A CRM for Freelancers & Creatives

After devoting three decades to honing her craft, cartoonist Jessica Abel had a profound revelation. She recognized that, over the years, she had unwittingly relied on a grassroots marketing approach to establish a thriving full-time business.


In The Beginning …

Jessica Abel’s early years she provided no inkling  of her eventual career as a professional cartoonist. Like many children, she delighted in drawing, especially horses. In high school, she gravitated towards journalism, driven by a need to demonstrate her seriousness. Despite her love for art, she pursued English at the University of Chicago. It wasn’t until she stumbled upon a transformative comic book that her trajectory shifted from hobbyist to creator.

Jessica didn’t know what she wanted to be

There was no early indication in Jessica’s life that she would become a professional cartoonist, as her childhood doodles of horses were common among kids. In the late 1980s, she primarily read superhero comics, but everything changed when she discovered Love and Rockets, a comic grounded in the real world. She dreamt of creating something similar, even though she didn’t know anyone making a living as an artist.

After graduating during a recession in 1991, Jessica worked as a waitress after moving back in with her mother. However, she was an avid consumer of art, which remained an integral part of her life. Her transformative moment came when she won a contest run by Peter Bagge, creator of Hate, to be a character in one of his comics.

Instead of merely enjoying the experience, Jessica aspired to be an artist herself. She self-published her first mini-comic, Artbabe, just before the 1992 Chicago Comic-Con, marking the beginning of her journey into the world of art and comics. It was a humble creation, photocopied, hand-bound with pink yarn, and stamped with potato prints, but it signified her entry into the realm of creators.

“Where have you been all my life?”

That was the reaction of Peter Bagge’s readers when he introduced a drawn Jessica in Hate, heading on a date with Stinky, and plugged her self-published work, Artbabe. In the early 90s, readers were invited to mail money to her address in exchange for a copy. This moment marked the beginning of Jessica’s journey as a book seller, as she humorously states.

Artbabe received a positive review from The Comics Journal, and comic stores started stocking her work. For years, she persisted in self-publishing and selling new Artbabe issues. Every year, she sent her new work to Gary Groth, the publisher at Fantagraphics, even though she never received a response.

Undeterred, she applied for the Xeric Grant, initiated by Peter Laird, one of the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and received it, allowing Artbabe to be professionally printed. This time, when she sent it to Gary, he finally took notice and inquired, “Where did you come from?”

Reflecting on this, Jessica realized that sometimes, being ignored doesn’t equate to inadequacy; it simply means people are preoccupied, and persistence is the key. In 1996, Fantagraphics published Artbabe Volume Two, marking a significant step in her career. When asked what kept her going, she expressed gratitude for not knowing how long her journey would take, highlighting the importance of perseverance and dedication to one’s passion.

If I thought, when I was 22 that it would take until I was 27 to get an offer, it would’ve been rough.

Immediately, she recognized his voice.

In 1998, Jessica embarked on a new chapter in her life, relocating to Mexico with her now-husband, Matt. Their relationship had its roots in the comics community, where they had been exchanging comics for several years before finally meeting in person. Mexico offered a fresh start, but Jessica faced the challenge of finding freelance illustration work in a foreign land. To bolster her career prospects, she enlisted the help of a friend to create a website, hoping it would attract potential clients. Additionally, she set up a service that redirected calls from her U.S. phone number to her Mexican one, although this meant that callers would need to make long-distance calls, a complex task at the time.

For six months, her U.S. phone remained eerily silent, until one day, someone broke the silence. It was a voice Jessica recognized immediately, belonging to none other than Ira Glass. As a fellow Chicago native and a fan of This American Life, she had listened to the show even before it gained national acclaim when it was known as Your Radio Playhouse.

But the question remained, why was Ira Glass calling her? The answer lay in an illustration Jessica had crafted three years earlier in 1995, depicting a bowling alley that hosted punk rock shows. Glass had been captivated by her unique style and had stashed the illustration away as a source of inspiration. When the idea arose to create a comic detailing the behind-the-scenes process of producing a radio show for a fundraiser, Glass remembered the remarkable work Jessica had done. He retrieved her illustration from his archives, located her phone number through the White Pages, heard her message with the Mexican number, and dialed her long-distance.

Together, they collaborated on “Radio: An Illustrated Guide.” This partnership laid the foundation for Jessica’s future endeavors, including her storytelling masterpiece, “Out on the Wire,” published in 2015 by Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House, one of the world’s largest publishers. It was a culmination of three decades dedicated to her craft.

Living in France, Jessica was living the dream of every artist. She reveled in the freedom to create, inspired by the rich tapestry of her surroundings. Yet, as fulfilling as it was, the pace of sustaining herself solely through book-related income began to take its toll. While she cherished her work, she came to realize that being a full-time author, especially a cartoonist, is an unceasing grind, regardless of one’s passion. The pursuit of a livelihood shouldn’t mean grinding oneself into dust, and Jessica began to seek a more sustainable path to balance her love for her craft with a healthier work-life equilibrium.

The role of marketing isn’t to force your offerings onto disinterested individuals

Keeping the long-term perspective in mind, Jessica wholeheartedly embraced email as a means of communication. She recognized the value of sharing informative and valuable content, understanding that the decision-making process for some individuals could span years. Her dedication to this long-game approach eventually yielded substantial rewards.

Today, she spearheads a global community known as The Autonomous Creative Collective, tailored to current students and alumni of the Creative Focus Workshop. This diverse and far-reaching community comprises creative minds from all corners of the globe who unite to assist and uplift one another in their pursuit of resilient and sustainable creative careers. Together, they strive to create work that resonates with their passions and convictions.

Whether it involves cobbling together their first book with pink yarn or achieving publication by one of the world’s foremost publishing houses, the outcome remains the same: when you produce and share work that holds personal significance, you open the door for someone, somewhere, to stumble upon it. The impact can be profound, from delighting and inspiring individuals to potentially sparking a transformative change or instilling the desire to embark on a creative journey of their own.

One undeniable truth prevails in this journey – it doesn’t come to fruition without a touch of punk-rock boldness and an unwavering belief that one’s creative destiny lies firmly within their own hands. Jessica’s story serves as a testament to the power of persistence, community, and the profound impact of sharing work that truly matters. It’s a reminder that in the world of creativity, the ability to influence and inspire others is a remarkable achievement, achieved through dedication, resilience, and the unyielding pursuit of one’s artistic vision.

Email is how I make my money. I just did a launch in February. At least half the people who joined my program had been on my list for a year plus. Four of them I noticed had been on my list for three plus years. They’ve been sitting there thinking about wanting to work with me for that long.

In Conclusion …

ConvertKit proves to be the perfect platform for freelancers and creative professionals. Just as Jessica Abel harnessed the power of email marketing to build a global community, ConvertKit empowers freelancers and creatives to cultivate their audiences with precision and dedication. Its email marketing and automation tools allow users to share valuable content, establishing long-term relationships with their audience, much like Jessica’s commitment to the long game. ConvertKit’s flexibility suits the needs of creators, enabling them to tailor their approach, whether they’re stringing their first project together with pink yarn or striving for recognition from the top publishers. With ConvertKit, the power to share and inspire is firmly in their hands, making it an indispensable tool for those charting their creative journeys.