This impressive debut graphic novel uses a ghost story to explore questions of medical ethics and mental health. I found myself eager to follow along with Celeste as she struggles to understand the situation she’s in in Archival Quality, written by Ivy Noelle Weir and illustrated by Steenz.
Celeste’s depression and anxiety kept her from graduating college and just lost her a job she really liked. Her only option seems to be an archivist job at a creepy local museum no one knows much about.
The building was previously a sanatorium, and there are skulls and other medical artifacts tucked away around every other corner. Celeste is told she’ll be working overnight, scanning old photos of patients, and an apartment upstairs is provided for her. The restrained Aba is the curator, while the encouraging Holly is her new boss. (Refreshingly, all are people of color.)
Then the odd noises, mysterious occurrences, and creepy dreams start. Celeste wants to find out more, but she keeps being told to stay away from parts of the museum. Plus, the building prevents internet from working, cutting her off from her long-term boyfriend. She struggles to stand up for herself, and he clearly cares for her but they have different ideas of what that means. Trying to find out more about her ghost gives her purpose and determination.
I found the story compelling, excellent at setting mood and doling out just enough information to keep the reader involved. It’s not a fast read, but one that deserves attention to sink into the mood. Afterwards, when I stopped to think about it, there are some basic questions about inciting motivations that I would quibble with, but while in the story, I was caught up in the atmosphere, even if the ending was a bit abrupt.
Steenz’s characters are adorably chunky, solid and with real presence, and thanks to Weir, they have distinct voices (and thanks to Steenz, different senses of fashion, many of which outfits are terrific).
We don’t find out everything about Celeste’s history and problems, but instead of feeling dissatisfied, I felt proud, as though it was her choice as to what to reveal. I was invested in wanting a happier future for her. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)