Review: Archival Quality
Yes, Archival Quality is a ghost story about a young archivist named Cel, who gets haunted by a woman named Celine, who received a lobotomy when the Logan Museum (The setting for the graphic novel.) was a sanatorium in the early 20th century. But it’s also about relationships, mental health, coping with anxiety and depression, and messy human things in general. Ivy Noelle Weir does an excellent job fleshing out her small cast and giving them distinct ways of speaking, passions, life goals, and senses of humor while Steenz turns in some of the most adorable comic book art I have ever laid eyes on.
Steenz is also a gifted storyteller, who knows when to use a beat panel, facial expression, or sound effect to set up a joke or bring on the waterworks. A decent portion of the story happens in fragmented flashbacks to Celine’s life , and she uses a subdued sepia palette to keep the story grounded and not become some melodramatic Gothic potboiler. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of story.) There are plenty of ghosts, skulls, and unexplained occurrences, but Weir takes her time with the mystery side of Archival Quality and gives the characters fairly realistic reactions to the strange phenomena around them. Hooray for common sense moments like when Cel asks her boss, the curator Abayomi, why they are hiring a third full time staff member when barely anyone visits the Logan Museum.
A refreshing thing about Archival Quality is that the characters aren’t stereotypes or even archetypes. For example, Cel’s boyfriend Kyle could easily be written as an ableist villain, but Weir and Steenz give him layers of warmth and caring as he just wants Cel to feel better and find the help she needs. (Seriously, Steenz draws the best hugs.) However, that help might not involve a relationship with him, and Kyle does put hi. Weir and Steenz don’t fall into messy breakup cliches and organically show Cel and Kyle’s relationship break down over time with little things like them not moving in together or Cel not checking in with him via phone or text.
The Logan Museum does have terrible cellphone and Internet service, and Weir and Steenz seed in some ideas about our reliance on technology to connect with each other without turning Archival Quality into some kind of technoparable. The lack of contact with the outside world, the presence of mysterious women with dreams, and phenomena like missing teeth in artifacts turns Logan Museum into a kind of emotional laboratory where feelings like inadequacy, anxiety, and anger are intensified. But it’s also a cool space where Holly, Cel’s immediate superior, can show off her medical know how to solve a mystery, and stories of people with mental health issues can be restored and told and not locked away like their friends and family did to them when they were alive.
The character who I connected with the most and ended up almost stealing the entire comic book during his flashback sequence was Abayomi, a polite withdrawn man, who seems a little too young to be a curator. At the beginning of Archival Quality, he seems a little too terse and impersonal, and Steenz draws him with purposefully stiff body language to go with his professorial glasses and starched suits that leads to a big laugh when he reveals his love for a copyright friendly toaster strudel-type breakfast pastry. But, towards the middle of the comic, Weir and Steenz reveal that he has interacted with Celine and did research on her leading to the disappearance of the old curator, Dr. Weston.
Abayomi must straddle the world of ghosts and world of corporate bureaucracy (The very invisible and ominous “board”.) and put on a face of extreme competency to hide his feelings about Celine and connection to her. This is the connection he shares with Cel, and they bond over their quest and are kind of friends with great chemistry. The turning point is a panel drawn by Steenz of a close-up handshake that is equal parts empathy and a business partnership. She and Weir also face the myth that men and women can’t be platonic friends head on in a scene where Cel impactfully (and hilariously) defuses the rumor that their “research project” is Abayomi trying to be with her romantically. For the record, I do ship them, especially after an epilogue type sequence.
Archival Quality has all the elements from a great comic from Steenz’s art that has a distinct style and clearly conveys emotion, humor, and suspense to Ivy Noelle Weir taking time to let characters just be and not rushing their development for the sake of a creepy mystery. Plus it shows that it’s sometimes okay to be angry about things, sometimes it’s better to be alone than be in a relationship, and introduces a super rad, competent, and queer medical librarian in Holly, who is totally my professional role model as I work on my MLIS.
Story: Ivy Noelle Weir Art: Steenz
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy
Oni Press provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.