talks and workshops - Jessica Abel
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talks and workshops

I’m available for interviews, teaching, and speaking engagements. I love to open new audiences to the power of comics, juxtaposition, and visual narrative. My talks are exciting and fun, and they’re even more effective when combined with workshops that give participants hands-on experience of the power of these ideas.

My style is compelling and interactive; I leave audiences charged up and inspired. My talks are fully illustrated with dynamic and engaging art.

They can be fully participatory…

  • We might be drawing our own comics; or
  • I might be walking you through my creative process, reading comics aloud, and combining this with discussion of the behind-the-scenes stages of development that lead to published work.
  • Or I’ll dive into  what I discovered working with some of the best storytellers around today: the radio producers of shows like Serial and The American Life.

Below are a few of the workshops and talks I’ve done previously; I’d love to walk through what you need for your event with you. Let’s be in touch.

Telling stories

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio book coverWe’ve all experienced the power of narrative as a way of communicating ideas. But most of us haven’t been taught the skills of making authentic, deep stories, the kind that will grab readers and show them what’s inside your business or brand (or brain).

How do stories work? How do they grab our attention? What are the elements of story that allow readers (and customers) to connect with (and through) them?

More concretely, how can you come up with an idea for a story and when you have, how do you know if it’s worth writing about?

In this talk (and optional workshop) drawn from Out on the Wire: the Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio, participants will learn how to think through an idea, how to workshop it into a story concept that will be worth the paper (or pixels) it’s written on, and to identify the elements of powerful stories that connect.

 Visual language

what is comics: Images used in a sequenceIn today’s thrillingly, sometimes intimidatingly visual world, it’s more essential than ever to learn to wield the immense power of the visual cortex and get a good grip on what story your images are telling. What are all those pictures really doing, and how are they doing it?

In this talk (and optional workshop) participants will walk through how visual language connects us directly, deeply, powerfully. We’ll learn about the power of images to contain story, and the way our brains to build meaning through the power of juxtaposition.

Doodling will be encouraged.

 Juxtaposition as a tool for creativity

Picture 9In this hands-on talk and workshop, we’ll learn about how juxtaposition works as a force multiplier: when you combine images or words and images, what you get is much more than the sum of its parts.

In a series of short exercises that require no formal drawing ability (I promise!) we’ll look at how stories grow out of the spaces between, and discover how juxtaposition can be an extremely effective tool for fomenting creativity.

The Lost Woman: Jessica Abel’s Comics


My talks on my own work range from studio-oriented craft talks for students of comics, to discussions of the literary themes in my work, to looks at my own history in comics and how that relates to the recent developments in the art form. I’ve authored a number of works of fiction in comics (including La Perdida,Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, and the short story series Artbabe), as well as nonfiction (many short pieces as well as Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.) I’ve also collaborated as a writer (on Life Sucks), and written prose fiction as well as textbooks on the art of comics.

You are here: Visual storytelling for prose writers

carla-window11-450x357You know the old adage, show, don’t tell? It’s never more true than when you have to imagine each moment in your story as a drawing. You don’t even have to actually draw anything to make it work.

This workshop is designed to tear away the layers and give you new clarity on what you’ve really written. You can use this method to streamline and make your work zoom, or you can use it to build a rock-solid skeleton on which to build layers of clear and specific description. This is a brand-new set of tools, and will at a minimum give you a completely new perspective on your own writing.

Use comics-writing and planning methods to give your prose grace and power. Pacing, rhythm, and time as it works in physical space, montage as a storytelling tool, imagining “camera angles,” all will give you new insight on your work, and give you a kind of second sight on your characters. What kind of advantage can you glean from thinking through a character’s “acting” and body language, and how can that then reflect itself in the way the character’s dialogue, or your description?

Reorganize, pare down, dramatize, and reassess your work. No drawing is required, but you can certainly draw if the urge strikes you!

Sign up to download a FREE exercise and demo video based on this talk and workshop here: the Comics Window

Comics Workshops

Just a few of the many ways I have presented workshops on comics to students ranging from teens to MFA students to non-artist adults. Some of these workshops are based around actually producing comics, some are oriented towards making the comics reading experience richer and deeper.

jess 2008 teaching1

Hands-on, adaptable to all skill levels

  • Understanding the essentials of comics language (1-3 hours)
  • Basic comics workshop (2 weekends or 1 week)
  • Comics storytelling (1-2 weeks)

Hands-on, for students with drawing skills

  • Composition and perspective for storytelling (2 weekends or 1 week)
  • Advanced storytelling workshop (2 weeks)
  • Comics master classes on various topics (2 weekends or 1 week)

Reading and understanding comics

  • How to read comics (1-2 hours)
  • Comics literature workshop (adaptable to any length)
  • Non-fiction comics (adaptable to any length)

Krazy for comics: comics workshops for teens (with Matt Madden)

wolfsonian 1It’s true that sometimes teens have no idea what they’re capable of. More to the point in our comics workshops, they have no idea what they’re not capable of.

Tell a group of adults they’re going to complete a 10-page comic from scratch in three weeks, and you’ll have a lot of dropouts. Tell a bunch of teens, and you’ll get a whole lot of 10-page comics.

Teens are incredibly eager learners when it comes to comics, and we’re more than happy to feed their interest. We set a high bar, but have yet to encounter a teen not willing to go for it. We’ve run workshops from one day to three weeks, and always aim to have complete work at the end, scaled to the time available.

recent speaking engagements

University of Bordeaux (March 2015)
Farleigh Dickenson University (March 2014)
Colomiers Public Library (France) (March 2014)
Tri-College Creative Residency, Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges (April 2013)
Michigan State University (February 2012)
International Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, Universidad de Alcalá, Spain (November 2011)
Comics, Creativity, and Culture conference, the University of Iowa, (October 2011)
The Writers Forum at SUNY Brockport (February 2011)
Marshall University Visiting Writer Series (February 2010)
Turnhout Festival, Turnhout, Belgium (December 2009)
Kalamazoo Public Library (November 2009)
Books for the Beast (Baltimore Library Association, October 2009)
Penn State (October 2009)
Brooklyn Book Festival (September 2009)
Buffalo and Erie Library (April 2009)
Fordham University (March 2009)
Michigan Library Association Spring Institute (April 2009)
Philadelphia Free Library (November 2008)
Alternative Press Expo (November 2008)
Miami Book Fair (November 2008)
SUNY New Paltz (Oct 2008)
Housing Works (NYC, October 2008)
Long Island University (April 2008)
West Hollywood Book Fair (September 2007)
Grace Reading Series (New York, May 2006)
This is Not a Reading Series (Toronto, April 2006)
Wordstock (Portland, April 2006)
Live Wire! (Portland, April 2006)
Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, April 2006)
MIT (April 2006),
DePaul University (April 2006)
826NYC (October 2005)
Hudson Valley Writers’ Center (Sleepy Hollow NY, June 2005)
Parsons School of Design (Fall 2003, Spring 2004, 2005, 2006)
Comica: Misfit Lit, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (October, 2005)

recent courses and workshops


Tri-College Creative Residency, Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges
Series of three workshops for visual art and writing students, and a keynote lecture, April 2013.
The Rubin Museum
Teen workshop co-taught with Matt Madden, three sessions, spring 2012.
The Brooklyn Public Library
Led a four-session book club on graphic novels, Fall 2011.
Split Rock Artists Program
One-week intensive course for college credit at the University of Minnesota. July 2011
The Miami Wolfsonian Museum
Two-week comics workshop for teens in the Wolfsonian’s brand-new media lab. June 2010.
Walter Gropius Master Artist Series
Three-day workshop and had a solo show at the Huntington Museum of Art. February 2010.
Pacific Northwest College of Art
Three-day workshop on creating comics. June 2008.
Centro Fumetto Andrea Pazienza, Cremona, Italy
Workshop, May 14, 2004
Syracuse University
Visiting artist, workshop, February 21, 2004
Writers Project at Adirondack Community College
Reading, workshop, November 6, 2003


California College of Arts
Mentored Studio
MFA in Comics program.
January 2014 – present.

École européenne supérieure de l’image
Researched non-fiction comics
Masters-level course on researching, writing and executing non-fiction comics.
Fall/Winter 2012-2013

The School of Visual Arts
Storytelling: Foundations of Comics Narrative
A required course for cartooning majors. The course is a year-long exploration of basic sequential art concepts: page design, information flow, and other formal aspects of the medium; three-act structure, character development, and character design.
September 2001 – 2012

Cartooning Hothouse
Mixed-level intensive cartooning studio.
Summer course, 2004 – 2012

Pictorial Problems
Required junior-level cartooning seminar for cartooing majors.
Full-year course. 2005 – 2012.

Principles of Cartooning
Sophomore-level required course for cartooning majors.
2003 – 2004

Pre-college Cartooning
Fall 2002

Ox-Bow Summer School of Art
(a program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Two-week intensive college-level course in comics. June 2005, June 2006.

CSU Summer Arts at Fresno
College-level one-week course in comics at California State University’s intensive summer arts program. July 2005.

The New School University
Making Comics
Summer continuing education course, 2003.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Comics and Graphic Narrative
Course covered theory and mechanics of sequential art, history of the medium, self-publishing, as well as materials and techniques. Students produced final works of four to eight pages in length and self-published an anthology of these pieces, which they then submitted for review to several leading critical sequential art magazines. January 1998.

Answer these 10 quick questions
to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able
to take control of your creative work.

Start Here

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