RACHEL NEWSTEAD was born in Ancon, Panama to American parents on Sept. 6, 1961. A second-generation Army brat, she spent her childhood around numerous military posts all over the country. And sometimes, in another part of the world: she would accompany her family on two separate three-year tours in Germany. It was during her first visit to that country, at age nine, that she acquired her lifelong love of drawing.
In a German class for military dependents at her elementary school, Rachel found the intricacies of the language to be headache-inducing, but loved the large illustrations the German teacher put up for the children to copy. She found she could copy them surprisingly well, and was hopelessly, irrevocably hooked.
Fortunately–or unfortunately, depending on your point of view–she had ample time to draw; born with cerebral palsy, she couldn’t really participate in the other kids’ activities; she felt more at home immersing herself in the comics section of the Stars and Stripes military newspaper. What began as a normal childish love of comics grew to an obsession, courtesy of a feature article on Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould. That same day, she created her own comic strip, The Figbys, a couple “inspired” to a considerable degree by Bill Hoest’s The Lockhorns. (OK, more like “stolen from.”)
Her obsession eventually switched to animation after returning to the States, and stumbling upon the animated insanity of Tex Avery one after-school afternoon. She’d get to see a lot of cartoons, thanks in part to the Army, who plunked the entire family down in the then-tiny little desert town of Sierra Vista, Arizona, just outside Fort Huachuca.
The town’s remote location, surrounded by mountains, made it necessary for its residents to have that newfangled wonder called “cable TV”–if they didn’t, their TV screens would be the one place in Arizona they’d see snow.
Faced with monthly cable fees or the less attractive prospect of staring at the tumbleweeds, Rachel’s parents luckily opted for the former, opening up a floodgate of afternoon cartoon shows from Tucson, Phoenix, even Los Angeles.
Rachel made it her business to learn everything she could about the steady stream of animated cartoons she saw–who drew them, who directed them and when, reading every available book on the subject at that time (which in the ’70s wasn’t much). Over the decades she would develop an extensive knowledge of animation history–Warner Bros. in particular, which she would eventually share online with a certain fellow toon fanatic named Kevin Wollenweber. The rest, as they say, is animation history (actually, they don’t say that, but it sounded great…)