The short version:
Cartoonist and writer Jessica Abel is the author of two textbooks about making comics, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics (First Second Books), written in collaboration with her husband, the cartoonist Matt Madden; and the graphic novel La Perdida (Pantheon Books). She’s also the co-writer of the graphic novel Life Sucks. Previously, she published Soundtrack and Mirror, Window (Fantagraphics Books), two collections that gather stories and drawings from her omnibus comic book Artbabe, which she published between 1992 and 1999. She collaborated with Ira Glass on Radio: An Illustrated Guide, a non-fiction comic about how the radio show This American Life is made. Abel won the Xeric Grant, both the Harvey and Lulu awards for “Best New Talent” in 1997; La Perdida won the 2002 “Best New Series” Harvey Award. She teaches at New York’s School of Visual Arts and is at work on a new science fiction comic series called Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, for Dargaud France. Madden and Abel are also series editors for The Best American Comics. They live in Brooklyn, New York, with their two children.
The long version:
Jessica Abel grew up in Chicagoland reading comics whenever they fell in her path, which they did, for good or ill, with some frequency. A few too many excellent comics later, she decided to try making them herself. Abel’s first brush with comics-world fame came when she won the coveted “Win a Date with Stinky” contest—the award being a virtual date with a disgusting character in Peter Bagge’s Hate comics. This led to an opportunity to meet the artist and his publisher, Gary Groth of Fantagraphics Books, which inspired Abel to self-publish a comic so that she’d have something to show for herself. She printed 50 copies of Artbabe #1, but Groth, who claims not to remember this encounter, didn’t take the bait. Four photocopied issues (and four years) later, she won the Xeric grant and put out the first full-sized and professionally printed issue of Artbabe. Finally on Groth’s radar, Abel then published the second run of Artbabe with Fantagraphics, which garnered her the Best New Talent Harvey and Lulu awards in 1997.
She moved to Mexico City in 1998 with her now-husband Matt Madden, and took time off from fictional comics in 1999 to collaborate with Ira Glass on Radio: An Illustrated Guide, for the hugely popular public radio show This American Life. This two-year stint in Mexico City fed into Abel’s next book, La Perdida, which was serialized by Fantagraphics, and won the 2002 “Best New Series” Harvey Award and was featured in the Best American Comics 2006. A graphic novel thriller about an American who heads to Mexico City with a backpack, a few hundred dollars, and a head full of preconceptions that lead her down a very dangerous path, La Perdida was published as a complete book by Pantheon in 2006 and has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Czech.
Back in the US, Abel began teaching comics at the School of Visual Arts in 2001. This experience, along with a history of posting DIY comics guides on her website, led her to two comics textbooks, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics written in collaboration with Madden, and published by First Second Books. Abel edits and contributes to the robust comics-learning website dw-wp.com.
Abel has co-scripted a vampire romantic comedy called Life Sucks and is currently working on Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, to be published by Dargaud France. Abel and Madden are co-series editors of the Best American Comics. They live in Brooklyn, New York, with their two children.