How To Make Webcomics Characters Grow Up: A Conversation with ‘Girls With Slingshots’ Artist Danielle Corsetto

Hazel Tellington, the main character in Danielle Corsetto's webcomic, 'Girls With Slingshots.'

I’ve written in the past, and some of you have agreed in comments, that it’s been interesting to observe the developments of webcomics like Questionable Content and Girls with Slightshots. Unlike comics like Doonesbury, where the characters age and experience current events at roughly the same rate as readers, time is moving much more slowly for Jeph Jacques’ Marten Reed or Danielle Corsetto’s Hazel. I started reading both comics while I was in college, at a time when Marten and Hazel’s struggles to figure out what they wanted to do were things I knew were in my immediate future.

But as the years have gone by, Hazel’s been laid off, and Marten’s moved from one dead-end job to another, I’ve wondered how these characters — and how these comics — are going to move forward. Danielle Corsetto, who has been drawing Girls With Slingshots since 2004, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about what’s next for Hazel, who lost her newspaper job in a recession, her other characters’ hopes and dreams, and who her influences are in the world of webcomics.

As a young journalist, I’ve spent a lot of time sympathizing with Hazel and Thea. Any plans to get either of them back into the profession? Have Hazel start a partying and drinking blog? Have Thea start her local Patch site? And if so, why not? Did you want to get the two characters beyond journalism? Or was having them be unemployed simply a convenient way to do some character development?

Ooooh, damn you for figuring out my ploy!

Most of the horrible things that happen to my characters are a means of developing themselves for their audience. I mean, I’m sure that in their off-panel lives they’re laughing, crying, getting into trouble, and having life-changing moments, but those moments aren’t disclosed in the comic until you’ve been thoroughly acquainted with the characters.

When you meet someone for the first time, you generally don’t know much about them until they’re made vulnerable in a situation. I can attest, as I’ve watched my own friends go through breakups, layoffs, and deaths of loved ones. People don’t open themselves up until they feel it’s safe. I tend to think that, if you’ve been reading Girls With Slingshots long enough, it’s safe to share their struggles.

To answer your question, though, I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen to Hazel or Thea! Originally I wanted them to develop an website/blog called “Girls With Slingshots,” but now I’m not so sure. It’s a little too close to Danielle’s Life Story, and this isn’t an autobiography.

Guess you’ll have to keep reading. ;)

Your characters are an interesting mix of professionals and working-class folks. Do Jamie and Zach have ambitions beyond working in a florists’ shop or driving a cab? Is the combination intentional so the characters will be appealing to a wider audience?

You know, it’s funny, I’ve never really considered this. The characters just sort of found their jobs on their own. It’s amazing how much of this stuff writes itself.

I think Jamie would be happy if she had to work at the flower shop forever, but she has her heart set on selling her photography more often. Zach strikes me as the type to make lots of money and save up, then then look for a job he’d like more.

On the other hand, Jameson was made to be a barista for the rest of his life, while Hazel will just simply never be happy with a job. Because, come on, who wants to WORK for a living?

I’ve loved watching Clarice get her dream job; how far out are you planning your character arcs? It was nice to see something like that pay off.

Thanks! That story (and the story that will blossom from her new job) has been waiting for well over two years to be shared, but I just never found the right time to write it. There are a few plans I have for certain characters long-term, but for the most part, I find that I write much better when I let the comic go where it wants to go (rather than where I wanted it to go originally).

It seems like there’s a great community of webcomics artists: how much do you discuss story and character ideas with your colleagues? Is there anyone who you feel is a particular influence?

Frankly, when I see most of my peers at a convention or get-together, it’s rare that we talk about our own comics!

There are a few people with whom I’ve become close, and they know a few secrets about what I have in store for GWS. Randy Milholland of Something Positive probably hears the majority of it, particularly now that we’ve had a few crossovers into each others’ worlds. I’ve actually changed a few of my own plans after talking to Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content about his own story ideas for his comic. I try not to get too detailed with what I share when I share it, because a) I like to hear their ideas of where the story should go, and b) some of these people read my strip, and I don’t want to ruin it for them!

My friends Bill and Dani of All New Issues are often my sounding boards. They helped me develop the story of Jameson’s parents being clowns—as well as most of the wedding story—in one evening. Bill and I will literally spend days talking about ideas for our comics, which will ultimately get slashed, redressed and polished by Dani. The three of us make a fantastic creative team, if I do say so!

When my brain goes numb from trying to come up with new idea, I often retreat to Questionable Content and Octopus Pie for inspiration. I’m also in awe of syndicated strips like Zits, Cul de Sac, Luann and Foxtrot for their creators’ abilities to consistently entertain their audiences, some after decades of writing for the same characters.