Archival Quality ARC Review: Don’t Judge this Book by its Cover

Archival Quality Written by Ivy Noelle Weir, Art by Steenz

Click here for the Synopsis!

Everything you need to know is in the archives. The Logan Museum is a mysterious old building practically covered in skulls, and also the new workplace of Celeste “Cel” Walden, a librarian who was let go from her previous job after a mental breakdown. But Cel is desperate to feel useful, and Abayomi Abiola, the Logan Museum’s chief curator, is desperate to hire a new archivist. Cel soon realizes the job is unlike any other she’s had. There’s an apartment onsite she’s required to live in, she only works in the middle of the night, and she definitely gets the impression that there’s more to the museum than Abayomi and her new boss, Holly Park are letting on. And then strange things start happening. Odd noises. Objects moving. Vivid, terrifying dreams of a young woman Cel’s never met, but feels strangely drawn to. A woman who for some reason needs Cel’s help. As Cel attempts to learn more about her, she begins losing time, misplacing things, passing out–there’s no denying the job is becoming dangerous. But Cel can’t let go of the woman in her dreams. Who is she? Why is she so fixated on Cel? And does Cel have the power to save herself?

Thanks to Oni Press for providing a copy of Archival Quality for review.

Archival Quality

When I first read about Archival Quality I was very interested in learning more about Celeste, and her spooky job at the spooky museum. The synopsis sounds like something I would really get into, and I wanted to know more about the world and the characters. When I saw the cover, I was even more excited! It immediately reads paranormal romance to me, which is one of the few veins of romance I actually get into. All of this culminated to give me expectations that were, unfortunately, a bit too high.

The first thing I started to notice as I was reading Archival Quality is that the art is a bit sparse. The focus is mostly on the character design, which can be ok but even that left me wanting at times. There are some panels where characters are missing the whites in their eyes inexplicably or details off their clothing. Layering that on top of the sparse background just made me feel that the overall design looked unfinished. That unfinished feeling carried over into the story.

Most of what you need to know about this 250+ page book you learn in the synopsis. Typically, I expect to get most of the info from a synopsis presented within in the first 50 or so pages of a novel, especially in a graphic novel. While a lot of the set up for Archival Quality does happen relatively quickly, the plot really slows down for the middle 150 pages. Almost nothing happens for quite a while, and the events that do occur are repetitive and don’t present new information about the characters or the museum.

There are a lot of things that I would have found unique and refreshing about this graphic novel if I had read it a few years ago. Now, I am inundated with books that push boundaries on diverse representation in gender, sexuality, mental health, and disability. While I appreciate that this story is trying to address some of those areas (and actually won a McDuffie award for diversity in comics) I found it somewhat lacklustre in that regard. Cel was her own worst enemy in a lot of ways as she battled with her depression. Her mental health struggles felt somewhat relatable to me, but the message the book tried to share about mental health, and mental illness felt muddled. I was never sure if Cel’s story was supposed to be an exemplar of how to live with depression or a cautionary tale.

In addition to the mental health rep, there are more non-white than white characters in this book, which was great. There was a sapphic relationship as well. While these are definitely pros, I didn’t feel like the narrative itself was greatly affected by the inclusion of those characters. This isn’t really a point for or against the book, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a great representation of PoC or LGBTQ+ characters in a comic as the race/orientation of these characters didn’t affect the narrative.

This moves me to my next point, the cover. As I mentioned earlier, I was expecting some kind of paranormal romance or even friendship after seeing the cover. The story didn’t go that way, and that’s ok, but it was a bit of a let down for me. I expected more scares, and they weren’t there. I also expected a bit more mystery, but the reader is never really given the pieces you need to solve anything. You just have to wait for all the answers to reveal themselves in the last 30 pages or so. Overall the pacing was uneven and I just kept wanted the story to go deeper than it did. It also felt unrealistic that Cel would not demand more answers from her overly cryptic co-workers.

Even though this book wasn’t for me, I think it could be a good read for anyone who is looking to read their first LGBTQ+ graphic novel, or who wants to start an open discussion with someone about an ongoing struggle with depression. I can see how this would be a good conversation starter, but I would caution against taking advice directly from Cel on how to handle mental illness. She pushes away people who love her in the book and puts herself in dangerous situations. If you have depression, this book could contain some triggering moments.

If you’ve read Archival Quality and want to talk more about it, hit me up on twitter @samanthamaybe!

Archival Quality will be on shelves on March 6th.

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