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 ..

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Interview with Emily Carroll

by Dave Farabee

Ontario-based cartoonist Emily Carroll draws upon myth, fairy tales, and fantasy to spin tales that range from bittersweet to downright terrifying. She's perhaps best known for her Eisner and Ignatz award-winning graphic novel, Through the Woods, an anthology of macabre fairy tales. The visual style within might resemble a lavish, children's picture book at first glance, but readers will find the bold colors offset by swaths of darkness, pitiless landscapes, and haunted characters. Here's a lovely write-up from NPR.  

Emily also has plenty of content at her own website, where readers first took notice of her talent, including illustrations and full stories. She co-designed the choose-your-own-adventure video game, The Yawhg, and provided all its visuals. For younger readers, Emily illustrated Marika McCoola's Baba Yaga's Assistant. Oh, and she also designed this year's awesome Staplegator - fear it!

And now, on with the interview, and many thanks to Emily Carroll for taking time to chat with us.

Horror can be a tricky thing in comics, which lacks the potent audio and motion of film and the enveloping nature of prose, but your horror comics have struck a deep chord with readers. What is it you’re doing that’s getting under people’s skin?

When I begin a new story, I usually focus on some stripped down, basic fear, something like helplessness, isolation, personal worthlessness, etc, something basically everyone has had experience with, and the primary function of all the details that come after are to serve/heighten that core fear. I try to focus more on building dread, often using a lot of emotional cues along the way, rather than relying on things like gore and "shock" panels (though I like to use those too, they can be fun, and I've certainly enjoyed them in other works). I also don't tend to write a catharsis into my comics, and the characters almost invariably lose (or at least don't win), so ideally that might give readers a lingering sensation of the creeps.

Your first graphic novel, Through the Woods, was a runaway success and earned multiple awards. How has that success affected your life and work?

It has definitely made me more confident, if only to combat the increase of anxiety and imposter dread that has been creeping more and more into my bones the past few years. In my experience success never feels as real as the imminent fear of failure does. 

As far as how it's affected my work though, I think it's marked a period of time when I was really into using fairy tales and period settings in my comics, and while I still do a bit of that, since the book came out I've been using more modern settings and formal layouts, not to mention incorporating more dialogue (vs relying so much on narration) into my scripts.

What are the artistic influences that led to your singular style?

When I first started comics, I was really into Joann Sfar (I think I straight just leaned into copying him for awhile), but since then I've added bits and pieces of other artists to various stories, depending on the comic. There's one that is based explicitly on the work of H.J. Ford, and for another I used 1930s fashion catalogues as inspiration for character design. I'd say two constants are Junji Ito and Charles Keeping, though.

You’ve enjoyed both video games and tabletop RPGs. Have they played any role in your creative process? What are some of the notables for you?

Oh, for sure. My first mini-comic was directly inspired by the roleplaying I'd done, designed as a series of seven random minicomics that could be read in any order, so that ideally the reader would feel ownership (or at least a strong connection) to one particular character over the other. Other comics, like Margot's Room, were set up in a similar game-inspired way, where the reader had to click on certain items onscreen in order to 'unlock' comics.

As for games I personally play, some of my favourites are Crusader Kings II, Fallout, and right now I'm replaying the Dragon Age series. I like games with enough story to keep me interested, but that I can also build on in my own head, so that my experience with them will be unique compared to anyone else's. I've also worked on a couple of games: I co-created The Yawhg with Damian Sommer, which is a short 4-person story game, and I did some artwork for Gone Home by the Fullbright Company.

Online comics and illustrations built your initial readership and you continue to produce them alongside print comics - how do you strike a balance between those worlds?

I'm asked this question a lot, and I guess I don't give this distinction the amount of thought that people expect -- I don't worry about maintaining a balance, for instance. I began to make web comics just because it was easier than figuring out how to put something in print (I really don't have a head for sorting out print costs, print optimization, distribution, etc)  and moved into print once I began to have publishers who would do that work for me, or at least help me along.

These days it actually breaks down pretty simply: Web comics are what I do on my own, to experiment and (more often than not) to relieve stress while I am working on larger print projects, and print projects are where I tend to collaborate with other people (and where I actually make any money). In a way I suppose that my web comics promote my work, so that hopefully people will want to support anything that comes out in print.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Right now I'm working on the graphic novel of "Speak", the book by Laurie Halse Anderson, and though that will be my major project for the foreseeable future, I'm still probably going to put out a few small personal things here and there too!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview with Spike Trotman

C. Spike Trotman was born in DC, grew up in MD, and lives in IL. She runs Iron Circus Comics, Chicago’s largest comics publisher, and is responsible for Poorcraft, The Sleep of Reason, New World, the Smut Peddler series, and the webcomic Templar, Arizona.

A Kickstarter early adopter, her projects have raised nearly half a million dollars in funding and earned multiple awards. Her achievements are just of few of many like it in the independent publishing world, a world reinvigorated by online comics, diversifying audiences, increased access and crowdfunding. In case you couldn’t tell, she’s a big fan of where things are going. She talks a lot, thinks a lot, means well, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Our thanks to Ms. Trotman for taking time to speak with us!

In 10 years, you've gone from starting your first webcomic, Templar, Arizona, to being able to call yourself "Chicago's largest comics publisher." What drove you to expand from being a cartoonist to also become a publisher of others' work?

A few things, really. But the most persuasive reasons were probably a combination of wanting to help other cartoonists like myself, folks who were producing the kind of comics I wanted to read but didn't necessarily have the time or inclination to deal with the administrative side of self-publishing, and just plain not seeing on enough of the kind of comics I wanted to read in the world. This isn't a slam against other publishers, far from it. But all publishers, major league and small press alike, have finite budgets and editorial preferences. And I decided to stop wishing a publisher somewhere out there would publish books to my taste and just MAKE one.

Your Iron Circus Comics pioneered the practice of including bonuses for the creators involved in your Kickstarter projects. The current Smut Peddler Double Header Kickstarter (note: as you might imagine, this link may be NSFW) upped the ante by putting the bonus into an increased page rate instead of a flat rate per participant. What made you decide to try this model?

Well, I'm all about being fair, and artists on the projects I organize being rewarded in accordance with how much work they put in seems to be the fairest, most equitable way to go about things. Frankly, the way I structured the previous bonuses simply didn't take into account how much some a Smut Peddler Kickstarter could make, and while I love paying my participants, paying folks more if they DID more is the superior approach. 

Since this Kickstarter has been such a success, how does it feel to be able to pay the creators what will be a very competitive page rate for indie comics? (At this writing, $105 per page and rising!) Do you think other crowdfunded comics will follow your example?

I love it, I'm thrilled! And if I can set an example for others to follow, do things they maybe haven't thought of doing and prove they're viable, that's just icing on the cake. It's ridiculous that professional comic projects—high-budget, high profile, for-profit webcomic and anthology projects—can get away with payment-optional models. It genuinely disgusts me. Artists and writers are why comics get to exist at all, and too often, they're exploited. "Aren't you lucky to work on this project? Isn't it a privilege? Won't it be great exposure?" Ech. This is something I harp on constantly because I know what it's like to be undervalued and ripped off and told I should love it, this is just the way things are. I never want anyone who works for me to feel that way.

Your next project, writing and drawing Black Pearl: The Graphic Life of Josephine Baker, was announced recently. What drew you to tell Josephine Baker's story?

It was a happy accident, actually! I've been a fan of Baker since college. I tell people I had a poster of her on my dorm room wall, but that's not accurate; I had a poster of her leaning against my dorm room wall, still shrink-wrapped to its cardboard backing, because I didn't want to ruin it by removing it from its packaging and pinning it up. THAT'S how I felt about her. I loved the idea of a woman who told an entire nation to kiss her ass and sought her fortune thousands of miles abroad. (I'll admit, I had the pop-culture, detail-light perception of her life back then.) And then, twenty years later, First Second wrote me and asked me if I might be interested in working on a biography about her! Luck and being in the right place at the right time played a big part. I'd made it clear in the past that I'd love to work with First Second, and they just happened to propose a project I felt REALLY strongly about!

Since Black Pearl will not be specifically erotica, do you hope it will be carried by more mainstream comic shops and bookstores that might shy away from carrying Smut Peddler, for instance?

Oh sure, obviously! That's the big advantage of publishing with someone else, isn't it? The resources they can bring to the table. Someone else to handle promotion, distribution, printing, pre-press. It'll be an adventure, for me! And while non-pornographic work is nothing new, non-pornographic work someone else will be handling the nuts-and-bolts aspects for is. I'm kinda excited to see how a big-deal publisher takes care of its creatives. I mean, do I get a book tour? I've never had one of those. That would be nice!

This is your first time as a guest at STAPLE!, but not your first trip to Austin. Is there anything you're particularly looking forward to while you're in town (other than the con itself)?

Ha, is it shallow to say "friends and food?" I have a few pals in and around Austin, like cartoonists E.K. Weaver, and since she's a local, she knows all the good places to eat. Last time she took me to an amazing ramen place, I'm hoping for a repeat performance!

Annie Bulloch is co-owner of 8th Dimension Comics & Games in Houston, Texas, and a contributor to Women Write About Comics. "She's also totally awesome!", declares Uncle Staple. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Interview with Dave Mercier

Dave Mercier, author of Mercworks ( and Staple! 2016 special guest, took time to answers a few of my questions about webcomics, conventions, hilarity, and the inevitability of death. Currently, he is updating his webcomic every Monday at Webtoon and can be stalked followed on, or Twitter @MercWorks

MH: Do you find the certainty of death and failure hilarious (like Lucy yanking the football away), or do you find yourself giggling as you stare hopelessly into the dark abyss?

DM: I've learned to embrace the abyss. Death and failure are symptoms of the human condition we all share, so I like to shine a light on that; to take it out of the darkness. It's relatable. Like laughing at a funeral!

MH: What do you think the funniest word is?

DM: Pissdick. It's a compound word. Like the word bumblebee, but funny.

MH: Has anyone ever cosplayed as one of your characters?

DM: No, though I've often been accused of being one of the characters myself. There's a Youtube channel or something called Rhett and Link and they look exactly like Dave and Dana. I don't know who came first but if someone has cosplayed as those guys I could totally co-opt that.

MH: What do you think the greatest strength web comics have over newspaper syndication or other print media?

DM: There's nobody to tell you what to do in webcomics. I can swear. A shitload! I can build the audience that I want, rather than hoping that whoever happens to be reading a newspaper gets my sense of humor. When you're publishing yourself you can build your own business out of it; I'm not answering to anybody but myself. Plus anybody can do it. Pick up an eighty dollar tablet, make a comic, put it on the internet. If people like it they're gonna share it. I guess freedom is the key word there.

MH: How do you mange being your own boss/task master?

DM: I gave myself schizophrenia for this. I have the part of me that is the worker bee, the part of me that's the boss. The worker bee can be a little rebellious sometimes while the boss has a tendency to put him in his place. Then you've got the miserable cafeteria worker, the bland business manager, the shipping operations crew, the janitor who loves shit. The boss can be a little tough on people sometimes so I have to remind him to chill out.

MH: Since the majority of your creative output is available free and on-line, what are your biggest success in marketing and funding your work? And how do you think this alters the way you table at comic conventions compared to artists whose work is mostly not available on-line?

DM: I'm trying to be a better marketer but generally I rely on shares and likes and people appreciating my work enough to show it to their friends. So I tend to think of the free stuff I'm publishing online as my marketing. All the comics are basically just ads for the books and prints and stuff that I sell. So it's the same except my online marketing is simply giving the content away for free and trusting that if people like what I make they'll buy it. 

MH: Are there other exhibitors your looking forward to hanging out with a Staple?

DM: All of them! I love meeting new creators. I'm looking forward to making new friends and, if crossed, new enemies.

Thanks, Dave, for answering my questions! Looking forward to seeing Dave at Staple! in Austin, March 2016. He will have his new successfully Kickstarted book The Cure for the Human Condition and more!

-Matt Hirst