Danielle Corsetto (W & A)
I woke up one morning a few weeks ago knowing that I had a deadline to meet, work to prepare for, a weekend trip to pack for, and not enough time. So, I did what anyone would do: I started rereading one of my favorite webcomics, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stop.
Danielle Corsetto’s Girls With Slingshots (GWS) has been running for over ten years, and on March 13th it came to an end. While this was heartbreaking news, I was excited to hear that a writer and artist I love would be working on new projects. Bizarrely, now is also a good time for new readers to jump onto the GWS train, because Corsetto is re-running the old strips as her colorist, Laeluu, re-colors them, starting with strip #1!
Even with the opportunity to see the old stuff in color, I needed a good, cathartic moment with GWS where I reflected on its glory and then allowed myself to let it go. So, instead of packing or being responsible, I reread the entire comic. If Corsetto’s work has been brightening your life for a while, I hope you enjoy this walk through some of her strip’s greatest moments. However, if you’ve never read GWS, get ready for some serious convincing.
If you’re a new reader you’d probably like to know what you’re getting into, so here’s a quick summary: Girls With Slingshots is a slice-of-life, comedy webcomic that follows the shenanigans of a quirky group of friends. Our protagonists are Hazel, an often-unemployed journalist who loves alcohol and irresponsibility, and Jamie, a photographer/florist who is responsible and caring, but still loves alcohol. Hazel and Jamie’s friend group grows throughout the strip, and includes Clarice, a porn store employee who really wants to be a librarian, Jameson, a barista who’s always there to listen, Maureen, an introverted blogger with a love of cardigans, Thea, a writer/editor who’s unlucky in love, and McPedro, a talking cactus (we’ll get to that later.) Don’t be fooled! There are no stereotypes in GWS, only real, complicated people who you’ll quickly come to adore.
When I first stepped away from current-era GWS and jumped back into its origins, I found myself thinking of TV shows like Girls and Broad City, which are centered on complicated but intimate friendships between women. While the GWS cast has grown during its run, the heart of the comic has always been Hazel and Jamie’s delightful friendship. Their closeness is sometimes inexplicable: Hazel is often inconsiderate and small-minded, while Jamie is incredibly open-minded and always supportive. However, the strip is littered with small moments which make it clear that these two are made for each other, like when Jamie lets Hazel into her vibrator battery vault. The friend-chemistry between these two is palpable.
While their relationship is unique, Hazel and Jamie are not the only ladies whose camaraderie lights up the strip. Each of the other female characters is quickly pulled into their vortex of love and support. For example, in one of the earliest Halloween storylines all the women dress up as each other and end up saying some pretty nasty stuff about each other. However, in true GWS fashion the party ends with loving apologies, and inspires Jamie to start a club dedicated toward boosting each lady’s self-confidence. How many friend fights in romantic comedies turn out like that?
In addition to gifting us some wonderful, non-competitive lady friendships, GWS has never shied away from addressing serious issues. For example, this strip quickly and effortlessly acknowledges that men can be raped, and that it is an issue that people often don’t take seriously because of machismo culture. While there is a punch line at the end of the strip, the joke is not about rape. The joke is that Jameson screws up and reacts badly, and in the next strip he apologizes and they handle the conversation as it should be handled: by caring for a friend, and making sure he’s all right. It’s a brilliant moment.
Corsetto has also gifted us a series of unique, stereotype-defying relationships. (A quick note to new readers: I’m about to get into some spoilers. If you’re already feeling excited about the glory that is GWS, you might want to skip these two paragraphs and come back to this later. Just skim down to the word “heterosexual” and the spoilers will get less spoilery!) The best example of this is Jamie’s relationship with Erin. While Jamie is far from the only queer character in the strip – GWS is also home to a gay male drag queen and several lesbians – Jamie is the character whose sexuality evolves the most, thus we get to learn alongside her.
Early on in the strip, a drunken incident causes Jamie to question her sexuality, but she has a hard time believing she could be a lesbian partially because she – and Hazel – buy into some ridiculous stereotypes. Just when she settles into not identifying as a lesbian, but not exactly identifying as straight, the universe throws Jamie a curveball: she falls in love with Erin, an asexual woman. Jamie’s friends pressure her to define herself, but there are no labels that make sense. Despite being happy and in love, she also feels confused, and even a little isolated from her friends. As a queer woman who spent some time being confused by stereotypes and feeling frustrated over not being in the dictionary, this was a wonderful and very personal storyline to read. I appreciated Corsetto’s choice to give her characters complicated sexual identities, and I will never stop cooing over the cute overload that is Erin and Jamie’s relationship.
Like the queer couples, the heterosexual couples in the strip consistently fail to fall into neat, pre-prescribed gender roles, and instead interact like authentic, complicated humans. Incredibly, Corsetto often uses the four-panel strip/punch line-at-the-end format to showcase these moments of gender role defiance. For example, when Hazel and Zack are fighting over Zack’s decision to wait to have sex, the joke isn’t that Zack should be the one who wants sex because he’s the man, but rather that both of them are unable to see how their preconceived notions about gender are affecting their relationship. Later on, when a certain hetero couple is getting married (SPOILER ALERT, don’t click the following link if you don’t want to know who gets married!) Corsetto again flips the stereotypical roles and has the man excited about planning the wedding instead of the lady. Even after ten years, Corsetto was still creatively using the comic’s simple format to subvert stereotypes.
This talent for manipulating the newspaper strip-style format also extends to the art of GWS. In this strip, for example, Hazel is literally able to eat her words before she says something she’ll regret. Later on, Thea proves her worth as an editor by again taking action against a word bubble. The innovative ways in which Corsetto pushed the boundaries of the comic strip makes it exciting to think of what she’ll do once GWS has ended. While she has mentioned on her podcast, Coffee and Cider, that the limits of the comic strip push her to be more resourceful with her art, I can only imagine how incredible and creative her future work will be with or without those limits.
One aspect of the comic that I hope Corsetto doesn’t totally abandon is her use of magical realism. When I think of magical realism, my mind always goes to Guillermo del Toro movies like Pan’s Labyrinth. Corsetto gives us a different kind of magical realism, one that involves talking cacti, ghost cats, and English degrees that lead to dream jobs. The moments when GWS dips its toes into the fantasy realm are always delightful, and Corsetto often uses the more comedic and fantastic storylines – like when McPedro, the talking cactus, loses his mustache because it wants to travel the world – to break up discussions of more series topics. Her use of magical realism adds a great balance to the strip.
All of these brilliant pieces of the GWS puzzle are great reasons to read it if you haven’t already, but here’s the #1: if you read this comic, you will feel loved. Seriously. This is a comic that is clearly written by an author/artist who loves what she does, and loves her readers. Yes, there are times when characters will have a rough go of it, and no, this strip is not filled with fan service. However, having read GWS every day for several years now, I can promise you that you’ll finish each strip feeling a little bit loved, and knowing that Danielle Corsetto wanted to brighten your day. If you learn something from reading the strip – and you will – the learning process will be gentle, and full of humor.
By rereading this comic, I do feel like I’ve reached my moment of catharsis. Corsetto end the strip so that she can take a step back, work on her art, and return ready to create more intelligent, innovative and well-crafted comics. I can’t think of a better way to end something as wonderful and epic as Girls with Slingshots.