Bunt!: Striking Out on Financial Aid  by Ngozi Ukazu and Mad Rupert is a story of finance, friendship and finding yourself

Written and drawn by Louisa A A Danquah

Check Please! and Sakana are two of my fave webcomics, which is why I was super excited to hear that their creators were teaming up on a graphic novel! Filled with gorgeous art, queer found family, and a protagonist you can’t help but root for, Bunt! asks the reader: is art school (or more specifically student debt) worth it?

Bunt! is the story of Molly Bauer, a freshman studying art at the fictional PICA university on a full ride scholarship…. or she was supposed to until she finds out that her scholarship has disappeared! With her dream in danger, her only option is to pull together a softball team, win a single softball game and earn a sports scholarship. Easy, right?

Ukazu and Rupert do a brilliant job of getting us to feel Molly’s dedication (and desperation) to be part of PICA. As Molly so fervently tells us in the opening pages, she has the schedule, the books and the t-shirt – everything needed to be part of the cult art school.  Even the older students at the reception desk look surprised at her eagerness. This doubles as an efficient character intro while setting up the stakes of the comic. By the time Molly is sadly dragging her bicycle away, turned away from freshman orientation, I too want to be on the (adorably drawn) PICA tugboat. It was only on my second read that I realised we get our first glimpse of the other characters here as well.

Can I just say that I love the characters in this comic? Everyone has a memorable design that makes them stand out in the team (and in my memory). I love character design in general so it would be great to know how Ukazu and Rupert went about figuring out what they would look like. Each character also has their own motivations for joining the softball team, and the scene where Molly hunts each of them down serves as a way for us to find out what those reasons are (and become endeared to them early on!). There’s a mix of motivations here – some that were more obvious and some I didn’t expect. We have Ryan, Molly’s best friend who doesn’t join the team as much as he’s persuaded to join by Molly. He dropped out of PICA and despises the school but, as the only option for a coach and unwilling to let his bestie drown in student debt, signs up for the squad. Susanna, the mysterious biker girl, shows up out of the blue to join the team, but clearly had her own secrets to hide.  There’s Ally, another struggling student who’s getting by on streaming and a part time job; Virginia and Kwan, who have full scholarships and just want to play softball for the fun of it; Faith, who wants her own money to gain independence from her parents; and Kavi and Jasmine, who want to make friends. 

This is also a graphic novel that finds comedy in poking fun at art school stereotypes, but also ties them into the characters to make them more interesting.  Ally is an artist and furry streamer – we get our first glimpse of her in Molly’s mums’ shop wearing a shirt that says ‘YAOI’ in bold letters. For a minute I was worried Ally’s personality would start and end with an embarrassing BL fetish, but Ally ends up being a real team player with Kwan and streams the games to her audience. Also – one of my fave recurring gags was Kavi (the super quiet friend) drawing thicc af buff men that always confuse Ryan when he sees them.

Coming back to Molly, I think that Ngozi Ukazu and Mad Rupert do a great job of showing Molly’s naivety without making it feel like she’s stupid for wanting to believe that PICA is her dream. So many of us who pursue art as a career do so from the place of it being a dream, so it’s easy to feel like Molly could be any of us.  Sometimes stories will present someone’s optimism as a character flaw, but in Bunt! it’s Molly’s happy-go-lucky personality that brings together a queer found family who eventually come to enjoy the sport. However, the shadow of student debt hangs over Molly – as the season goes on and the debt piles higher, Rupert and Ukazu do an excellent job at communicating Molly’s anxiety as it seeps into the pages.   

Bunt! doesn’t shy away from the role money (or lack thereof) plays into your perception of an institution’s importance when it comes to achieving your dreams.  PICA is Molly’s dream and has been since she was young, and it is wrapped up in the strong pride she feels for her hometown of Peachtree. Watching Molly come to her own realisation of what she wants is enjoyable as a reader, all the more so because of the cast of characters that each bring something different to the story.

All in all I really enjoyed Bunt! There were times where the conflict in the group felt ham-fisted. There’s one part towards the end of the comic that comes to mind, where the characters gang up on Susanna after her secret is revealed – it felt out of character for the team that had become so close. It became clear this was the set up for the rousing speech which I did enjoy (and is one of my fave tropes) so I don’t feel like that affected my overall enjoyment of the story.  I’d recommend this to anyone who was looking for a cute, queer and funny as heck graphic novel.

Louisa A A Danquah is a Ghanaian British comics creator from London. She discovered a love of comics through reading webcomics as a teenager and a few years ago finally realised they wanted to make their own. By day he works in TV marketing and before that, worked in children’s publishing. Her favourite kinds of comics to make feature Black queer and trans characters with speculative fiction, found family, friendship or some combination of the three.