Turning the Personal Into the Universal: Kelly Abeln’s Comics

Kelly Abeln creates relatable content that’s neatly packed. Defining her style as “autobiographical comics” she shares her illustrations through Instagram, where she has gained quite a massive following. Aside from her comics, she also works full time as a freelance illustrator and runs an Etsy shop where you can find her work printed on paper stationery as well as textile.

“Sometimes I think with autobiographical work, ‘Oh, this is just something that happened to me and no one else will care,’” she relayed in an interview with  Shrill Society. “But I really like reading autobiographical work, and that’s what I connect to. So I try to keep that in mind that the personal is universal. If you tell something really personal and focus on the feelings of it, then other people can relate to it.”

Her illustrations aren’t meant to look realistic. Loose and quirky, their wonkiness adds to their humoristic edge. And much like her characters, her stories are meant to be taken lightly (though most often than not, they address serious issues).

A common theme throughout her work seems to be the hardships of growing up. “I have a lot of stories in my head of growing up,” says Abeln. “Once I started making comics, I found they were the perfect way to get the stories all out and release them. I don’t want to forget them and forget how I felt.”

“When I think about memorable autobiographical experiences, the growing up years are what stand out the most to me because I think being a teenager is the craziest transition period that people go through,” she adds. “Every year of being a teenager feels like five years in terms of growth compared to the rest of your life. It’s a chaotic and exciting time.”