about - Jessica Abel

Stop beating yourself up. Start making your work.

Jessica Abel

There’s something that happens when you’ve been doing your thing for awhile, maybe a long while. You’ve gotten reasonably good at what you do. You have big ideas about where to go with it. But actually doing the projects, it’s so hard. Maybe even harder than it was back when you got started down this path.

You start to think:

What’s wrong with me that I can’t get my work done?

Is it absolutely necessary that it be this hard?

Maybe I’m just not creative enough.

But stopping is not an option either.

Maybe you’ve tried that, and it just makes you miserable.

In a fit of Googling, you reach out, looking for some insight, something or someone that will help you take control of your creative projects.

Good news: You found it. That’s exactly what I do.

I’m cartoonist and author Jessica Abel, and I help creative people make their ambitious ideas reality, instead of living in the world of dreams.

I’ve been a cartoonist for 25 years, and a teacher for close on 20, but in the last year, I’ve shifted focus from students in the classroom to fellow creative professionals (and serious non-professionals).

As with most things in my life, I built my particular way of getting work done all backwards and completely on my own terms. Which sounds great on paper, but what it means in reality is that I spent years and years struggling. I reinvented, not just the wheel, but the entire cart. I do what I love and I love what I do, yes, but I did not get here without an incredible amount of work, lots of wrong turns, and many years of only half doing what I love and half not.

Luckily, you don’t have to do it like I did!

The upside of all that struggle out in the wilderness is that, by doing it myself, and only later learning the approaches of  various productivity gurus,  I could see immediately that there are ways that the standard approach just doesn’t work for creative people. After all: we’re just not about pushing out widgets, we are coming up with new things whole cloth from our brains and hands.

But if you still believe you can’t put a system around your creativity, I’m betting it’s not going very well.

You can build systems that bolster your creative practice. And you should. But they should be your systems, built around the reality and particularities of your life, and the way you work best.

I can help you do that, in my Creative Focus Workshop, and via my strategic blog articles (many with downloadable exercises) and newsletter. But wouldn’t you prefer to start today? Your next step is to identify YOUR conditions for creative success so you can start to make realistic plans and goals, and move towards them.

Let’s get this art party started.

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    I want to hit my stride.  

Get my formal bio and headshots in my media kit.

Check out my books, talks, and workshops.

Contact me.

J. Abel by Richard Cahan, ©2016

My creative life, in bullet point form:

  • perdida-cover-design-webMy graphic novel La Perdida was featured in hundreds of publications including the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Spin, and All Things Considered. It won two Harvey Awards (kind of the Golden Globes of Comics) and was Time’s Best Comic of the Year in 2006.
  • I served as co-series editor (with Matt Madden) of the Best American Comics series for six years, from 2007-2013, working with guest editors Neil Gaiman, Lynda Barry, Jeff Smith, and others.
  • Before landing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where I’m now chair of the Illustration Program, I taught full-credit courses for over 15 years, at the School of Visual Arts, in the masters program at l’École européenne supérieure de l’image, in the MFA in Comics program at the California College of Arts, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, among other places. There’s a more exhaustive list here.
  • I’ve also taught numerous short workshops, lasting from an hour to several-week-long intensives. More here on my workshops.
  • I’ve spoken at venues from The University of Bordeaux to the Michigan Library Association on topics such as storytelling, visual narrative, and becoming a comics artist. More on my talks here.
  • I’ve written two textbooks on comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, and Mastering Comics. Scott McCloud said they are “A goldmine of essential information for every aspiring comics artist. Highly recommended.”
  • Ira Glass called me while I lived in Mexico, on the telephone, to ask me to do a comic book about This American Life. It came out in 1999, and is called Radio: an Illustrated Guide. That book was a turning point in my thinking about story structure and narrative tools.
  • In August 2015 the followup to that book, Out on the Wire: the Storytelling secrets of the New Masters of Radio came out. Featuring Ira as well as close to 35 other immensely talented radio and podcast producers, this time I was able to test the theories I’d developed in my years of telling stories: not, how do you push the record button, but, how do you think your way through the problem of making unbelievably compelling narratives…

J. Abel by Gert Jan Pos, ©2014

Ten more things about me:

  • I still always make sure I have a rug in my studio in case I get into the Dark Forest in the middle of a project and need to lie down for a while.


  • I bought vinyl records for several years in high school and college before I actually owned a turntable.
  • I made little clay heads of some of my main characters to learn to draw them better. And now they all sit around staring at me.
  • I sang in a band when I was in my early 20s, and was once compared to David Yow of the Jesus Lizard, which was a moment of great pride. No further comment.

Jessica singing Chronic by Bender

  • I think of myself as a major reader—I love big long epic books like Dune and Blood Meridian and Middlemarch—but I haven’t read much fiction in years. And now I fear I’ve lost the attention span for it!
  • I harvested nine pounds of red currants from a single bush in my garden, and made it all into jelly.
  • I have also managed to kill six pear trees (not all in the same year…).
  • I once got pulled onstage to dance with De La Soul, but then everyone started doing the Electric Slide, and I didn’t know how to do it. …slink…
  • I learned to speak Spanish living in Mexico, and French living in France, all after the age of 28.
  • I still can’t use the subjunctive properly.