Sunday, February 28, 2016

Interview with Danielle Corsetto

Danielle Corsetto is a pioneer for the online comic community, launching Girls With Slingshots in 2004 as a fully-online comic strip that develops strong charters in very human situations, exposed through their trials of love, sex and friendships. Over the years, GWS has successfully introduced us to relatable voices searching for personal identity and community who are rarely well represented in comedy and entertainment in general. Funny, diligent and collaborative with the comic community and its readers, Danielle has consistently delivered an over decade-long publication that embodies the creative ethos that drives the Staple! community.

Q: You are a Staple alum, one of your first shows was SPX, you have been a returning guest at Dragon’s Lairs’ Web Comics Rampage. What makes a good comic book convention?

Danielle:  That's right, I was at that very first Staple show! Pittsburgh Comic Con in Monroeville was my very first convention, although I hadn't started GWS yet when I began tabling there. 

My standards for a "good" comic convention these days are most assuredly different than they were back then; back then, all it took to win my heart was free parking and cheap tables. These days I'm more inclined to pick shows whose organizers are paying close attention to both the exhibitors and attendees, making changes according to the feedback they hear from us, and making themselves easily accessible to us. I prefer smaller shows for this reason, and the ones that focus on art over hype - TCAF, SPX, Staple, the D'Lair signings - are the ones that I feel happiest attending. 

Sadly, I also have to pick shows that are financially worth my time, so I'm often beholden to the bigger shows. And admittedly, I'm partial to shows that my friends from far away are attending as well so that I have a chance to hang out with them. Good gluten-free food within walking distance is sometimes a make-or-break deal, too!

Q:  What makes a good comic book community?

Danielle:  Open-mindedness. Lively discussion. I'm not sure how to answer that, as there are so many different types of communities I've encountered and been a part of through the years. The mainstream comics readers always surprise me with how friendly, smart, and accepting of everyone they can be. They also tend to be hugely in love with their families, which I admit is a soft spot for me.

Q:  What have been your best and worst experiences going to a comic events?

Danielle:  The best far outweigh the worst. It's meeting the fans and hearing, even briefly, that something I wrote changed their perspective or their judgment of others, or themselves. It's enormously gratifying to hear that you've made a difference in someone's life, because so many of us work in a quiet bubble, alone, without in-person feedback. Receiving e-mails from people is super sweet (I daresay it's been my main motivation to keep creating at times), but hearing it in person is overwhelmingly powerful.

The worst experiences have never been due to any malice or rudeness - it's just the inevitable loss of a box of books along the way, or arriving at your booth on day one to find that the chairs and tables weren't included in your very expensive booth order (I no longer attend that show!). Shipping problems are easily the worst, though! The first year of Webcomics Rampage at Dragon's Lair, I think every artist had some mix-up with their boxes. Someone along the shipping route stole David Willis' books and replaced them with half a blender. It wasn't even a whole blender! We couldn't even make daiquiris.

Q:  Without editorial constraints, how important is peer, friend and fan feedback?

Danielle:  Peer feedback is massively useful, and, in my case, massively underused. It's something I'd like to change in my process when I start the next project.

Friend and fan feedback is something you have to be careful with. I mean, so is peer feedback, for that matter; any advice you receive on your work, it's great to listen and get that outside perspective, but you have to let the final word be up to your editor-in-chief, which is you. You don't want your work to be written by everyone else. It's yours, so you have to follow your gut. If you have the time, it's really helpful to get feedback from people you trust and then leave the first draft out for a night, and approach it with a fresh brain in the morning. Or, y'know, whenever it is that you get out of bed.

Listening to fans is tricky, because they're living through your characters, so they want them to "win." If your characters win all the time, they'll become boring fleshpuppets that everyone wants to stick their hands in, but nobody wants to read about. And it makes them highly unbelievable, and thus unrelatable. 

So, again, you have to give priority to your instincts. When I introduced Thea, people were pleading me to make her a more prominent character. I wanted that too, so I did it. When people cry out things like "get these two people to fall in love!" or "make this person do what the other person wants!" they're just voicing their desires (understandably! I do the same when I read or watch a movie). They may hope the story goes in that direction, but if the characters take the path without a genuine reason to do so, their story will feel empty, and your readers will become less invested in them. As a creator, your job is not to write a story and then drop some characters into it. Your job is to introduce some characters, and then let them tell their story.

Q:  Going through some of your other interviews I notice you get the sex questions a lot. You make a living making people laugh and telling stories, how does it feel have fans reach out and tell you that your work helped them accept something as deeply personal about themselves as a their sexuality?  Do you see that as a goal, a byproduct of internet communities, an accomplishment, a happy accident, an indictment on how sexuality is handled in pop culture?

Danielle:  It really has been my motivation to keep going at times. It's a byproduct of creating something that I care very much about, and of being so accessible online, but it's also my end goal, my agenda. I wouldn't feel fulfilled unless my work was inviting people to reconsider their casual opinions on things that they're never challenged to validate. 

My main job, I guess, is to entertain people and to give them something pretty to look at. But ultimately, no matter what my job was, I'd be trying to get people to think about things like sex and sexuality, bodies, love, about how they view people who are different than them, about how they view themselves. (I'd probably be fired from a real job!) I've been pretty passive about it in GWS, but I think that's the best and most respectful way to offer your thoughts to people: by inviting them choose to think about these things on their own. I feel very lucky that so many readers have accepted that invitation, and shared their own thoughts with me.

Q:  Girl With Slingshot went on for a decade, When it started did you have a general idea of where it was going?

Danielle:  Not really. I almost said "not remotely," but admittedly I DID want it to become what it became; I just didn't go into it expecting that. I don't think anyone should. Regardless of how talented you are or how bad you want it, your audience and the accessibility of your work (among billions of other things, like the current social climate) is going to determine your success. And your idea of success will often be different than someone else's.

I started GWS as a way to keep myself creating comic strips when I took a job at the local newspaper doing graphics and photography. At best, I hoped making the strip available online would help my future career as an illustrator or a web designer (I am decidedly not a web designer). At worst, it would give me a reason to continue courting my first love - comic strips - on a regular basis, by sticking to a publicly declared deadline. I'd had no expectation that it would become my full-time job, although I'm so glad that it did! 

I think a five-year plan is a dangerous idea for someone working in a field that relies on a platform as ever-changing as the Internet. Being flexible with my career goals is what allowed me to pursue webcomics more seriously. I might recommend a five-year backup plan, but even that would make me a hypocrite; I never had one myself. I was just making shit up along the way.

Q:  Did you think it would last as long as did?

Danielle:  I didn't really have any expectations there, either! I recall saying in several interviews that I could see myself doing GWS for the rest of my life, but I was still high on how well-received the strip had been. I wasn't thinking about being in my thirties and writing about drunk twenty-somethings while feeling like my midlife crisis came fifteen years too early.

Q:  How far along were you when you decided on an ending?

Danielle:  I actually didn't know how it would end. I knew Hazel would visit her father, that needed to happen. But I figured I'd just go on writing it the same way I always had; the night before, and based on whatever had happened in the last strip. So I didn't have an end date or a perfect ending picked out. I think I knew it would end with Hazel and Zach. I believe I wrote the last several strips about a week before they were drawn, which is probably the earliest I'd ever written GWS strips before their publish dates!

Q:  How have your fan interactions changed as you shift from working on GWS to Adventure Time?

Danielle:  Not at all! In part because I haven't shifted; I wrote all three Adventure Time OGNs while doing GWS full-time. In fact, I wrote the first book while simultaneously teaching a college class, and wrote the third book while my Kickstarter campaign was in full swing, a month before leaving on a 42-day cross-country tour. 

I've definitely seen more young people rush to my booth at conventions, blissfully unaware of the GWS books and nude figure sketchbooks and copies of Smut Peddler sprawled across my table, as I craftily try to contain their interest to just the Adventure Time corner. But my interactions with those young'ns are often brief; they're not interested in what I do, they just wanna read about Finn and Flame Princess (and who can blame them?).

Q:  The need for more gender parity and young readers has been a long standing prescription for comics to continue and grow as a relevant and vibrant medium. How do you think the comic community is getting it right and what do you see as its biggest obstacles?

Danielle:  I don't really see any obstacles in the indie realm; this is where we're "getting it right." I'm fortunate in that my brush with sexism in this field has been very limited, and I'm seeing more and more of my peers take jobs working on excellent young adult books. I'm oblivious to the superhero world, though I hear good things are happening there as well.

Q:  Are there other exhibitors you are looking forward to hanging out with a Staple?

Danielle:  I haven't even looked at the guest list yet!! Let me remedy that... wow, I barely recognize ANY of these names! That's actually really exciting! I see EK Weaver on there, and I'm looking forward to seeing Jamaica Dyer, whose face I haven't seen in eons. I always look forward to seeing Spike Trotman, but seeing as I'm bunking with her, that excitement was already cemented. And I was stoked to find out recently that my gal Monica Gallagher will be there! Monica is one of my only "local" friends (we're a little under two hours' drive from each other), so I get to see her every month or two, but there's really never "enough" Monica in one's life. And it looks like she's sitting just a few tables away from me!

Q:  Was there ever a Mimi/Bonnie N. Colide cross over?
Danielle:  There was! Monica's strip is about roller derby, so it was a natural fit for her to borrow Mimi from my strip for a little while. She already had a Mimi in her strip, which I think created a brief riff between Mimis at first. I'll have to go back and re-read those strips so I can get the story straight!

For the entire run of Girls with Slingshots go to...
If you want a physical copy the can be purchased here...
You can follow it over the face books
On twitter @dcorsetto
and suport her on patreon ..

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