Danielle Corsetto talks "Girls With Slingshots"

Available five days a week, Danielle Corsetto's webcomic "Girls with Slingshots" is approaching its fourth anniversary. Described as a strip about two girls, a bar and a talking cactus, the story follows the buxom, bubbly Jamie and the cynical and sarcastic Hazel as they navigate the post-college world of jobs, responsibilities, coffee breaks, relationships, booze, boobs and breaking taboos. There is also lots of conversations about sex.

The first 200 strips are available in a 160-page collected edition featuring fifty pages of additional artwork, material created by Corsetto during her years as a student, a How To Draw Jamie and Hazel art lesson and more. A second volume, featuring games, puzzles and possibly a sticker book, is planned for a Christmas release.

Based in West Virginia, Corsetto had been working in print and web comics for years before launching GWS. She also wrote and illustrated "The New Adventures of Bat Boy" for the Weekly World News, taking over from the strip's creator, Peter Bagge. "Girls with Slingshots" stands out, with its character-based humor that doesn't rely on jokes, and manages to blend drama and comedy in a way that to precisely echo the twenty-something experience, making the strip an essential part of many readers' daily webcomic diets.

CBR News sat down with Corsetto to discuss "Girls With Slingshots," drinking contests, Bat Boy, and the joys of Twitter.

CBR: By this point you must have a standard reply for those smart asses who ask, "Where are the slingshots? I was promised slingshots!"

Danielle Corsetto: Sigh. This is the most anticlimactic, silly response I ever have to give. I came up with the name "Girls With Slingshots" after spending my first year at conventions being asked to draw girls with guns, and instead drawing them with slingshots -- because I couldn't draw guns. At least the name stuck!

To what degree are Jamie and Hazel two sides of your own personality?

I like to tell people that Hazel is me when I'm sober, and Jamie is me when I'm drunk.

Hazel has always been my POV character, meaning more or less that she started off sharing her world from my POV. But I've changed a lot since I first started writing her, and I've developed into a sort of mix of the two girls. When I'm cranky, I'm Hazel all the way. But I also don't tend to get angry or fight; I just laugh things off.

In fact, Jamie was created as the kind of girl I always wanted to be. Upbeat, loving, warm, fun. I like to think that WWJD ("What Would Jamie Do?") occasionally guides my better decisions.

What can you tell us about autobiographical nature of Hazel, who writes better while drunk? There was also a strip in which a young Hazel swore that when she grew up, she would never get married or have kids and would ride a pony to work.

Hahahaha!! Yeah, okay, you got me. I tend to have a drink while drawing (and sometimes scripting) the strip to loosen up my style a bit, and I definitely decided when I was six that I would never get married or have kids, and that I'd ride a pony to work every day. Obviously that's changed over time, although I do roll out of bed and start work in my PJs.

Jameson, the barista who always wears a bandana, turns out to be balding and ends up becoming a victim of the crazed barber Tweeny Sodd. What's up with that?

Oh, poor Jameson. Or rather, poor James Hatton. The creator of the webcomic "In His Likeness" was the basis for Jameson's looks (although they differ greatly in personality). What I hadn't realized is that James actually is going a bit bald under the bandanna, just like his GWS counterpart Jameson. I found that out soon after the storyline began!

As for Tweeny Sodd -- well, like I said, I like to drink while I work, and my boyfriend and I had just watched "Sweeney Todd," and it just popped into my mind. It's a pretty weak idea, but it was fun while it lasted! Tweeny truly gave me the shivers.

A fan-favorite supporting player is Clarice the porn store "librarian." How did you concoct her very interesting employment situation of "librarian" by day and by night another job that for the benefit of new readers we won't reveal?

Clarice was very loosely based off a quiet redhead I was friends with in grade school - bookish, smart, but still opinionated and feisty. We used to spend our middle school lunches in the library together. I should point out right now that I seriously doubt she's anything like Clarice, but wouldn't it be fun if she was!

I brought Clarice into the strip early thinking it would be fun to have a "librarian" who works at a porn store, but believed it to be a legitimate bookstore. After a while, I began to like Clarice so much that I wanted her to jump past the clueless girl she'd began as and be the smart, sassy porn store clerk she is today. Her night job was a fun twist that I hadn't seen coming! It just wrote itself. I'm not going to give it away; if you haven't read it yet, hit the archives and jump to the stripclub story.

Twenty-somethings. Bars. Jobs. "Girls With Slingshots" is funny and very slice-of-life and relatable. Then there's a talking Irish cactus named McPedro. What was the impetus behind that fantastic element?

This too is silly and pathetic, but McPedro the talking Irish cactus was created as a marketing tool for the strip when I was with 360ep way back in early 2005. They wanted to turn Hazel and Jamie into little plush dolls to sell, and I got weirded out by it. It just seemed wrong to make dolls based on twenty-something sexually active girls. So they asked me to create a character that would be cuddly and plush-able. Being a snarky asshole, I decided, what's more cuddly than a cactus?

Somehow he ended up with a bad Irish accent rather than a predictable Mexican one, and bam, McPedro was born.

How do you write the strip? Do you tend to come up with stories and break them down or do you build the stories from smaller ideas?

I tell people that I let the characters write the strip, and that's really the truth. I usually have a vague idea of where the story is going to go, but no idea how it's going to get there. So I start at point A (where the last strip ended) and picture point B and let the characters speak and act their way to it. I've got it down to a bit of a science now that I'm holding down a "weekdaily" schedule, trying to fit the content into 5-strip story arcs (or 10-strip if it's a long story), so the stuff between point A and point B now just naturally falls into 5 strips, 3-5 panels per strip.

When I sit down to write, I read the last several strips and let the dialogue flow into the next strip as naturally as possible. I've been listening to a lot of other webcomic creators talk about how they write jokes --plan a joke and write around it, or let the jokes fall naturally-- and realized that I've only written a handful of strips with the express purpose of reaching a particular joke. I think the entertainment is really in the characters' inherent reactions to one another and their surroundings.

In almost all the GWS strips, the humor is very character-based. How do you manage to keep the characters from becoming one note or running gags?

The other day I was lettering my strip while talking to someone on the phone (big mistake), and wound up penciling my balloons backwards (Jamie had Hazel's balloons, and vice versa). When I realized what I had done, I chuckled and read through the strip that way, with the girls stealing each other's lines. It was so out-of-character for both of them! This little accidental exercise made me realize that I had created two totally different characters that balanced one another, and didn't have the same voice at all.

I think it's a great exercise to try if you're writing a strip. Early on, the characters are likely to have one voice (yours), but as they develop, they should take on their own voices. If you write a strip and you can put any of your characters at the end of the balloon pointer, you may want to focus on diversifying your characters a bit.

As for keeping them from being one-dimensional and gimmicky, I'm not afraid to put my characters in positions that will test their emotions. While being able to tag your characters with short phrases can be helpful ("Clarice the Porn Store Librarian," or "Jameson the Hot Barista"), I think it's far more enticing to read about characters who have depth and share the reader's own insecurities and worries.

This October, "Girls With Slingshots" will be four-years-old. More than 500 strips. Is there a point where you can see yourself wrapping up the strip and moving on to something else?

I'd thought about wrapping it up at #1000 and giving myself a bit of a break, then maybe coming right back to it. But I really don't know! I love the strip and see myself working on it for a long time. Then again, I have a lot of other projects I'd like to try my hand at. At around strip #1000, I should be wrapping up the writing portion of a graphic novel that I'm working on, so it'd be a good time to take a sabbatical.

You recently sponsored a "Girls With Slingshots" drinking contest. It's a good idea given the amount of drinking that goes on in the strip. The recipes are reader-submitted and meant to create a book to accompany the forthcoming GWS shot glasses. How did the contest go and any favorites among the winners?

It's still going! I blew entirely too much money on liquor and mini-umbrellas, but now I've got the ammunition to create the rest of the drinks. The first party was a general all-around taste-testing party that went swimmingly - my fellow judges were excellent and we got quite a bit done! But we still have a coffee drink test, alcoholic dessert test, and (believe it or not) a meat-flavored drink test to hold. I have a feeling these will happen sometime in September - several of my "judges" are moving into my house this week.

Some favorites included Candy's drink "The Clubbed Baby Seal," which was meant to look like a fresh white baby seal tainted with blood (grenadine). The concept was genius and the drink tasted just fine. There were a ton of innocent Maureen drinks (pineapple and Malibu has become my drink-of-choice now), some tasty Jamie drinks, and I'm looking forward to Jameson's coffee drinks. Namely, a Clarice drink called a "Kick in the Classic" knocked two brave drink-testers on their asses. I'm going to have to add a warning label to that one!

The idea came from Jennie Breeden, creator of "The Devil's Panties." She does some funky merchandise, and when I saw her doing shot glasses I decided I had to make some for GWS. The drink book idea soon followed, but it's taking a lot of time to test out all these drinks!

What are the glasses going to look like?

I'm eying three shot glasses that come with a small drop of color at the base - green, orange, blue - and doing fun linework busts of McPedro, Hazel, and Jamie in those colors, respectively.

Besides the reader-created drinks, will the book feature other things like new cartoons?

Absolutely. I want to focus on the reader-created drinks because there were so many fun, creative ones! But I also want some won't-find-it-anywhere-else witty chitchat between the characters throughout the book, and a list of classic girly drinks (like Sex on the Beach, Fuzzy Navel, etc.) to top off the book. I'm sure I'll come up with some other fun stuff as I get it going.

Besides GWS, you wrote and drew "The New Adventures of Bat Boy" for the Weekly World News. Peter Bagge was the guy who started it and then you took over. How did that happen?

Totally random. Some guy comes up to me at a convention in NYC, looks at my work, says, "We could use you," then flings a business card my way. I didn't realize until he'd left that he was the editor of the Weekly World News! We worked together on some ideas for a Bigfoot-themed original comic I was going to do, but just as I started the character sketches, Bagge decided to leave his Bat Boy strip and they needed someone to start the comic back up right away. So I ended up picking up the strip, which was exciting for me because Bat Boy was discovered in a cave in West Virginia near Seneca Rocks, one of my favorite spots in the state. So I brought Bat Boy back to his home at Seneca Rocks, and even placed one scene at a restaurant down the road that I'd been to.

What comics and webcomics are you into?

It's been changing a lot. Believe it or not, I hate reading comics on the web, so I've been narrowing my daily list. "PVP" is my rock. I read it daily and learn from it practically every time it updates. It's just such a solid strip. "Butternut Squash" is a big fave - it's like the male Canadian version of GWS. And speaking of which, the artist of BNS is doing an amazing strip called Kukuburi that will start back up in September. It's long-form, but absolutely beautiful and worth the wait.

Of course, "Octopus Pie" - the art is amazing and always inspiring. I love reading "Questionable Content" for the witty banter, "Wapsi Square" mostly for the art, "Least I Could Do" to remind me that I'm not as offensive as I could be, "You'll Have That" for the fun characters, and I've been getting into "We The Robots" after sitting next to [creator] Chris [Harding] at a con this year - it's hilarious!

As for traditional comics, I don't read any of them regularly, though I've recently enjoyed "Maintenance" and "Courtney Crumrin" from Oni Press. I still love some of the syndicated strips out there, "Zits" being my absolute favorite. That strip always takes my breath away. "Pearls Before Swine," "For Better or For Worse," and "Luann" are all solid reads for me, too. I know I'm forgetting some, though!

What can you tell us about the graphic novel you're working on?

I won't give away too much, but the main character works at a hospital and plays violin, so for now I'm trying to pick up volunteer work at the local hospital, and next year I want to finally learn violin. I really want to research before I dig into this book, but it's coming together handsomely in my mind.

This will be an entirely new style for me, both in writing and art. I want it to have the subtle but hilarious and palpable humor that "Garden State" had - I really loved [director Zach] Braff's approach to humor in that movie. This will be a growing-up story in disguise as a love story. The basic idea behind the book is that we trust adults to be infallible when we're children, only to become entirely flawed, selfish and fallible adults ourselves. Don't worry, it won't be a downer! Just an observation of how silly it is that we as adults do everything in our power to mask our weaknesses - we're even encouraged to do it - and that somehow makes us more grown up.

I'm finally edging on 30, so I'm making goals for myself: have the [graphic novel] written by the time I'm 30, have the art finished by the time I'm 32. Four years is plenty of time to do this, and waiting to do the art in sequence means that it should be fairly consistent. And hopefully by that point, it'll be the best work I'll have done to date.

You run pretty much a solo operation. You have a website you sell ads for, self-publish books, sell wallpapers, run an Etsy shop, and everything is distributed by you. Is that solely a financial decision or do you like being a one-woman operation running your own mini empire?

It's somewhat of a financial decision. I like to know where my money is going to, but it's also because I'm a control freak. A lot of the services I take advantage of - Project Wonderful ads, Etsy storefronts - are perfect for me and completely worth the tiny percentage they take out.

I prefer to publish my own books so that I can make as much money as I need when I need it, rather than waiting for an unspecified amount of money to come trickling in from a publisher. While I'd like to have a reliable and creator-friendly publisher in the future, I have to admit I'm nervous about it. I hear horror stories from other independent artists who've been screwed, or who only sold enough books to pay the publisher back. Admittedly, I have a feeling I'll need help soon - it's a lot of work doing this all on my own.

What's your favorite thing about being a cartoonist (other than getting to write off alcohol on your taxes)?

Oh, telling stories, hands-down! I'm not a good storyteller in person, so I love that I can come up with ideas, edit them to death, and then use both words and visuals to share them with people all over the globe. I get to use both of my loves - writing and drawing - to share all the stupid stuff in my brain.

That, and I love writing "cartoonist" in the occupation field of those forms you get at the doctor's office.

Lastly, what is it you enjoy so much about Twitter?

OH MY GOD EVERYTHING! Making announcements about GWS, sharing sketches and stories, telling people what I ate today. It's a perfect service.

(This comment is appropriately 140 characters long.)

Oh, and please follow me if you want up-to-date news on the strip and sneak peeks. My handle is dcorsetto.

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