Danielle Corsetto is the artist behind the hilarious daily strip Girls With Slingshots (GWS). GWS focuses on the lives of twentysomethings Jamie and Hazel and their social circle. The strip is a lot of lighthearted fun served up daily, much like Jeph Jacques' Questionable Content, with a wide and charming cast and a slightly skewed universe. Though the strip isn't political and isn't perfect, its focus on female friendships place the strip high on what I call the Bechdel spectrum, and makes it a popular strip widely read in the webcomics world.
Danielle lives in West Virginia and works full-time as a cartoonist and illustrator. She's a really friendly and lovely lady, and I had a great time chatting with her.
RMJ: Daily strips—even those that have a lot of female characters—often focus on a romantic relationship. But in GWS, the focus is more often around a primary bond of friendship between women. Tell us about how you've built this relationship. Does it grow out of your own friendships?
DC: You know, it's funny that I even picked two female friends, because I have so few (but very beloved) close female friends myself. They really wrote themselves, Hazel and Jamie. Hazel was the main character from my prequel comic strip "Hazelnuts" (from my high school days), and Jamie was, at the time, her nemesis; she was close friends with the object of Hazel's affections, and there was a bit of a one-sided rivalry between them, unbeknownst to Jamie. I'm wondering how many other close female bonds have grown out of tug-of-war battles for a lover!
RMJ: Was Jamie's recent confrontation of Hazel's homophobia difficult to write, considering that you often describe Hazel as an avatar of sorts?
DC: A little bit, but not for that reason. I used to think Hazel was my autobio character, and when she's stubborn and contrary—and drunk—she often is! But I don't know where the mild homophobia came from. It just seemed to fit her.
I had an especially hard time writing that story (and you'll note that it only lasted one or two strips!) mostly because I couldn't get into Hazel's head. I wouldn't react the same way if my best friend decided to start dating women.
RMJ: It's interesting, though, because she's been friends with Thea for a while and didn't really express anything like that to her.
DC: I think it's a little easier for Hazel to swallow her old boss being gay, but tricky to envision her childhood BFF being gay, after years of dating dudes.
RMJ: Your (kinda) recent introduction of characters with disabilities Melody and Soo Lin in Maureen and Jameson's wedding arc was praised by disability activists. You've done an excellent job of making jokes about disability that are not at the expense of people with disabilities and more about the ham-fisted ways in which others make assumptions about these characters. What motivated you to include these characters? How have you gone about researching and writing Melody in particular?
DC: Man, I can not even BEGIN to tell you what a relief those "Bravo, you did it right!" blog posts were to me. I'm not familiar at ALL with disabilities of any kind, and was really worried I'd shoot myself in the foot if I tried to write about them (it's funny, I received WAY more negative feedback when I tried to write British people correctly!).
The motivation for Melody was really simple; I wanted Maureen's entire family to have some unusual way of communicating, to the point where Maureen's blog-centric personality would seem almost gregarious in comparison.
With Soo Lin [Maureen's livejournal friend], I'm fascinated by the ways that texting and the Internet have changed our communication, that we can create such strong bonds with people who may look or live very differently than us, without our ever knowing. I thought it'd be interesting to have a blind character who loves to communicate with people over the Internet, where there's more of an even playing field.
Coming up with Melody and Soo Lin and having them in the wedding party... that was all comedy and whim. It's been rewarding and fascinating to learn about their community, and in the process I've learned that I have many many readers who are hearing impaired or deaf.
RMJ: Do you have any other plans to address social issues (in a character-based fashion, of course)?
DC: Definitely, although I'm trying to lay off the heavy agendas (my biggest one was the STD story arc, and that went on FOREVER!). Well, okay, there is ONE more agenda I'm looking forward to revealing, and you'll see that in Jim, our "nice guy" character. If I have to listen to one more "nice guy" complain about what a nice guy he is and how he never gets laid... grrr!
RMJ: There's been a lot of active discussion of sexism in comics and conferences—Kate Beaton recently spoke out about the sexist forms that compliments can take. What is your experience of sexism in the comic-ing world?
DC: Meh, it's hardly different than sexism in the everyday world. The difference for women like us who are more in the spotlight (and especially Kate, who I think terrifies some men because—gasp!—she clearly has a brain) is that we're easier targets, and easier to contact.
I've gotten my fair share of sexist comments, and I generally ignore them. While I'd prefer to confront these guys, it's the old "bad attention is better than no attention" conflict; if they so desperately want a reaction from you, it's better to deny them of that attention. Most of the comments are basically "I love your comic and OH YEAH IT DOESN'T HURT THAT YOU'RE HOT, CAN WE GET MORE PICTURES OF YOU PLS." I don't find it ridiculously out-of-line, it's just unwelcome. A lot of men don't understand that reducing a woman's worth to her looks is insulting to a woman who wants to be known for her talents rather than her physical appearance. (And by the way, there have been one or two women who have sent these e-mails as well! It's not all guys doing this.)
Funny enough, I've never been faced with sexism in the professional world, or at least not by anyone who mattered. The webcomics community is an incredibly gender-neutral field. The men who are my peers are some of the most level-headed, feminist, anti-sexism people I have ever met. I'm honored to be part of such an open-minded community.
RMJ: Would you describe yourself as a feminist? Has feminism influenced your work? Would you describe any of your characters as such?
DC: Augh, this has been such a hard question for me. Technically, YES, I guess I'm a feminist. But being Miss I Hate Labels, I never call myself a feminist. I feel like it's important for me to show people through my work and my actions that women are capable of doing the same things men are, but I don't feel it's important for me to fight about it, or to give myself a title that elicits the wrong ideas from many people. I'm not a fighter, I just open my mouth and a lot of opinions comes out.
RMJ: Your storylines are primarily realistic, but like Questionable Content (QC) and many other webcomics, you include a lot of fantastic elements to your work—McPedro the talking cactus, Sprinkles and company, and recently, a ghostly kitty. How did the kitties and McPedro come about?
DC: Oh man, the kitties. I didn't have cats when I started the strip, but you can tell when I adopted Ellie and Smudge, because their alter-egos Fluffy and Sprinkles were immediately adopted by Jamie and Hazel, respectively. Now that I'm a Crazy Cat Lady (a label I will accept, because it's too true), I've dissuaded myself from starting a separate comics entirely about cats, and have inundated GWS with cats instead.
As for the fantasy angle, it's funny that you mention QC (which is, coincidentally, my favorite comic). I was going to let McPedro be the only "magical" aspect to the strip, but once I started to realize how much I enjoyed it when QC would dip into the surreal, I decided to let myself play with fantasy a bit more. I always thought I would stick strictly to slice-of-life realism, but allowing silly elements like Strip Laser Tag and a kitty that hums "DOOOOOOM" was too damn fun. It also makes things way easier to write. If I come up with something that could never happen in real life, I can just pour myself a drink and let my bizarre ideas run wild.
RMJ: What are your other ambitions as a cartoonist/illustrator?
DC: I imaging what it would be like to take a hiatus from GWS (I love it, but it's really exhausting work) and just writing stories in text, and painting things that didn't require visual storytelling, panels, 24-hour deadlines... it would be amazing. But I would really miss telling the stories I'm telling now. I think I'll just go on writing and drawing Hazel and Jamie until I can't take it anymore, and then, maybe, I'll write a movie and it'll be a big hit and BAM I'll be rich. That's how it works, right?
I guess I could say that my most realistic and current goal as a cartoonist is to perfect my craft. I'm still on training wheels with color, and I know my art can improve.
RMJ: So, no plans to end GWS?
DC: No plans to end GWS yet. I know it'll wear me out at some point; this is the only career (or love, for that matter) I've ever stuck with for this long. I get bored easily, so I'm sure it'll run its course at some point, but for now I'm just gonna do it until I can't anymore.