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Eric: State of the Web(cartoonist): Danielle Corsetto

Girls with Slingshots!

The Webcartoonist: Danielle Corsetto

Current Webcomics: Girls with Slingshots

You May Remember Her From Such Webcomics As: Hazelnuts and The New Adventures of Bat Boy

Enthusiasm: Rabidly Following

How Frequently Read: Regularly Checked

Thanks to the healing power of random numbers, Danielle Corsetto's next up on the list. And that's cool with me, because Girls with Slingshots is one of my favorite webcomics currently being produced. It's the first of the "Rabidly Following" strips, reserved for those strips I can't wait to see the next installment.

As I've had someone ask, I should go a little more into depth on the whole 'random numbers' thing before we begin. They're not sure why I would let the power of the dice (or in this case a computerized random number generator) decide what essay I would write when, instead of picking and choosing from the list.

Simply put, the answer is 'favoritism.'

Consider if you will what we once called "the webcomics community." This is a group of affiliated (sometimes loosely affiliated, mind) fandoms that have grown around some of the most exciting, most creative web sites on this web we call world wide. Each fandom is made up between (roughly) one and seven point five million individuals who think that their given favorite webcomic is pretty damn spiffy, and other people should agree with them.

And if there's one thing we should all know about the internet, it's that every individual believes his or her opinion is privileged over everyone else.

Oh, not everyone acts like that. "We all have our own tastes," some people say. "Some people like strawberry, others like chocolate, others like strawberry and even some like Neapolitan." But in their heart, when they see what they know is an undeserving website or unenlightened opinion hit a given blog, their first reaction tends to be "idiot. That's not how I would have done it."

I have my favorite strips. Perhaps because I'm not terribly bright, I'm actually telling you the reading public just what those favorite strips are. Girls With Slingshots is actually on that list -- I love this strip seven ways from Sunday. And people are (generally) going to be cool with what strips I have as favorites, versus what ones I really like, versus what ones I like just fine, versus what ones I'm pretty sure I don't like but I haven't worked up the will to drop yet. I might be an idiot and stupid, but I'll show my work and at least try to be honest, right?

But the order I post these things? That's an unconscious value judgement. That's making a statement about relative worth that has absolutely nothing to do with any of my fine justifications in the essays proper. And that right there is trouble. Trust me on this. I've been burned before.

So. I'm doing the only thing I can in that situation. I'm taking the order completely out of my own hands. Penny Arcade will come up when Penny Arcade comes up. Skin Horse will come when Skin Horse comes up.

Today, the magic number came up Girls With Slingshots, so let's get to it, shall we?

Corsetto is one of the rarities -- she started Girls with Slingshots up in 2004, having done precursor strips through school and college, and then proceeded to live up to her potential. Who knew?

Well, The Comic Reader for one. This was a magazine -- later an online magazine -- on the fine art of the four panel comic, back at the turn of the century. They weren't devoted to online comics, though Scott McCloud was a contributor at the time he was most talking up the "comics on the web" thing. And at the time, they actually paid Corsetto to put her strip on the web. That was Hazelnuts, for the record, a precursor strip to Girls with Slingshots. A strip she began in High School. To put this in perspective for folks around here, imagine Ian Jones-Quartey graduating from college and launching an all new RPG World sequel which he turned into his daily living.

(And if that sounds really cool and exciting and you're thinking about e-mailing Jones-Quartey and begging... get over it. The man works as an animation director on Venture Bros. for Christ's sake. But I digress.)

At the time, Corsetto was just coming off having another strip in local newspapers. She was doing the small press rounds. In fact, she used her leads as cute sketchbook art at cons -- a couple of winged girls with slingshots -- and started the strip mostly because people kept asking when she was going to start a comic strip starting them.

Simply put, Corsetto had the goods, and people knew it, all the way back in 2004. And the only reason it's remarkable that she's making a living cartooning in 2008 with that comic strip (and, admittedly, the coolest gig in paid comics helping) is because a lot of proteges and wonder kids and "watch out for this one -- she's goin' places" type people tend to vanish inside of a year.

But Corsetto didn't vanish, and Girls With Slingshots is going strong.

Girls With Slingshots is probably my favorite purely character driven comic right now. (At least, until I write the next essay about a favorite character driven comic.) Even more than Something Positive or Questionable Content, which are strongly character driven as well, this is a strip that started off putting the characters into a core situation and then letting them naturally evolve over the course of the next four years. There is a sense of awkwardness in the strip, and a sense of expectancy in the lives of the characters. The leads are a writer (who's a lush), a florist (who's less of a lush but still a lush and also, y'know, breasts), a taxi driver, a barista, a Porn Store clerk, a blogger--

In other words, it's a group of people in the transitional world of the 20's. The sort of people I was back when I lived in Seattle or Ithaca. They're adults, but they haven't fully shifted from the world of childhood up through college into the real world yet. They're growing careers (in Hazel's case, accidentally or drunkenly or both), still caught between "just trying to get by" and "taking over the world." In the meantime they hook up, have fun, party, and meet anthropomorphic cacti.

One of the coolest things about character driven strips -- especially ensembleish strips like this one -- is the fact that things change. It's not situation comedy where things have to remain more or less static. Characters can and do make choices, both good and bad, have good and bad days, succeed and falter, climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every byway 'till they find their--

I seem to have lost my rhetorical focus. My apologies.

The point is, character driven strips can be gold because they're not locked in. You don't need to keep relationships on a certain level to ensure you have jokes next week. You don't have to keep everyone working at the coffee shop lest you lose your focus and audience. You can just let them do whatever it is they're going to do. If that happens to be Strip Scrabble, so be it. You get engaged with these folks and their lives, and you find yourself sticking with because you can't bear to not know what happens next.

So, let's move onto the normals, just to make all this official:

Strengths

Hrm.

I suppose it's cheating to say "the writing, the art, the site design and the update schedule," but it's hard to know how better to pin it down. Corsetto, for all intents and purposes, doesn't do anything wrong. She updates rock-steadily (she has a rolling donations system going -- if she gets X amount of money in donations in a given month, the following month has a five day a week update schedule. Otherwise, she drops down to three updates a week -- a nice carrot, but not a bludgeon). Her artwork shows the polish and professionalism you'd expect from someone who's been doing this since the 90's, studying it, and making it her life as much as she can -- which is to say she's awesome. Her characters are distinctive (excepting Maureen and Clarice, whose similarity in appearance ultimately led to a Corsetto self-mocking Halloween storyline, and Corsetto fixed the problem by changing Clarice's glasses so they didn't look so much like Maureen's. It's the little things, folks.)

It comes down to this: Corsetto does just about everything right. Heck, it's not hard for new people to jump right in, even. You don't (usually) need a lot of backstory to get up to speed, and Corsetto's good at providing in-strip context without making it sound like she's providing in-strip context.

Weaknesses

Man, Hazel sure do drink, don' she? And man, she don' have a man, do she?

There's a danger in resolving tension points, but one hits a stage where it can be repetitive. Hazel's the primary lead (I'm not sure Jamie could be called supporting instead of a co-protagonist, but most of the plotlines are Hazel's, or so it seems), and while we're not yet at the point where the things she yearns for but does not have constitute a character rut? We can see its house from here.

Though the current plotline gives me some hope in that regard -- it's entirely possible we're about to see either a really good choice on Hazel's part, which will make for a nice resolution and set up new potentials for trouble, or we're about to see a really bad choice on Hazel's part, and that's comedy gold, kids.

And, for the record, it's a good thing Corsetto changed Clarice's glasses. For the first two years of the strip, I honestly thought the Blog-Girl also worked at the Porn Store.

On the Whole

What more can I say. I really love this strip, for all the best reasons. It's just good.

Right! So far we've got a ma.gnolia lists for Rabidly Following, Happily Reading, and the Hoi Polloi, and we've got Regularly Checked and Occasionally Checked. So, we just need Sporadically Checked, When I Remember, and Why Do I Read This Webcomic, Again, and we'll have at least one strip in each and every category. So, let's roll the dice for tomorrow's strip....

Hrm. Well, I'll check one new list off at least.

Toodles!

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 20, 2008 8:00 AM

Comments

Comment from: davidcl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 9:41 AM

Girls with Slingshots is really fun. I wish, wish, wish it had an RSS feed for updates-- the update schedule, while reliable, is inconsistent enough (5 days, then 3 days, then a week off for vacation, then 3 days again, etc.) that I sometimes get out of the habit of checking for updates.

Comment from: Andrew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 11:03 AM

The artwork is delightfully understated, and I really like how you learn things about the characters in little nuggets, like how the girls' discovered the real reason Jamieson wears a bandanna.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 11:55 AM

Ah, I was wondering when you'd get to something I read regularly. Of course, it would be the one I had no idea whether you had even heard of. I'm amused by that.

Anyhow, to be fair, I think the weaknesses have started having mitigation some time ago. While nobody would mistake Hazel for a teetotaler, she does drink much less than she did in her earlier appearances - I suspect that we're also seeing at least a temporary end to the lack of male companionship in her life.

In terms of character ruts, I'm somewhat reminded of a discussion I had here with someone some time ago about how I was frustrated with a particular webcomic (name withheld so we can avoid hashing over that instead) when I complained about how a good chunk of the characters were cowards, and how that drove me nuts. I then had a response (a bit testy, though not outright flaming) saying that this person and all their friends were like that, so the comic had value for being realistic.

I bring this up because in terms of the "opposite sex trouble", I now have a friend who is much like Hazel in that she's perenially single, perenially wishes she wasn't single, and is perenially afraid to put herself out there. The difference being it comes up much more frequently with her than it does with Hazel.

And I've determined it's even more annoying in real life, and I keep hoping a meteor will fall from the sky and bean her on the head so some sense will get knocked into her.

My point in that rambling mess is that I think too many people end up rooting for character ruts because there are plenty of people in real life that land in them. And they like characters they can identify with, so artists in those ruts make them and readers in those ruts read them to identify with them. I think that's why we see those characters pop up all over the place. Doesn't make them good - just explains why they pop up.

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 12:19 PM

You made me go and read through to today, you know...

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 12:21 PM

Anyhow, to be fair, I think the weaknesses have started having mitigation some time ago. While nobody would mistake Hazel for a teetotaler, she does drink much less than she did in her earlier appearances - I suspect that we're also seeing at least a temporary end to the lack of male companionship in her life.

From last week: My rock, my salvation

Sixteen strips before that: She'd hate to break the beer's heart

Seven strips before that: Maybe just the pants....

Three strips before that: :(

Two strips before THAT: Free booze!

Man, Hazel sure do drink, don' she?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 12:23 PM

You made me go and read through to today, you know...

My work here is done.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 12:33 PM

That makes two of us, Elizabeth...

Comment from: Bertson [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 1:01 PM

I haven't heard of this one before, but the very first thing I thought when I saw the thumbnail above was "wow, is this person doing Daria fan art?" I loved that show, so that's one good reason right there to check this strip out.

Comment from: Bard09 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 2:55 PM

@davidcl:

I found an RSS feed via Bloglines. It isn't official or anything, though: http://feed43.com/girlswithslingshots.xml

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2008 12:34 AM

It used to be every strip, though, Eric. I think Something Positive is more forward both about the characters being drunks (particularly Aubrey), and I don't think anyone would lean on Milholland for relying too much on that for his humor.

I'm not saying she doesn't drink - it's just not nearly as central to the strip as you make it sound.

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