Talking Sex in Webcomics
An interview with Danielle Corsetto, author of ‘Girls With Slingshots’
Comics, as a medium, have a long history of exploring sex — about as long as they’ve served superheroes, journalists, and memoirists of all stripes. It should come as no surprise, then, that webcomics, this art form’s mutant offspring, should delve into sex with the same zeal. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. However, as the medium has flourished in the past decade or so, webcomic artists’ ability to contend with sexuality has arguably begun to outstrip that of their print forebears.
Girls With Slingshots, written and drawn by Danielle Corsetto, is one such comic. Now at more than 1,600 chapters, the daily strip chronicles the misadventures of Hazel Tellington and her motley crew of friends, family, and frenemies. Though the comic deals with the requisite themes of slice-of-life storytelling — that is, work, relationships, and the occasional talking cactus — what’s especially great about GWS is its frank and positive treatment of sex, sexuality, and even sex toys.
Meanwhile, heaven forbid She-Hulk have a vibrator or Spider-Man be bisexual.
GWS isn’t erotica. One can already find any number of strips online with far more titillating sensibilities, be they whimsical or even Chandleresque. (I personally recommend Curvy.) You’d also be hard-pressed to find a sweeping statement within its narrative. Rather, Corsetto more often than not concerns herself with the trappings of everyday life.
Sex, we might otherwise forget, is also an everyday thing. As such, the comic’s treatment of sex, no matter the kind, is nothing if not refreshingly honest.
You should be reading her work.
Q: GWS has never really shied away from mildly raunchy stuff. Was that always your aim with the comic?
A: It was never really my aim, but I didn’t like censoring myself, so I figured “Who cares? It’s gonna be on the Internet sandwiched between Goatse and porn compilation sites anyway.” My strips are practically G-rated in comparison to the majority of the stuff out there! I still won’t show nipples, for instance, so GWS is kind of like a kids’ show.
Q: You’ve been doing this for almost ten years. In that time, you’ve introduced characters like Clarice, a domme librarian, and Erin, Jamie’s asexual girlfriend. Do you draw on real life for your characterizations? How does everyone develop?
A: I can’t decide if most of my friends are a little unusual in some way (sexual orientations, lifestyles, careers, etc.), or if I just happen to notice the more unusual people among my friends, but it feels completely natural to include characters who fall outside of the “norm.” In fact, I have a hard time writing my hetero monogamous characters.
From what I can tell, I’d say about half the population is fairly “normal” (and that’s being generous). The other half — the half less represented, perhaps because we’re too diverse — is kinky, poly, gay, trans, physically challenged, asexual, or otherwise “odd.” Since I can barely understand “normal” people, this strip is about (and for) all the oddballs out there.
Q: Have you actively tried to create a broad spectrum of characters with realistic sex lives, or does it more flow out of you naturally? Like with the discussion of STDs, for instance.
A: I don’t think I’ve done it intentionally; the strip’s content is representative of the way I am, the way I speak and think, and the people I find most interesting, so it kinda came naturally for me to write about sex and bodily functions the way that I talk about them. At this point I own it like a badge — “Why yes, I’m doing my part to normalize safe sex and communication about sex, for the betterment of all human beings!” — but the truth is, it’s weird for me not to write candidly about sex and sexual orientation.
It’s funny how everything that starts with the word “adult” generally indicates “sex” (or booze), and yet, even as adults, we’re discouraged from talking openly about it. It’s impolite dinner conversation, it’s not considered appropriate for small talk. Aside from weather and food, I say, what’s a better getting-to-know-you conversation topic than sex and sexual preferences? Right?
This may be why I’m so popular at parties.
Q: Recently, Hazel just had an adventure with an inflatable dildo. It’s something you continually come back to, even from GWS’s early stories. At least from a writer’s standpoint — why are sex toys so fun?
A: Written like someone without a vagina, or from the midwest. (I kid!) It goes hand-in-hand with what I said before; I love talking about the things we’re not supposed to talk about. As a comedy writer, it’s also a grab-bag of untapped content. Penises have always been funny, but it’s especially amusing to see your favorite character dropping a vibrator that looks just like the one you hide in your nightstand, particularly when you thought you were the only person who’s ever dropped a vibrator (because, again, we’re not allowed to introduce ourselves with ice-breakers like “Y’know how a vibrating egg acts when it falls on a hardwood floor?”).
Q: Are inflatable toys actually a thing?
A: I’m tempted to answer this question with a link. Yes.
Q: It’s not all humor, though. You’ve never expressed yourself as really political, but your strip is definitely sex positive and progressive in a way that other comics aren’t. For instance, BuzzFeed singled it out as one of the few comics that honors the experience of queer women. What’s that recognition like? Have reporters started lining up for you?
A: Haha, hardly! But then again, I always forget about the bigger publications who say nice things about GWS (probably in an attempt to humble myself, if I’m honest). The reviews and comments that really stand out to me are the ones coming from organizations for groups that are marginalized or underrepresented in entertainment, like asexuals and people with disabilities. It’s a relief to hear when I’m writing my characters in a way that represents them accurately, and that they can even relate to. It’s good to know when my research pays off and helps people feel included.
Q: In an interview with Bitch Magazine, you said that you’re technically a feminist, but would never label yourself as one. Has that changed?
A: Ugh. I hate labels. Unless they’re being used to describe something that’s difficult to understand, I just hate labels.
That’s the only reason I shy away from being called a feminist. Being a feminist isn’t a complicated concept, so I only use the word to describe myself when I feel it’s appropriate, but I’ll usually tiptoe around any label that seems superfluous to me.
I’ll say it here: of course I’m a fucking feminist! I’m a feminist who hates labels. So, y’know, I’m really just a person who’s not an asshole. Feminist. Same thing.
Q: Where do you think GWS will go next?
A: God, will I ever get sick of writing about sex toys and drinking? I ponder this. Maybe I’ll just keep writing about silly twenty-somethings getting drunk and buying dildos well into my eighties. Or maybe one day my ovaries will crack and I’ll make everyone pregnant, and it’ll become Mommies With Slingshots.
Wherever it goes, it’ll follow me and the person I become, for better or for worse.