Visual Scripting: video training – FREE template download

Visual Scripting is a method for natively writing comics and other visual narrative media in physical space, envisioning layout, and better utilizing physical elements of books (such as page turns)…without drawing. It can be done by hand, but the most useful version of it uses page layout software like Adobe InDesign, because you can easily move, insert, delete, resize all elements in a way that’s really not possible on paper.  (The analog version of this is pretty close to the exercise I posted last week, the Comics Window.)

I wrote all of Out on the Wire as a Visual Script (based on an outline and prep work I did in Scrivener), and I’m currently working on the last chapter of Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars that way. It’s a really effective approach. Integrating the visual into the script along with the flexiblilty of rewriting has revolutionized how I write comics, and the method would be adaptable to many other kinds of visual narrative as well (picture books, video…) Continue reading

YOU ARE HERE: a “comics window” gives your writing grace and power

Carla from La Perdida, seen through a windowN.b.: Hey, cartoonists: this post is primarily aimed at people writing prose or comics scripts, but for those of us who make comics already, this is a great method to use to break down scenes before actually drawing anything. In fact, it’s the analog version of Visual Scripting using InDesign that I explain here, that has totally revolutionized my writing process. (And effectiveness. And efficiency.)

Sign up to get your printable “comics window” and use instructions, along with a demo video, at the bottom of this post.

Sometimes a thing I want to write feels fully formed in my mind, until just the moment I sit down to write it. And then suddenly it seems to collapse into a black box. Writing it feels like wading through hip-deep molasses. Nothing is clear, nothing comes easy.

Maybe you’ve felt this too: you get through a draft, feeling like you’re forcing it. You just can’t tell if what you’ve written bears any resemblance to what you intended.

Anyone would tell you: you need to gain some perspective on the thing…but how? You don’t always have an editor or writing group handy.

What you need is a new point of view.

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Hey artist, how do you make it work?

Jessica Abel draws comics at age 22.Like most artists I’ve met, I’m kind-of-secretly obsessed with how other artists make their lives work (financially, structurally). So I was pretty interested to read this article, The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur, from earlier this year in the Atlantic. Despite the scare-tactic headline (“What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it?”), the author, William Deresiewicz, has an interesting thesis, that the position artists have in society has changed over time, and there’s a change underway again right now in how artists think of themselves. And that all of these self-identifications relate directly to how we get paid (or don’t).

He starts far in the past, when artists were considered craftspeople, and depended for their livelihood on powerful (and fickle) patrons. Shakespeare would have considered himself an artisan, just like the Brooklyn beef jerky-makers of today. Deresiewicz: “Creativity was prized, but credibility and value derived, above all, from tradition.” I’d add skill—how skillfully had the artists absorbed the lessons of his (and let’s face it, it was usually his) master.

Then, starting during the Enlightenment, you had the invention of the Capital-A-Artist. “The artisan became the genius: solitary, like a holy man; inspired, like a prophet; in touch with the unseen, his consciousness bulging into the future.” This is the Ivory Tower-dweller we know so well. I love Deresiewicz’s comparison of the Artist to priests, who were apart from the world, and also had to be supported in some way, by patrons (who were now relatively less powerful), family, or “tithes” in the form of loans and help from friends and family.

In this model, the Artist is at the top of the heap socially. He (let’s face it, it’s usually “he”) is the strange creature who dwells among us, touching all with his magic. But that dictates that the Artist should have no truck with commerce, and that he should be protected from all that by a coterie of professionals, agents, publishers, sycophants. This is what I came up thinking was the ideal, the goal. I think most of us still idealize this model, whether we intend to or not. It feels like it’s the freest way to be in the world. You get to do whatever you want artistically, and fans will rave.

But in fact, it’s disempowering, because it dictates that the only way to enter that privileged class (without starving) is to be “discovered” by someone else—a critic, a journalist, a gallerist.

That’s just not sustainable. No one wants literally to be a starving artist. Continue reading

Ça y est. Out On the Wire is in the can.

a GIF showing the gradual completion of a 200 page comic book.

This is what it looks like.

You won’t believe this, but it took exactly 39 work weeks to begin and complete the 176 pages of new artwork (and 24 revised pages) for Out on the Wire. It’s practically a baby, you guys. I took photos of my piles every few days while I was in the studio (i.e. not in August, when we were in the USA, for example), and made this animation of a big fat comic book being drawn.

I’m still doing some cleanups, and the book is not wrapped yet, but it will be on time, in your hands this August 25. (Preorder now! Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio) More to come in the next weeks and months about this big fat baby, now that I can think straight. (In this way, a newborn book is utterly unlike a newborn human.)

Thanks especially to my production team, particularly interns Ryan Brewer, Bastien Nerre, Dido Drachman, Justine Sarlat, and especially my background-drawer and (not very) secret weapon Matt Madden.

** ça y est: pron. “sa ee ey”, means “it’s all wrapped up.”

Angoulême festival 2015! Trish Trash!

Whether you’re a friend, fan, or fellow cartoonist, you probably know that January is a very busy month for comics in France, as it is once again time for the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée here in Angoulême. In addition to the usual festival craziness, this year’s event will be particularly exciting for me, as it will mark the first time I’ve originated a book in French, with a French publisher, thus achieving a goal I set for myself the very first time I went to FIBD, back in 1998 (although then I said I wanted to do it in 5 years). True fact. Ask Tom Devlin.trishskatethumb

Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars from Editions Dargaud. For preview pages, diagrams, and book trailer visit the Dargaud blog.

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an eater’s guide to Angoulême

goat cheeseLast year I helped Abby Denson put together a guide to eating at and generally getting through the Angoulême festival (which is actually called le Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, aka FIBD). Abby’s list of tips is still pretty current, and really covers most of what you need to know to survive in style, so for this year’s festival I thought I’d up the ante and make more of a food-lover’s guide to Angoulême.

First of all, my perspective is that whether you’re ordinarily a foodie or not, if you’re coming from abroad to France, you expect to eat well even if your primary purpose in coming is comics. But it’s all too easy to end up eating mediocre bistro food (i.e. chewy steak with ungreat frites) or kebabs the whole time. None of which really gives you the flavor of where you really are, which is, in this case, southwest France. So let’s start with the basics. Continue reading

a few of my favorite podcasts


Since I’ve spent the last three years doing a deep dive on audio storytelling (narrative nonfiction radio and podcasts), the last two and a half of which I’ve been in France (where practically no one has heard of this stuff, not even This American Life) this moment of vast cultural freakout about how awesome podcasts are (hello, Serial!) feels super-strange to me. I mean, good-strange, like, hey, maybe I’m not crazy for drawing a 200-page comic about how they make this stuff! I might need a new tagline for it, though.

“Coming in August 2015: Out on the Wire, a 200-page comic about how one makes audio that’s sort of like Serial.” Continue reading

Feminism Core Sample: new poster available

feminism thumb

Every time I turn around these days, I encounter this wave of angry feminist feeling emanating from Twitter, the internet, my friends. It simultaneously thrills and energizes me, and makes me miserable to realize how much horrible shit still happens all the time to women because they are women. Not like I didn’t realize it before, but day to day awareness of these facts had receded somewhat from my consciousness.

I came of age in the early 90s, which was another period of intense feminist feeling (at least I felt it that it was). I may be wrong, but I feel like feminism and awareness of women’s issues had faded from everyone’s consciousness throughout the ’00s. I remember feeling really alone, thinking and talking about problems women face. Maybe it’s evident from the way I’ve phrased the last couple sentences: I don’t really trust my perceptions about all this: is this just my own awareness ebbing and flowing, or is there something real happening right now? I think and hope the latter. It’s beyond time.

I recently remembered this strip that I did in 2005 for the LA Times. I’ve redrawn a bit of it and added a title. I grew up in the 3rd and 4th tiers, and I feel like we’ve almost reached the bottom tier now—the great unknown. It makes me laugh, and most of you will never have seen it before, so I thought I’d post it here. I’ve also made it available at my new Zazzle store. (along with a mug and a t-shirt version, that have the two tiers above on them). Check it out, and get one for your favorite mouthy female (or male, for that matter).

Click through to read the whole strip.


Trish Trash avant première: I get to see my new comics 2 months early.

Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars, by Jessica Abel

Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars, by Jessica Abel

Friends, it gives me a lot of pleasure to announce that the first moment I put my hands on a copy of Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars (vol. 1 of 3), I was standing outside a comics museum, watching a roller derby demo. Thomas Ragon, my editor, had put a lot of pressure on the Dargaud studio to get the book printed two months before the official release date, so I could be standing there on the chais Magelis, wiping a light drizzle off the fresh, offset-printing-ink smelling pages. Continue reading

Books and their covers: designing for Trish Trash

Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars will have its avant-première in a week and a half, which means I’ll finally get to put my hands on the actual cover of this book, that I’ve been working so long and hard on. This is the final cover, the one you’ll see if you get a copy yourself.

Getting to this cover, however, was a long and complicated process. I’ve been working on covers for lots of books lately, sending in rough sketches for Out on the Wire (really rough, not ready for prime time), and trying to come up with covers for all three volumes of Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars now, before the first one is even out.

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