Radio: An Illustrated Guide

Love This American Life and Ira Glass? Check out my other book featuring Ira, Out on the Wire!


Ira Glass from Radio: an Illustrated Guide by Jessica Abel ©1999

The origin story

In 1998, I was living in Mexico City, making comics and illustration, and trying to maintain a professional life in the USA. Not easy in a not-ready-for-prime-time internet situation.

Email was well-established, but Skype barely existed, and working in a fully digital, borderless way just wasn’t the norm. I was best pals with the Fedex office clerks on the next block. You still had to use the phone constantly, and physical presence in a place was a much bigger factor than it is now in 2013, as I write this (while living in France, working with an assistant who’s in NYC, an editor in Paris, and a colorist in Tokyo).

So when I moved from Chicago, I sort of “reserved” my phone number for six months and put a message on it saying, I’m in Mexico City, here’s my phone number there. It was pretty useless. No one called me as a result of that message for like five and a half months.

Also, podcasting didn’t exist yet

You could stream some radio shows—oh, the rebuffering—but you could do it. And we were avid listeners of This American Life, so we suffered through a lot of rebuffering for Ira Glass.

So, imagine my surprise when the phone rang five and a half months after I’d moved, and the voice on the other end said, “Hi, you don’t know me, but my name is Ira Glass.” Of course I knew who it was before he even said his name.

If that’s not unlikely enough, Ira called me because he’d saved a comic I’d done in the NewCity, a free tabloid in Chicago, several years earlier. He just pulled the comic out of his file and then looked me up in the phone book. If it were today, he’d just Google me and find me instantly, but back then? If he’d called two weeks later, it might have been a dead end, and I’d never have done this project!

Anyway, that’s all irrelevant to the comic itself, I just love the serendipity of it.

ALSO! Out on the Wire: the Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.

What is Radio: an Illustrated Guide? 

It’s a 32-page comic on the process by which This American Life gets made, published in 1999. Although it’s now many years old, it’s still pretty accurate, with some tech updates, of course.

It has a behind-the-scenes journalistic aspect, an essay-like, this is how we think aspect, and an instructional, DIY aspect. The structure of the book is based on a lecture Ira was giving at the time that he handed me to pull apart. I also visited the studio for a week to do research and interviews.

As I wrote the book, I was astounded and pleased to find so many resonances between comics and radio, which I tried to imbed in the work itself. And in some ways, carefully examining Ira’s storytelling style helped me to move forward with my own ideas on storytelling, which one could see as leading me to writing textbooks on comics…. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.

You can buy Radio: an Illustrated Guide at This American Life for $5 on paper, or $2 as an ebook. 

Radio: an Illustrated Guide on

Radio: An Illustrated Guide By Jessica Abel & Ira Glass pg 5-6

Meet Jessica Abel

Meet Jessica Abel

Author. Cartoonist. Teacher. Coach.

I help people whose imagination and creativity are the ultimate source of everything they do in their professional life stop grinding and start carving out the deep focus needed to finish—and launch—the game-changing work they want to be known for.  Discover my Courses, Join the FREE Creative Engine Workshop or find out more about me.


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