy as an artist. There are artists in town who I’m inspired by too! There’s an artist named Gaby Epstein who has really good lines, really good action. Gale Galligan is the same, good lines, good action. People who just make me mad with how well they write. I’ve always liked PG Wodehouse, he’s a British humorist from the early 20th century. Other current writers… I think that’s a pretty extensive list. Right now, I’m thinking Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling.
Ivy: Is there anything in Check Please you wish you could’ve gone back and done differently?
Ngozi: I think probably being too worried about what people think. I think that slowed me down for a little bit. That was kind of Tumblr’s sophomore stage where callout culture was really, really at its height, so I was really worried about making people upset, and I should not have ever been worried about that.
Ivy: When Check Please really started getting popular, Kickstarters getting funded and stuff, what was that like, how did that feel?
Ngozi: It felt good to not have to worry, to have to worry less about the basic things. I was really glad I could pay my student loans! Stuff like that was really nice. But it was also just exciting to know that people cared about the story, to get that kind of validation. Knowing that I was writing and it immediately had an audience. The superhero story that I’m working on right now, I feel like no one’s going to like it, that it’s stupid and weird, but that’s exactly how it felt about Check Please. So to see the Kickstarter go through is still mindboggling.
Ivy: How does your college experience compare to Samwell and to Bitty’s college experience?
Ngozi: Samwell is my attempt to recapture and recreate Yale because as soon as I left Yale I missed it and still do in a way. I think wanting to be part of a team was always kind of my dream, and I was part of different teams, but never that full cohesive immersive family-type thing that Bitty has, with having a house, having nicknames, having a weird culture. I think I wanted that. I kind of got it, in different moments, but I never got four full years of that.
Samwell University from Check Please vs. real-life Yale University
Ivy: Have you ever played hockey?
Ngozi: No. I can’t ice skate. Or bake. I’ve still got time, though…
Check Please! is on sale now!!!