Margaret River artist Rachel Coad debuts first graphic novel New York City Glow

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Rachel Coad at work.
Camera IconRachel Coad at work. Credit: Stephen Nicolls

Celebrated Margaret River artist Rachel Coad has broken new ground with the imminent launch of her first graphic novel to be featured in an upcoming exhibition.

The new project, New York City Glow, is released by Upswell Publishing.

While one of the region’s most distinctive and accomplished painters, Coad said she drew on her background as a graphic designer and illustrator for the new book.

Coad worked as a designer at WA Newspapers in the 1990s, where she worked on news graphics and feature liftouts.

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“I started painting while I was working at the newspaper and then started exhibiting,” she said.

“In 2003, I took the plunge and quit my job. I’ve always been really creative and this is just working on a different scale and medium.”

Starting her career working with acrylics and then oils, the COVID-19 pandemic offered the perfect chance to dive back into illustration work.

“I majored in illustration when I studied art and design though I never gave my illustration the time it needed,” she said.

“So the COVID-19 lockdown was ‘that time’.”

The artist had a long appreciation of comic books, though mostly the more zany art styles of MAD Magazine, Gary Larsen and Beavis and Butthead.

“I see graphic novels as works of art,” she said.

“A graphic novel is basically a ‘long comic’ which is what I like to call this. It’s visual storytelling.”

The new graphic novel, set in the 1970s, revolves around the real-life 1977 New York City blackout.

It follows the story of Ray the snake, a lonely middle-aged insurance salesman, and Strawberry, a glow octopus with a prison record and a tendency to find trouble.

Coad said her vision for New York City Glow was only really possible as an illustrated narrative.

“The characters are cute and awkward though they take their world and their predicament very seriously,” she said.

“To illustrate emotion in an octopus who wears jeans and a snake who sells insurance was challenging, but if I can get the reader emotionally invested in the characters then I feel my job is done.

“I’m all about the art,” Coad said.

“If I’m reading a graphic novel, I want the art to be something special and interesting.

“Graphic novels can be a quick read, so if you give the reader illustrated pages to ponder and pause on, I think that adds to the experience.”

Readers are also offered prompts throughout the work, given “fan facts” and a music guide, with the near-death of Ramones legend Johnny Ramone part of the backdrop.

Coad’s upcoming exhibition at the Margaret River Heart-Nala Bardip Mia leads fans through the process of producing New York City Glow.

Key original pages of artwork will be displayed alongside individual illustrations as well as Coad’s actual drawing desk with working drawings, props and reference books to give an insight into her creative process.

The exhibition starts on April 29 and runs until May 30 on weekdays from 10am to 5pm, but is open during the weekend of the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival.

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