all about Jessica (FAQ)

In an effort to answer everyone’s burning questions about me, my work, and my extremely interesting opinions about things, I’ve written this FAQ. I will add to it as I’m able.


Here’s the big picture: 

Way back in college, an angry young me, shopping for records punk enough to play on the turntable I was definitely very soon going to get, I stumbled on a great, mysterious, scary comics section in the back of the record store. Yes, I was already reading comics. Didn’t I already say I was punk as I could manage? But I’d shopped for them in a convenience store, and had never seen the likes of Raw, or Jimbo, or Love & Rockets, and as soon as I did, it was down the rabbit hole with me, never to return.

A few years later, I started publishing my own minicomic, called Artbabe, which became my entree to a wild and exuberant subculture of self-publishing cartoonists. Small-press comics was—and still is, to a great extent—a small and tight-knit community with an incredibly supportive, engaged vibe. Social media (including pre-internet versions, i.e. mail art, postcards, and blurb reviews of comics in the back of other comics) and DIY spirit are the glue that hold it together.

The qualities of the small-press comics scene marked me as an artist and as a thinker: I’m exuberant, hands-on, and engaged. I Do It Myself if at all possible. I am driven to make work at the highest standard I’m capable of—my graphic novel La Perdida won two Harvey Awards and was Time’s Best Comic of the Year in 2006—and to examine my own and others’ work with seriousness and attention. I’m an observer (as an artist must be) who’s also a bit of a performer; I’m an artist with a head for organization and systems. I’m a natural explainer.

After taking all that natural explaining on the road for a few years, teaching workshops and regular art school classes, I convinced Matt Madden (a minicomics vet like me, a teacher like me, and my husband) that the world needed us to write a textbook on comics. Definitive by default (there are no other comics textbooks), Drawing Words & Writing Pictures was lauded by Scott McCloud as “A gold mine of essential information for every aspiring cartoonist. Highly recommended.” Its successor, Mastering Comics, came out in the spring of 2012.

All that writing and thinking about making comics meant that I didn’t actually make many of my own for several years. In 2012, I returned to the fold, launching into a massive scifi epic called Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars. It started out as a jolly romp combining my love of roller derby and space, and in typical Jessica fashion has grown more and more complicated and dark as I work, to the point where it’s kind of a cross between Buffy and District 9…the first volume of Trish Trash will be published in January 2015 by Dargaud France. Yes, in French.

I simultaneously got working on another massive project (I’m smart like that), revisiting the work I did with Ira Glass in 1999 on Radio: an Illustrated Guide, but with Radiolab, Snap Judgment, Planet Money, Radio Diaries, the Moth and other radio producers, delving more deeply into what it is that makes contemporary narrative journalistic radio in the US so damn great. This thick 200-page comic book will be called Out on the Wire, and will be out in August 2015 from Crown Books.

Since publishing Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics, and with all the thinking I’ve been doing about creativity and narrative for Out on the Wire, I’ve been spending most of my non-drawing time making the connections between comics and visual language, and story and narrative more generally. When I’m not making comics, or teaching other people how to make comics, this is what I want to work on. The most interesting thing I’m looking at, thinking about, and talking about is how comics can enlighten and elucidate communication design, creative fiction and non-fiction writing, film, web design (particularly user interface design), literature, animation, history, math, geology, philosophy, medical ethics, anthropology, Spanish, and just about any other subject.

Matt and I also have two small kids, so if you were wondering about my hobbies, that ought to be your answer. Between comics and kids, not so much time for anything else these days! Which might be a good thing: before our daughter was born, I was starting to wonder if I might secretly be a 60-year-old white suburban guy: I spent undue amounts of time renovating our old Brooklyn rowhouse, gardening and, yes, woodworking. Since then, I’m still a paid-up subscriber to Fine Gardening and Fine Woodworking, but I’m thinking about selling some tools. Get in touch if you’re in the market for a tenoning jig.