by Erin Moran
The only time Ned McConaghy, 32, has lived outside of Chestnut Hill was the two years he spent studying art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After that, he transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and moved back to Chestnut Hill, where he was born and raised.
Now, the artist features familiar Chestnut Hill scenes in his artwork, which includes traditional fine art, an online comic book called “Shell Kennedie: Rites of Renewal” and a new graphic novel about Saint Martin of Tours, patron saint of the Church of St. Martin in the Fields on Willow Grove and St. Martin’s Lane.
McConaghy said the church, as well as scenes from up and down Germantown Avenue, often show up in his creative work. “This is an area I know and that’s familiar to me visually,” he said last week. “I really wanted to kind of just include that in my comic. It’s easier to draw the local environment around here rather than invent new spaces. I do have to invent some spaces for the story, but it’s just kind of fun to have most of my story set in familiar locations.”
McConaghy’s rector at the Church of St. Martin in the Fields, the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, knew of his talent and knew the church was one of his inspirations. So Kerbel commissioned McConaghy to write and illustrate the story of St. Martin, a Roman soldier who sliced his own cloak in half to save a freezing beggar by the side of the road. According to scripture, the beggar revealed himself to Martin as Christ. St. Martin had fulfilled one of his teachings: “Whenever you clothe the naked, you clothe me.”
For stewardship season, Kerbel commissioned McConaghy to create “fun, alternative media to appeal to parishioners and give them new insight on St. Martin, who was a pivotal figure in the history of stewardship,” McConaghy said.
After graduating from Friends Select School, McConaghy spent four years in an education for ministry seminar with the church, so he also had the theological insight necessary to illustrate St. Martin’s story. Those theological influences also show up in his other work.
“In terms of the St. Martin comic, [the religious influence is] pretty obvious,” he said. “It’s a story about stewardship and about being mindful of people around you. My comic is more about being an individual and doing what you are called to do rather than what people think you should be doing at the time.
“I would hope at the very least [the graphic novel] helps people be more open, be mindful of others around them because that really is ultimately what the crux of the story is. Being mindful and being open.”
Although McConaghy was classically trained at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, his primary interest is narrative and sequential art. His love of narrative art and comic illustration peaked after he graduated college, and he started working on his online comic book, “Shell Kennedie: Rites of Renewal.”
McConaghy came up with his character, Shell Kennedie, in a graphic art and literature course he took at PAFA. Since then, she has become “a manifestation of my worst possible character traits.” He described her as a gloomy, cranky young woman who sees ghosts and spends most of her time sitting around the house playing video games. She’s somewhat reclusive and immature, and unlike McConaghy, she’s hot-headed and impatient at times. She also has some of McConaghy’s positive traits, like mindfulness towards others and “a certain sincerity that other people in the world around her tend to lack.”
Going to the Church of St. Martin in the Fields while growing up has had a significant influence on Ned’s work. “There really is a nice diversity of people and ideas there at the church, and it’s been that way my whole life. My mom had a lot of friends there, and I was introduced to people who were very thoughtful and had interesting things to say.”
McConaghy creates his comics entirely on his own, including the script and illustrations. In the future, he hopes to receive more illustration commissions and continue to work outside of his comfort zone with both traditional paintings and sequential art.
“I enjoy telling stories,” he said. “I don’t particularly want to be a gallery artist. I want to do art that contributes to something. So it’s the storytelling and the art that contribute to something greater than simply art for art’s sake.”
Ned also told us that the hardest thing he has ever had to do was “endure multiple chronic illnesses” and that the best advice he ever received was simply to “calm down.”
Erin Moran is a Temple University (class of 2018) journalism major, a features intern at the Philadelphia Inquirer and a deputy features editor at The Temple News. See more of Ned’s work at nedmcc.deviantart.com or www.coroflot.com.