Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 22: Girls with Slingshots

“Relationships” is the watchword of the day. Romantic and sexual relationships, certainly (with all the similar and distinct connotations of the two), but also abiding friendships, relationships with acquaintances and family members, and even relationships with pets and houseplants. The people we care about, whether we love them or loathe them, help to define us, and hopefully to make us better people. One can find all manner of strong relationships just by taking a glance at Girls with Slingshots.

Girls with Slingshots is a gag-based comic centered around the unlikely, but deep and unshakeable, friendship between two women who are as different as they could possibly be. They represent physical extremes as well as emotional extremes, Jamie providing the optimism and enthusiasm, Hazel providing the cynicism and reluctance. Just about the only things they share are a love of booze and talking about boys, which has proved to be enough for them to maintain their bond throughout the years.

Note: Girls with Slingshots is a gag-based comic, but it does have continuity and some significant long-running storylines. (The above strip is NOT a spoiler, so don’t worry about that.) I won’t discuss plot points in detail here, but certain developments, particularly those which occurred in the early years of the comic’s run, would be hard to disguise entirely. If you’d rather read the whole comic fresh, I suggest you start at the beginning right now. If you’re comfortable with knowing a few things in advance as you go into it, or if you need a little convincing before jumping in, then proceed at will. If you want to read the comic, I recommend going through the whole archive just to have a grasp of who the characters are and where they come from, but if you’re okay with being a little out of the loop, most of the jokes are still funny even if you don’t know the entire backstory.

Most of the characters seem to spend most of their time concerned with sex. If that subject makes you squeamish, I actually recommend reading Girls with Slingshots all the more, because it’s fun and silly and perhaps a good way to step outside your comfort zone. If the subject of sex does not make you squeamish, if you in fact enjoy reading dick jokes and/or sexual drama, then you will find a lot to love in this comic.

This example is actually pretty tame but SO FUNNY.

The characters represent a wide variety of viewpoints on sex, relationships, and each other. They come from different backgrounds, and have all sorts of preferences, both in regards to the sex of their partners and the types of relationships they have. Functional and dysfunctional relationships, long-lasting partnerships and casual flings, people who meet over the internet or by hanging out in bars or maybe by discovering shared taste in books at the library, there’s a wide range of human experience, and that range is reflected in the relationships you’ll see in Girls with Slingshots.

There's quite a diverse representation of relationships, showing us a wide variety of attitudes toward heterosexual relationships and lesbian relationships. The only thing that's missing is a selection of male homosexual relationships. There's one gay man who's a significant character, and is emphatically not representative of all gay men. Then again, no one person can or should represent their group as a whole, nor can a selection of people, however diverse, provide a full picture of the range of attitudes that belong to a particular group.

One thing that I really appreciate about Girls with Slingshots that I haven’t seen elsewhere is a fantastic portrayal of an asexual. Erin is friendly, enthusiastic, and an excellent role model for anyone who feels that they might fit in with an asexual identity. (Please note that the following strip does constitute a spoiler, so only read on if you’re willing to have certain outcomes taken as granted when you get to the Jamie-trying-to-find-love storyline stuff.)

Representations of asexuals are almost entirely absent from most media, so it’s really nice to see a character who identifies as asexual and who is still fun and relatable. She’s also just, like, super cute, and I want to turn off the fourth wall for a hug as much as she does.

Sometimes fictional people answer questions from real ones! It's pretty great.

You can assume that the world of Girls with Slingshots works like our own, unless noted. Most of the humor is based on regular human foibles and mishaps that could happen to anyone, and most of the drama is the kind that people go through in real life… Issues such as someone’s girlfriend and best friend really not getting along, or how to handle dating a deaf woman if you’re only just learning sign language (as seen above). There are a few fantastical elements, though. Most prevalently, cactuses (and other houseplants, sometimes) possess powers of speech and mobility. Nobody ever expects the cactus to talk, at first, but over time they all seem to get used to it, and McPedro the talking cactus develops into an important character.

Oh, and there are ghosts sometimes too.

And even if they’re not answering reader questions, the characters still express an awareness of their medium. This type of explicit acknowledgement that they are characters in a comic is used sparingly but effectively, allowing characters to more fully express themselves to the reader by utilizing all available tools. Playing with the format actually makes the world of the characters seem more, not less, real. These people know what they are and what kind of medium they inhabit and they’re not afraid to make use of it when it suits them.

It’s also nice to see a comic featuring so many women, with so many different body types. There are the obvious extremes in Hazel and Jamie, who are beautiful in completely different ways, but just about every woman in this comic would be visually distinct from every other woman just by their silhouettes. Any time I worry about the portrayal of women in comics, when there are so many identical-looking women with huge hips and breasts and ridiculously thin waists, my go-to counterexample is Girls with Slingshots. It’s far from the only webcomic that features well-rendered examples of a variety of female figures, but I think it’s one of the clearest examples of how to draw women well.

In a comic that’s so concerned with sex, that most common source of tension, there’s a surprising lack of reliance on traditional sexual stereotypes. The characters are so well-developed and nuanced that even when they are being stereotypical (which happens less often as the comic goes on) they feel fresh and honest, true to some inner self. One advantage these people have is that they’re comfortable with themselves and with each other, so that they can just acknowledge their feelings rather than expressing concern over whatever they think they should feel.

The old “sensitive man, insensitive woman” turnabout has been done so often that it doesn’t actually count as subversive now. But the relationships in Girls with Slingshots are more complicated than that, more authentic, more varied. Men and women want different things, to be sure, but really, each man and each woman want different things, and sometimes they make assumptions and sometimes those assumptions get them in trouble and sometimes it’s embarrassing for everyone involved but sometimes it works out really well and everyone’s open and honest and they all get along super well.

I mean, not most of the time. Most of the time there’s misunderstanding and conflict and hurt feelings even though everybody’s doing the best they can. But sometimes… sometimes, it all seems to work out.

Central to the comic, among all these relationships and conflicts and desires, the heart of the story is still Hazel and Jamie’s friendship. They care about each other more than anything, and they usually express this care in unorthodox and inimitable ways. No one could consistently put up such a consistent act of devotion, with all the subtle touches involved, without holding the other person deep in their heart.

I realize I’ve been talking up the deeper thematic aspects of Girls with Slingshots, because those are what stick with me the most after years of reading. The initial appeal, though, is in the humor. Girls with Slingshots is funny as hell, with a whole lot of silliness and some very well-executed punchlines. That’s what first drew me in as I read it, and then as I became more familiar with these people and their world, I found myself falling in love with the characters and just wanting to spend time with them, and see how they’re doing and hope that they can take care of themselves. (These people are sometimes not that great at taking care of themselves.) There’s an excellent balance here between instant-gratification-sating laughs and deeper, long-term emotional fulfillment.

Girls with Slingshots is frank, funny, and pulls off that extraordinary combination of hopefulness and cynicism that I find so compelling.

So! Come for the crude jokes, stay for the complex emotional drama. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by either.

Girls with Slingshots is written and drawn by Danielle Corsetto and updates Mondays through Fridays. There’s mouseover text on strips from here on. I recommend it for people who like laughter and empathy.

Oh, and correct grammar.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific strip which is alas finished, but Danielle is republishing the old strips in colour with new rollover texts. Check out her Questionable Content guest strip http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=2986 after you've read the archives.