Launched in 2004, cartoonist Danielle Corsetto webcomic “Girls With Slingshots” ran five days a week and chronicled the lives of Hazel, Jamie and various friends, enemies, lovers and co-workers. The webcomic, which recently concluded it’s decade-plus run, was acclaimed for its blend of comedy and drama as well as the way it crafted an empathic and thoughtful look at adulthood, sex, relationships, alcoholism and unemployment, among other issues. In addition to “Girls with Slingshots,” Corsetto also spent many years writing and drawing “The New Adventures of Bat Boy” for the “Weekly World News,” which she took over from Peter Bagge. She’s also written two “Adventure Time” graphic novels for Boom! Studios, including this year’s “Graybles Schmaybles.” In addition to her published work, she also hosts a weekly podcast — “Coffee and Cider” — with “Diesel Sweeties” cartoonist Rich Stevens.
With “Girls With Slingshots” over after its decade-long run, Corsetto spoke with CBR News — on the character Hazel’s birthday, in an amusing coincidence — about the strip’s last story arc, why it was time to wrap up the comic and what she has planned next for herself and the characters.
CBR News: You’ve drew “Girls With Slingshots” for more than ten years. I know it’s only been a little while since you ended the strip, but does it feel like a big accomplishment to you?
It’s weird because unlike other major moments in “Girls With Slingshots” history — I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure there have been some — this is something I was prepared for. I actually decided to end the strip about a year before I did it. Somebody came up to me at a convention and they were looking at all of the books that I had out and they said, “Oh cool, when do you think strip #2000 will come out?” And I said, “Oh a long time from now.” Then I thought and was like, actually, it’s next year. I’d been waiting for a good time to end it and thought maybe that would be it. I was expecting myself to be crying at the drawing table on my last night, but instead I put on some Miles Davis, was working until nine in the morning and was really okay with it, weirdly. [laughs]
When you had that thought a year ago, did you take stock and make a checklist of stories you wanted to tell?
I had a few friends who were talking to me about the ending — because I told them early on that I was going to end it — and one of them was like, “You need to make sure you wrap things up neatly.” I guess this was before the long trip I took last year because afterwards I decided, okay, I really want to find out if Clarice and Joshua are going to hook up. I constructed it so it would work, but there’s nothing you can do but drop two characters into one room and see what’s going to happen. You can’t force them. I just had to sit back and hope. I was like, I need to make that chance for them so they can decide whether or not they’re going to have a relationship with each other.
Then I read through all of the stories that I started over the past several hundred strips to figure out which ones needed to be wrapped up. There are tons of stories I didn’t get a chance to wrap up, but I feel like the most important ones were. It’s not realistic to wrap everything up in a nice little box. The strip has never been based on a happily-ever-after format. There will be certain things that people will have to guess about, and certain things that I’ll give them because I want to write about them. I always knew that the ending was going to be Hazel finally confronting her father.
Did you always know that had to be part of the ending?
It was always in the back of my head as something we’ve never talked about, but I would like to talk about it someday. I just needed to do the research first. Of course, I never had a chance to do the research for it. I found a therapist and I asked, “Would it be okay if I acted like my fictional character and you could figure out what’s going on in her life?” I don’t know what it’s like to have divorced parents or be estranged from a parent. I had no concept of what it’s like to grow up with that. Instead, I just winged it. I read a lot of forums with real people talking about how to reunite with an estranged parent or estranged child, and that was extremely helpful.
When did you know that the last strip would be Hazel and Zach?
Sometime last year. I drove a 9,000 mile road trip — which was a great bonding experience with my car. I had people with me for almost all of it except the last week or so, which was necessary, because I can’t handle even the people I love to death 24/7 for that long. I drove the last week and a half by myself and that afforded me a lot of time in my head. In the car I either sing really loudly or think about what I’m working on. I was visualizing the end and I became comfortable with where I knew it was going to end. I think that’s why, when I wrote the last few strips, it wasn’t hitting me as hard as I thought it would. I’d already been there.
Did you see Zach as playing such a big role in the strip back when he was first introduced?
Yes and no. When he came in — and this is every character that comes in — I’ll get a feel within the first few strips whether or not they’re going to stick around. Ultimately it really is up to the characters within the strip. I didn’t anticipate kicking Candy out. Candy hasn’t been seen since her friends broke things off with her. I guess my writing style is the same as my living style. You just try things out and see if they work and if they don’t, then maybe you’ve got friends who are no longer friends anymore and you delete them from your Facebook page. It happens.
I think I saw a lot of potential with Zach and Hazel. Maybe that’s just me protecting them and wanting that for myself — and for anybody else who has exes that they really care about. I felt like that needed to be resolved at some point anyway. It was time to bring him in. I knew that I wanted to end on a little bit of a question mark that was still satisfying. Zach is there and they’re on good terms with each other, but you don’t know what’s going to happen after that. I really like endings that you can fill some of it in on your own, so I wanted to end it that way.
I live in Connecticut and grew up around here. Why is Hazel from Connecticut?
For some reason Connecticut seemed like the right place. I don’t know why. I started writing Hazel and Jamie for a strip when I was in high school, and back then, in my mind I felt that Hazel was originally from the Northeast. My mom is from Maine and we used to drive the twelve hours from Maryland to Maine twice a year. Connecticut wasn’t even a stop on that trip — we drove far away from the coast to avoid traffic — but for some reason it stuck in my mind as a place that seemed very condensed and fairly wealthy. I don’t even think I’ve been to Connecticut at all.
I talked about the ending last year with Randy from “Something Positive” and he said it would be cool to have something about a pudding cat rescue. He mentioned that there was a cat orphanage in the Boston area — fictional, of course. I thought, that’s close to Connecticut where Hazel’s from originally. It gave me a reason for her to go there without forcing her to seek out her father. Ultimately, she did go up there to see him, but she doesn’t say that outright. She needed an excuse, which was to bring this goopy cat to a goopy cat orphanage up in Massachusetts. It worked out well that Connecticut was on the way. I actually sat down and mapped out her route — from the fictional state that doesn’t exist between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, where Hazel and all of them reside.
The original “Hazelnuts” strip I did in high school took place in Frederick, where I grew up in Maryland. I never really mentioned where they’re from in “Girls with Slingshots,” but I always pictured them being close to New York City. I mapped out the route from that area to the Boston area, and it went through the area where Hazel was from. I don’t know why I felt like it needed to be geographically correct, but in my head it worked out better to have a plan like that.
The road trip was fun whether them listening to “Cat in the Cradle” — which felt depressing — or the cat eating chips in the front seat, which was a hilarious image.
I almost wished that I could have had Jamie on the trip with them because I would love to write she and Hazel in a road trip situation. Originally Hazel was going to go entirely alone, but then I realized I should have McPedro in there. And Goopy cat doesn’t talk, but he seems to understand humans — I don’t know how that works. I felt like on her way back home, without the cat, I wanted her to be fairly alone, which is why I didn’t have Jamie along for the ride. Even with your best friend you’re going to curate what you say to make it sound better than it really is. I wasn’t sure about how to get her to talk about how she was feeling so that readers could read it without filling the car with thought bubbles. I usually don’t do thought bubbles in the strip — or at least I try not to do long monologues of thought bubbles. I feel it’s a little bit too easy. In reality we don’t have access to people’s thought bubbles and it’s a little weird to be constantly let into some character’s thought process. Goopy Cat doesn’t really know Hazel and isn’t going to respond anyway, and Hazel is always going to have a little bit of a distance from McPedro, but she still knows him and he knows her. She can lightly talk about how she’s feeling about her father. I felt like she needed an accomplice for her thoughts.
Now that you’ve had some time since the strip ended, have you gotten used to the idea that you don’t have a daily deadline?
I might be a little too comfortable with that. [laughs] Honestly the deadline was getting to me. There’s something about seven years. A lot of divorces happen after seven years. There’s something about your cells regenerating every seven years or something like that. I think at seven years was when I was starting to realize that even though I didn’t want to end the strip, I was going to have to at some point. The schedule and the nightly deadline was getting to me.
I’d like to go back to doing webcomics. I love the immediacy. I love that you get to have feedback and interaction with your readers. But that deadline — that deadline is just the devil. Also you finish the strip and look back on it the next day and you’re like, I could have done a better job here and this character’s face isn’t consistent in the last panel or the writing could have been more concise. Hopefully I’ll be doing long format work soon. I don’t know if it’ll be better or worse for me to be working in a way where I can go back and edit. We’ll see. I want to find out. That’s what I’ll be doing this year.
When we spoke years ago, you mentioned you had this idea for a graphic novel that would be done in a different style. Do you have an update on that or any other concrete plans for what’s next?
Not really — and I’m really happy about that. It’s nice to not have a plan. I’m trying to take a real sabbatical this year — improve all the stuff I’ve wanted to improve and the stuff I didn’t know I needed to improve for a long time now and go back to pretending I’m in art school. I saved up a lot of money so I could live off of it for several months, hopefully a year. While still paying my colorist to color “Girls with Slingshots.” We’ll see if this all works out. I could be going back to webcomics in three months. Who knows.
Probably what I was talking about the last time we talked was a graphic novel I was working on for a publisher for the past three years. They picked out a great artist for me and I’m sure she’s getting lots of work that’s more important than this book I still haven’t finished. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but I would like to finish it. Every time I go back to read it, I feel like it’s the funniest stuff I’ve written and I’d like to make it available to people at some point. I have plenty of half-done projects waiting for me to pick them back up. I still have the freedom to take my time with those and pick them up when I’m ready.
You’ve written “Adventure Time” stories for other artists. Is that something you enjoy?
It’s a little weird because after doing all of it by myself for so long, you have these ideas in your head while you’re writing and you don’t always get an artist that does exactly what you think. If you’ve been in charge for everything you’ve been doing, you get in this rut of thinking that you’re right all the time. So it’s been a good challenge to see other people’s renditions of what I have in mind. Oddly enough, the last book that I did for “Adventure Time” is coming out this month and the artist [Bridget Underwood] just nailed it. She knew exactly what I wanted in every single panel and of course made it ten times better than what I had in my head. It’s really wild to see that, especially when you’re not working directly with the artist.
As soon as the strip ended, you started posting the old strips from the beginning in color. Has seeing them in color been a different experience for you?
Yeah. It’s cool because I’m not doing the work. I think the coloring is the most boring part. I hate saying that, but it’s just not a part that I enjoy very much. It’s like a little Christmas every time I get a package of finished strips from my colorist. It is a lot more work than I expected, though. There’s a lot of information in the black and white strips that’s in my head that I can’t just assume that my colorist is going to know. I send her about twenty strips each week and I’ll send her all of the notes and all of the layered files and she’ll send me back notes. She quit her job and is working for me full time, which is amazing. It’s a lot of work for her as well but it’s been really cool. It’s bringing those old strips into the world that we’ve had for the past several years. It feels a lot more cohesive now to me. Even though the style is a little bit older, I’ve never really minded. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the development of an artist’s style through time. That I’m enjoying. I’m not completely cringing at everything I did except for the lettering with a brush pen. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I started doing that. [laughs]
You’re also letting the first five “Girls With Slingshots” collections go out of print and then publishing an omnibus edition of the five books — in color.
Yeah, that will come out in fall 2016. We should have everything done by then. I’m going to release volumes nine and ten by the end of this year. I released books three and four together a long time ago and that did fine. You’ll get a discount for buying both books, which is a nice incentive.
Now that “Girls With Slingshots” is finished, do you feel good?
I feel like it’s a first step, funny enough. “Girls With Slingshots” is the biggest thing I’ve done, but I want to make comics until I die. Hopefully that’ll be for a long time, but I’m ready to do the next thing. I feel a little bad that I don’t feel remorseful. I wound up feeling this way about a lot of deaths, too. I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had that many deaths in my life, but when it does happen, I was ready for it. I said all that I needed to say to that person and they knew that I loved them. It was over but it needed to be over. That’s the way I feel about “Girls with Slingshots.”
At some point I’ll probably pick it back up again because I love the characters so much and I want to know what happens next. If I didn’t get to pick it back up again at some point, though, I don’t think I would be completely heartbroken. I’m saying that now, but it’s been a week. [laughs] There’s nothing in me that feels like, “Yes, you did it!” I’m saying, “Okay, what’s next?”
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