The 5th annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics was awarded to Archival Quality, a 2018 graphic novel published by Oni Press, written by Ivy Noelle Weir, and illustrated by St. Louis-based artist Christina “Steenz” Stewart. The award was announced on Friday, February 15th, at the Long Beach Comic Expo in Long Beach, Ca.
Steenz has been a fixture of the St. Louis comics community for the past decade, starting as a clerk and later manager of Star Clipper while the store was still in its University City location. While there, her first comics work saw publication in the anthologies published by St. Louis-based comics collective Ink and Drink Comics, starting in 2012 and continuing for several years. (Full disclosure: I am an editor for Ink and Drink, so I have edited Steenz’s work and collaborated with her on a one-page comic that saw print in the nonfiction anthology Sober. It turned out awesome.) Steenz soon moved from Star Clipper to the St. Louis Public Library where she organized, among other events, their educational Comics University series and the library’s annual Central Library Comic Con.
As a member of the Valkyries—a social media network of female frontline comic industry workers such as comic book store clerks and librarians—Steenz met writer Ivy Noelle Weir. Weir had a novel in the works about a girl who worked in a haunted museum while she struggles with mental health issues. Upon meeting Steenz, the duo clicked and the story, dubbed Archival Quality, quickly built up steam as the pair developed it as a webcomic to debut in 2015. The debut was delayed, and for good reason: the story was picked up as a graphic novel by Oni Press, publishers of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. It took two long years to craft the 265-page graphic novel, which finally saw publication in March of 2018.
Archival Quality is the story of Celeste “Cel” Walden, a young librarian struggling with anxiety and depression whose most recent breakdown lost her her previous job and put serious strain on her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle. She stumbles upon what seems like the perfect job, as an archivist in a medical museum and former sanatorium, where she lives in an apartment in the museum and works cataloguing their collection on the night shift. The off-hours offer peace, quiet, and a welcome distance from other people, but soon strange things start happening, starting with fairly innocuous things like objects moving of their own accord but eventually building to a series of haunting visions of a young woman crying out for help. What is Cel to do?
For a first long-form work, Archival Quality is an assured, riveting work, not least because of Steenz’s skill with facial expressions, body language, and layouts that manage the reader’s pace and emotional payoff, all captured in an eye-pleasing cartoony style. The book boasts a diverse cast of characters in an academic setting, something not seen nearly often enough in fiction, and its portrait of mental illness (something Weir herself admits to struggling with) is handled with tenderness and understanding.
Since the start of work on Archival Quality, Steenz has joined the staff of St. Louis-based comics publisher Lion Forge, first as social media manager, and now as an associate editor, where she edits, among other titles, the hit RPG-inspired comic Rolled & Told. Her next long-form work as an artist has yet to be announced, but given the success of her first graphic novel, we can only hope it’s coming soon. | Jason Green
For more artwork and to catch news on her future projects, follow Art of Steenz on Facebook.