After a breakdown, Celeste “Cel” Walden loses her job at the public library. Desperate for a new job, she applies for and gets an archivist assistant position at the Logan Museum and Library, a medical museum and archive. Cel’s new workplace is full of mysteries with its aloof head curator and a secretive board. Most strange of all is the ghost of a young woman who starts appearing in Cel’s dreams and overturning objects while Cel is nearby. As she develops a strong sympathy with the ghost, Cel works to uncover the museum’s secrets so that she can save this mysterious individual and herself.

At first glance, Archival Quality has all the components of a horror story, but is in fact a spooky mystery that explores the protagonist’s relationship with mental illness. The mystery itself is slow to unravel; in addition to the characters’ realistic struggles to find information in the archives, author Ivy Noelle Weir reveals the ghost’s backstory through dreams and flashbacks and mixes it with interactions that highlight Cel’s own struggle with mental illness. Cel’s determination drives a lot of the action, yet the interactions between Cel and her fellow cast members are what carry the story. The main cast members, which include a delightful librarian named Holly and the aloof head curator Abayomi, are well-rounded, and the developing friendship that ultimately helps both Cel and the ghost develops naturally. While the climax reveals an improbable secret (that nevertheless fits well with the story’s themes), the story is overall sweet and thoughtful.

One particular strength of Archival Quality is that it portrays mental illness in a sensitive way. It both addresses the differences in treatment past and present as well as explores mental illnesses’ impact on the individual and those around them. A good example of this is the ways Cel responds to different kinds of support from her boyfriend and her friends, yet nobody’s behavior is condemned in the story. As the secrets of the museum come to light, the story briefly touches on the concept of personal limits and understanding them. The lesson of understanding those limits and working together to achieve goals is clearly and touchingly conveyed.

Steenz’s bright and colorful artwork contributes to the narrative’s charm and her drawings portray the characters’ personalities through expressive gestures, both of which contribute to the story’s charm and humor. It is evident that Steenz put a lot of thought into the character designs and fabulous outfits. Occasionally, the illustrations become fragmented at odd times, and it can be hard to read text outside of the panel or speech bubbles because of their placement on dark colors or the lettering style. These issues rarely occur, and overall the work reads smoothly.

Archival Quality is a sensitive exploration of mental illness that will interest individuals looking for a fun and spooky mystery. An additional strength is the naturally incorporated diverse cast: Abayomi and Holly are black, and Holly is in a lesbian relationship. There is little goresave for Cel’s plot-significant nosebleedsand most of the horrific medical procedures are implied or discussed. With its focus on strong characterization and expressive art, Archival Quality will appeal to fans of creators such as Faith Erin Hicks. Given the story’s content and the fact that at least one character speaks academically, Archival Quality would be best for teens and adults.

Archival Quality
by Ivy Noelle Weir
Art by Steenz
ISBN: 9781620104705
Oni Press, 2018

  • Megan

    | She/Her

    Features Writer

    Megan earned her MLIS from Simmons College and is currently the evening librarian at Bay State College in Massachusetts. She satisfies her voracious appetite for graphic novels and manga through regular visits to her local public libraries and puts her love of graphic novels to good use by adding to Bay State’s collection whenever possible. Megan maintains a personal blog, Ferret with a Strobe Light, where she discusses awesome books she’s read lately. When not engaged in reading or library work, she likes running, drinking tea, and working on her own stories and art.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!