Ivy Noelle Weir (writing), Steenz (art and color), Joamette Gil (letters)
March 6, 2018
I have struggled with mental illness all my life. From depression to extreme anxiety, it is something that at times I feel like I should hide. The beauty of a book like Oni Press’ Archival Quality (AQ), written by Ivy Noelle Weir, with art and colors by Steenz, is that mental illness is put front and center in the story. Archival Quality does not glorify mental illness or make it demeaning in any way. Instead, the creators take a realistic approach to the tough subject and paints a heartfelt, mysterious, and beautiful tale.
Archival Quality is about a librarian, Celeste, who at the beginning of the graphic novel has to leave a job she loves because she has a mental health incident at work. Jobless and lost, Celeste finds an ad in the paper for a position at a strange Medical Museum as an Archivist. It is there where she is confronted by a spirit who is calling for help and her very own demons.
Reading this book, I fell in love with Weir’s writing. The way she subtly captured Celeste’s inner turmoil through the dialogue hit me so close to home. In the scene where Celeste is interviewing for the job with Abayomi Abiola, the senior curator of the museum, she struggles to convey what led her to the Logan Museum and the Archivist position:
Celeste: Sorry, I am sorry, I just … I’m tired.
Abayomi: Excuse me. You’re … Tired?
Celeste: No I mean. Yes. But … No. I don’t know you were asking me about my old job. I may as well tell you that I left it because of some. Um. Mental health issues. I’m not a psychopath or anything. I have-had-some trouble with depression. I guess” (17)
Her stammering to find an acceptable way to tell Aba, her possible future employer, about her mental health issues while still seeming well enough to do the job/worrying about what he will think of her and the overall stigma that comes with declaring to anyone your mental health status felt very realistic and relatable.
Weir works hard to make this story about the characters. The museum is defined by those who work within it: Celeste, Aba, and Holly. Their interactions, relationships, and the minutia in between is what makes Archival Quality so addicting. Whether we look back at Aba’s backstory and why he interacts with his co-workers the way he does. Or we focus on Holly, the senior librarian at the museum, being this rad girl who is the rock for both Celeste and Aba to find comfort and encouragement. Weir has crafted a sweet character-driven story that brings something new and exciting to the graphic novel medium.
However, this book’s writing is one half of a beautiful puzzle. Steenz is the artist behind Archival Quality. Steenz draws each character with their look and personality, Steenz’s distinct style works wonderfully with weird writing. Both weaving together to make a gorgeous story, like in the panels that transition from the warm color palette of Celeste’s waking world and to the cool tone dream world where she is given clues to the mysterious patient she must help.
These transitions were lovely in the subtlety of the change in the color palette, but Steenz also decluttered the frame within these transitions. In the waking World Celeste is surrounded by her apartment and all of the things that come with it or the museum and the boxes and books. However, within the mystery girl dream sequences, Steenz creates a minimalist space, you can feel the emptiness of this girls life and the stillness of everything around her. Her loneliness reflected on the outside.
I thought this was clever, though Celeste shows a kinship with this girl Steenz is showing that though Celeste might feel alone and that she has nothing in her life she, in fact, lives in a bright, colorful, and full world surrounded by people who care about her. Steenz’s art not only brings to life Weir’s words but it adds layers to the story that would otherwise be lost.
Archival Quality is a book everyone should read, writer Ivy Noelle Weir and artist/colorist Steenz create a beautiful story about a ghost, mental illness, and the importance of putting your health first. It is a book that diminishes the stigma around mental health and shines a light on friendship, love, and perseverance all while wrapped up in a wonderfully entertaining mystery.