PAFA Announces Jessica Abel as Illustration Program Chair


PAFA Announces Jessica Abel as Illustration Program Chair

PHILADELPHIA (June 7, 2016) -- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is pleased to announce award-winning cartoonist, illustrator and writer Jessica Abel as chair of its new Illustration program.

Clint Jukkala, Dean of the School of Fine Arts, says, “Jessica Abel is a leading and innovative voice in comics, storytelling and visual communication.  She brings a vision to PAFA’s Illustration program that connects our strong fine arts traditions with a focus on empowering students to succeed as both creators and entrepreneurs. We are thrilled to have her join our community and help build this dynamic new program.”

Abel’s critically acclaimed graphic novel La Perdida was featured in hundreds of media outlets including The New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Spin, and NPR’s All Things Considered. It won two Harvey Awards and was Time magazine’s Best Comic of the Year in 2006.

She served as co-series editor (with her husband, cartoonist Matt Madden) of the Best American Comics series from 2007 to 2013, working with guest editors Neil Gaiman, Lynda Barry, Jeff Smith, and others. She has also written two widely praised textbooks on comics, and has lectured and taught numerous courses and workshops in the U.S. and Europe on subjects such as storytelling, visual narrative, and becoming a comics artist.

Abel has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, in the master’s program at the European School of Visual Arts in France, in the MFA in Comics program at the California College of Arts, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She has also held administrative positions including Assistant to the Associate Dean and graduate and undergraduate chairs at SAIC.

She was invited by Ira Glass to create a This American Life comic book, released in 1999 as Radio: an Illustrated Guide. Its widely praised 2015 follow-up, Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio, featured Glass and others discussing their tools for creating compelling narratives.

Among her other full-length comic books are Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars; the multi-volume series Artbabe; and Life Sucks (with Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece).

Abel has done illustrations for The New York Times, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Viking Books, and many other publications and clients. She has won numerous awards and residencies and is about to complete a four-year La Maison des Auteurs residency in Angouleme, France.

Abel says, “I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to join PAFA and build an illustration program unlike any other, completely new, yet in the heart of—and utilizing the strengths of—PAFA's deep ties to traditional foundational visual art training. It's thrilling to imagine the possibilities presented by the intersection of the PAFA program with the approaches opened by illustration and visual communication. I can't wait to see what our students invent.”

Students in PAFA’s new undergraduate illustration program develop skills in storytelling, visual communication and entrepreneurship. Their training includes building strong foundational skills in drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking – a core PAFA philosophy that has launched generations of PAFA artists and illustrators from Maxfield Parrish and Violet Oakley to Don Martin and Kate Samworth.

Abel, who starts at PAFA on August 15, earned a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and studied painting, printmaking and bookbinding at SAIC. More can be found on her website at

For more information on PAFA’s illustration program, visit


Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts, PAFA is a recognized leader in fine arts education with a world-class permanent collection of American art.


About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks,Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.