Ivy Noelle Weir (writer), Steenz (artist)
Archival Quality is a story with surprising depth and nuance. The premise of the story, that of a twenty-something who begins working at a haunted library, was enough to get me to read it. In addition to the premise, I wanted to read the story as part of my ongoing quest to support queer women creators in comics. But there’s so much more going on. Yes, it’s a story about ghosts. Yes, it’s a story about librarians. It’s also a story about trauma, relationships, mental health struggles, and learning how to help yourself through helping others. It’s a story that has queer characters where their queerness is not the sole point of their existence. It’s a story that will leave you both narratively satisfied and emotionally unsettled in the best way.
If you cannot be trusted not to binge-read something, heed my warning: in preparation for this interview I made the mistake of looking at the first few pages during lunch at work. It was only having to go teach a workshop that made me stop. And then when I came back to my desk, I continued reading, in between completing my office tasks. And then I went home where I finished the story curled up on my couch with dinner, and when I was done I let out one of those satisfied sighs that happen when the read has been oh-so-good. Even after I’d finished, questions lingered, which is why I’m so happy to have had a chance to speak with the creators, Ivy Noelle Weir and Steez, and get some answers.
Thank you both for agreeing to answer my questions! I have a lifelong love of libraries, and I worked at a library during my gap year between undergraduate and grad school, considered getting my MLIS, and have a lot of friends who are current or former librarians, so you pretty much had me hooked with just the premise, and my questions are very library-oriented.
First off, is there a story or specific meaning behind the title Archival Quality? For me, I’ve worked with paper and pens that claim to be “archival quality,” but I haven’t seen it in other contexts.
Ivy Noelle Weir: It is a reference to paper, actually! I went to school for photography and dealt a lot with archival papers, and when I started working in a photo archive, I became aware of how many images were eventually going to be totally lost to the ages because they couldn’t be preserved long term. It was a sad thought, to me, things being forgotten because they would eventually break down. It sort of ties in with the theme of our book: things forgotten.
The “library” in this story is the Logan Museum, a medical oddities museum, which has a curator, a librarian, and an archivist, which I found to be an interesting setting choice. I think most people believe that librarians only work in libraries, or that libraries are only public buildings or found in schools. Can you talk more about this setting and why it’s the scene for your story?
INW: Most museums have a library, or an archive, and generally it’s not open to the public, or is by appointment. I think those are interesting spaces for exactly the reasons you list here: our perception of the library is public (or at least, public to us, in the context of our schools). The closed or private library has something very mystical and secretive about it.
I read an interview that you both did with The Nerdist, and Ivy, you mention wanting to present “the library as haunted house,” and how what is actually being archived are the ghosts. I wondered if you could expand on that a little bit more on this sinister aspect to libraries and museums?
INW: I’ve long been fascinated by the limits of the archive. It started in art school, where I had this amazing woman for my art history survey professor. We were in the European galleries at the Met once, and she leaned over to me and said, “you know, 75% of the art in this gallery is junk. People only think it’s art because it’s hung in the Met.” And that just really stuck with me—who decides what gets that wall space, and with it, the automatic endorsement that it is Art Worth Seeing? I started doing a lot of writing on the subject, and it became the entire focus of my undergraduate thesis. The archive is a space that is inherently ruled by a selecting power, and the history that gets preserved is the narrative created by those selections. The ghosts, to me, are what slips through the cracks, the things that cannot be archived, or are forgotten. The ghosts are the once-living people who authored those works, or were the subject of them. I think there’s something very haunting about standing in the stacks of a library and realizing that every single book around you was authored by a person, who lived and died and left this object.
Steenz, I’m a big fan of Steven Universe, which has a cartoonish animation style but doesn’t hesitate from addressing issues like family dynamics and identity, and when I was reading this comic, I had a similar feeling, because your style is more cartoonish, but Archival Quality has some really intense topics like mental health and adulthood and growing out of romantic relationships.
I’m not sure if I have a question so much as I wanted to know your feelings about your style of art and using it to tell serious stories?
Christina “Steenz” Stewart: I think the most basic answer is that I just like it. LOL. I also love cartoons that touch on heavy subjects. It’s a way to get younger audiences to start thinking about them. Mental health, fear, and unease is something that affects all of us regardless of age. So reeling in the kids with a more appealing art style is something I’m a supporter of.
You’ve both talked in interviews about how important it is to have a main cast with people from underrepresented communities in media. And throughout the comic, Celeste is dealing with mental health, which has a stigma everywhere, but sometimes even moreso in those communities. Celeste is dealing with an intense fear about mental illness and what treatment looks like and what it means to get help. She also often uses “crazy” as a pejorative to talk about herself and her mental state. Again I don’t really have much of a question, but I’d love to give you the opportunity to share anything either of you might have to say on this topic in terms of representation and struggles with mental health in those communities.
INW: I can only speak about my personal experiences with mental health, as a white cis woman. But a lot of Cel’s fear of treatment came directly from how I felt when I was younger—that I was going to be permanently altered in some way if I got treatment for my depression and anxiety, and that it was better to live with the pain than somehow be “changed” by meds or therapy. I was constantly gaslighting myself and telling myself that there was nothing wrong with me, but at the same time, I used a lot of that same language, hating myself for being “crazy.” It’s a struggle to make the choice to get help. It was very important to me to show Cel making that choice for herself and learning that she has support in her new friends, and can learn tools to manage things—not to be shown as “cured” at the end of the book, but finding the strength within herself to manage.
CS: I think it’s really important for readers to not only see themselves, but see others represented. It normalizes the idea that there are more than white people having adventures. The more you see characters that come from different backgrounds the easier it is for you to see them as people with layered personalities rather than as stereotypes. Which is why I wanted to make sure that our heroes Cel, Aba, and Holly were all people of color.
You don’t really go into the incident that led to Celeste’s breakdown. Is that deliberate, and why did you make that choice?
INW: It was deliberate. I’ve lived with anxiety for most of my life, at times with debilitating panic attacks, that sometimes meant I needed to just go home and fall asleep for the rest of the day. Before I started seeking treatment for them in my mid-twenties, these attacks were never triggered by some giant, world-shattering upset; they came around because I suddenly felt scared to get in the car. Or because I burnt dinner. They could be triggered by anything. I wanted us to meet Cel after living with this becomes untenable, but she must go on living. It’s a difficult space to be in.
Thank you again for talking with me about this project! Where can people find you on social media and IRL? Are you going to be at any upcoming conferences or conventions? And do either of you have any upcoming projects with Oni or elsewhere you’d like to talk about?
INW: I’m at ivynoelleweir.com and on pretty much every platform @ivynoelle. Since the book releases in March, we’ll both be at ECCC doing lots of fun stuff! We’ll also be at C2E2. I don’t have anything in the works at the moment—this book has been my baby for the past three years. I’m excited to see what’s next.
CS: You can follow me at @oheysteenz on Twitter and like my Facebook page Art of Steenz. My next cons are going to be ECCC, WonderCon, and C2E2! Ivy and I will be doing a panel at School Library Journal’s Virtual Library Con on December 6 on creating library mini cons.
Archival Quality will be released by Oni Press on March 6th and is available for pre-order on Amazon.