Webcomic Spotlight: An Interview With Girls With Slingshots Creator Danielle Corsetto
And the slingshot hits a bullseye.
For years, Girls with Slingshots has been a beloved part of the webcomic world. Now that it’s come to an end, the comic’s creator, Danielle Corsetto, took some time to talk to us about where Girls with Slingshots came from, how it evolved, and what ultimate messages she hopes readers will take from her work.
Alex Townsend (TMS): What initially inspired you to create GWS?
Danielle Corsetto: I fell in love with creating comic strips in third grade, and ever since my first one, I’d been drawing them nonstop. I knew it was what I wanted to do when I grew up, even though I was told there wasn’t any money in it (I was convinced Charles Schulz created Peanuts strips for free, a hobby aside from whatever his real job was).
When I graduated with a BFA in photography in 2004 and started working for the local newspaper, I knew I’d get too sucked into my day job to continue my love affair with comic strips unless I had some sort of accountability partner to keep making them. So I gave the Internet that job, and began promising new strips twice a week in October of that year.
I’d already created Hazel and Jamie in high school, starring in a strip called Hazelnuts that was published in our school newspaper. I loved the characters together, and decided instead of starting something completely new, I’d pick up their story a few years after I’d left it. At comic book conventions, where I was making back my table fees by doing cheap commissions, I’d started replacing guns with slingshots in my drawings of superheroes because I was terrible at drawing guns (nobody had smart phones or fast internet back then to look up reference photos). So I already had a title—people were asking for my “girls with slingshots” drawings, so the name had proven itself catchy enough to deserve a bigger project. I told people I’d launch GWS on October 1st, knowing I would never start if I didn’t give myself a deadline.
I’d already been producing comics for Pop Image and World Famous Comics online, and both sites were kind enough to announce the arrival of GWS once it launched, so I had an audience on day one. I created the first three strips last-minute (as I did almost every strip for the next ten years), wisely taking the advice of my then-boyfriend to make it a slice-of-life comedy rather than the superhero story I was struggling to fit the characters into, and promoted the website with home-printed bookmarks and cards I gave out at SPX the same weekend. The little hand-coded website survived its relatively wide reception, and I quietly continued the updates alongside my newspaper job, expecting nothing more from it than an unpaid hobby which fulfilled me, just like like Charles Schulz.
TMS: Hazel is an unusual protagonist in that she is frequently antagonistic or passive aggressive to her friends. What made you decide to focus on this sort of character?
Corsetto: Contrary to what I jokingly tell people, Hazel is more autobio than any other character in the strip. She’s my worst traits exaggerated, with my redeeming traits glistening here and there, making her just barely worth getting to know. She’s my apology to everyone I’ve ever hurt, my release of self-deprecation, my punishment for sometimes wanting to do what she actually does.
I’m often surprised—though I shouldn’t be—how seriously people take these exaggerations, particularly now while I’m posting reruns; the early strips were particularly insensitive and hyperbolic, in part because I was young and still learning empathy myself, but also because that’s the kind of humor I’d seen in sitcoms, which is the closest live-action writing format to comic strips. Nobody actually acts the way characters do on sitcoms; the writers are taking their audiences’ raw, tactless inner reactions or desires, and pouring them out of a fictional character’s mouth, so that we can see what would happen if we weren’t polite or considerate or inhibited or shy.
As GWS went on and the characters became more developed, I slowly shed this sort of caricatured writing for something more subtle and real, where people got into a lot more trouble for quieting their inner dialogue and not acting on their deepest desires, as we do in real life. While I love writing Hazel as a bull in the china shop of other people’s emotions, I was finished giving myself hell by watching her be awful. When I was ready to let her grow up a little, I realized that my beloved comic strip format, that delicate haiku of sequential art, wasn’t the best way to write real people, so I ended it. There were more reasons for me to end it than just that, but I think my desire to write people the way we really are is ultimately the best reason I had for concluding the series as a daily strip.
TMS: GWS contains many bizarre elements (talking cacti, restless leg syndrome as an STI, etc.) but ultimately it’s a slice-of-life sort of story. Were there any particular messages you wanted to get across to readers?
Corsetto: GWS was loaded with my own personal agendas, but I tried to present my passion for social change in a way that people would still have fun reading. Comedy is the best sugar for medicine, and I don’t enjoy a story that’s all medicine and no sugar (who does?).
In the earlier strips, my “agenda” was almost always about sex and sexuality. It often still is, but ultimately I’m trying to create a space where people feel comfortable being just who they are, and asking questions they’re scared to ask. The message I so often want to send to my readers is “you’re okay, you’re normal, you aren’t alone.” This is almost certainly because I too needed to hear this message. In creating a strip that was often therapeutic for my readers, I was turning the process of creating the strip into therapy for the creator as well.
TMS: You’ve written about a lot of situations that aren’t often addressed in fiction such as choosing not to marry, open relationships, an asexual person dating a sexual person, kinky people looking for love, and the hurdles deaf people face when dating. What sort of messages have you gotten from people who personally relate to these stories? What sort of research did you do before writing them?
Corsetto: The readers who can relate to these characters have been incredible. Their responses always give me a sense of relief, confirming that I’ve gotten it pretty damn close, if not spot-on. Even the occasional criticism has been offered to me gently. While I do a great deal of research on my own, the best resources I’ve had have been the long e-mails sent to me by GWS readers who can relate to the characters I can’t.
I must spend at least an hour daily reading articles that can give me some insight into my characters—lesbians, doms and subs, asexuals—but I’ve found that perusing the comment sections below these articles and searching out forums created for and by these individuals is where you learn the most. The articles are written for people like me, who don’t live within the culture they’re writing about—they’re a 101 class. The forums and the open discussion are the immersion schools.
Researching the Deaf community was particularly eye-opening. Reading articles written by and about Deaf culture was helpful, but searching YouTube for deaf contributors gave me a sense of what the culture was really like, how expressive their body language could be compared to that of hearing people. Though I’m still barely able to sign the alphabet in ASL, I spent a lot of my down time playing with an ASL app I downloaded to my phone, and looking up interpretations and explanations of sign language, fascinated by the flexibility and creativity of that incredibly fluid language.
While many of the characters’ lives were rooted in backgrounds that were foreign to me, some of them have traits that are extensions of my own, most notably Hazel’s and Jamie’s. I’ve often described Jamie as my sexual spirit animal; unintentionally (but inevitably, what with the self-therapy comment I made earlier), Jamie’s sexuality and my own began to parallel. A few years back, I introduced polyamory into my own relationships (though not with an asexual person—that’s still new territory for me). And Hazel’s wariness about marriage mirrors my own so much that I worried I’d never be able to explain it, as I find it hard to explain my own. An old strip about her aversion to marriage and kids as a little girl was actually an exact quote I remember saying to my mom when I was in kindergarten.
TMS: Now that GWS is done do you have a favorite character or storyline?
Corsetto: I knew Clarice was going to grow on me more and more as we were allowed into her more private moments near the end of the series. Her story with Joshua was cathartic for me, allowing someone who’d been ready and waiting for love for so long to finally find it.
I know as an artist I’m supposed to hate most of my own work, but I genuinely love so many of the storylines so much that I have a hard time picking one favorite! But I’ve said before that one of my favorites was the arc where McPedro’s mustache leaves his face and goes on an adventure. It’s totally stupid and I wrote it ages ago, but it was fun and completely lacked any kind of serious life lessons, which made it a fun departure from the more meaningful storylines surrounding it.
TMS: How do you think the lives of the GWS cast would go after the close of the series?
Corsetto: One of my 2016 resolutions (I take New Year’s resolutions pretty seriously!) is to start writing about this. People have been asking me what I’m working on next, or if they’re ever going to see the GWS world again. If I return to the GWS world, it’ll probably be about the years that followed the end of the daily series, but in graphic novel format.
I’m not promising anything, but either way, I’d like to play with the idea of a continuation of GWS next year, even if it’s only in the form of practice.
TMS: What projects are you working on now?
Corsetto: I’ve been on sabbatical since early spring, and am finally preparing to finish a graphic novel I’ve half-written (to be illustrated by someone else, a wonderful artist I trust), and to teach an illustration class at my alma mater, Shepherd University, for their spring semester.
Beyond that, I’ll be finishing the files for the last two GWS softcover collections, and then working on a hardcover collection of the first thousand strips in color. I’ve spent the last year working with my fantastic colorist, Laeluu, as she colors the old black-and-white strips (which are now being re-released on my website every weekday with commentary). Writing notes for each strip is a lot more work than I’d expected!
TMS: Is there anything else you’d like to address?
Corsetto: I’ll still be attending conventions next year, but will be curbing the number of my appearances for the sake of my sanity. And for the record, because so many have asked … of course I’ll go back to comics one day. It was my first love and it still is. I’m just taking a longer break than I’d expected … also for the sake of my sanity.
Girls with Slingshots can be found here, along with links Corsetto’s store and blog posts.
Alex Townsend is freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!
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