Ivy Noelle Weir and Christina “Steenz” Stewart have gone from being badass librarians to published indie comic creators. Steenz’s art has been featured in the award-winning anthology Elements: Fire (Beyond Press) and is currently working as an associate editor at Lion Forge Comics. Ivy has written for American Libraries magazine and was a contributing editor to Women Who Write About Comics.
Together, the pair are the creative team behind the new Oni Press graphic novel Archival Quality, a story about a girl named Cel who gets a new job as an archivist at a local museum. Because she works nights, Cel also boards there, which is when she starts being haunted in her dreams by a ghost. I first had a quick interview with Ivy and Steenz on the SYFY WIRE live stage at Emerald City Comic Con this year, but we all agreed that a longer conversation was in order, and here it is.
What got you into comics?
Steenz - I was into a lot of '90s pop culture when I was young, and that included Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League. And from there is where my interest for comics came from. I started reading the graphic novels and trade paperbacks of the issues on my own through my local library, and then in 2008 is when I started reading single issues as they came out. And I’ve never looked back.
Ivy - I’m a writer from Philadelphia. I’ve been reading comics my entire life – my mom read comics and made her own, and she got me into them. I’ve had a weekly pull list since I was 7 or so. Some of the first comics I ever read were Love and Rockets, Uncanny X-Men (Claremont made me want to write my own comics!), and lots of manga like Oh! My Goddess and Ranma ½.
How long have you two been working together?
Steenz - Ivy and I met in the Valkyries. The Valkyries is a group of women and non-binary comic book retailers. We were both working at comic shops at the time and became closer as we worked as administrators for the group.
Ivy - We started making comics together in 2015!
When or how did you come up with Archival Quality?
Ivy - I first came up with the idea for Archival Quality as a prose novel when I was doing my undergrad studies in art history. I was focused on the ethics of museums, and working in a historical medical images archive as an intern (nothing like the one in our book, thankfully; it was very ethical and not even particularly creepy). I was getting burnt out, and so I started writing a ghost story about an archivist and a ghost stuck in her archive as a way to sort of distance myself from my work and try to see it from a different, more empathetic angle. A few years later, I came back to the story and decided to approach Steenz about reworking it as a graphic novel, and here we are!
I heard Archival Quality has been in the works for a while. What took so long?
Ivy - Making an original graphic novel takes a long time. Even after we went to Oni from the original webcomic, we worked in stages to finish the story and then the art – all told, it took about two years, which is actually pretty quick compared to some other OGNs!
Steenz - We had initially wanted it to be a webcomic. So we got a website, a backlog of pages, and we had a release date set in mind. But when Oni Press did their open submissions we decided to go for it, since we had nothing to lose. If we didn’t get picked, we would have ended up putting it out as a webcomic anyway. Once we sent it in, it was a waiting game of "will we, won’t we." Which pushed the release of the webcomic. And when we got picked we couldn’t say anything about it, which made it look like the release of the webcomic was never going to happen. But then we were allowed to announce, and then from there were contract signings, script writing, and more. Which takes a while to do!
Why did you decide to drop a graphic novel with Oni Press instead of floppy Issues?
Ivy - I really do think the story works way better this way. Also, as a first-time comic writer, I think that having to write the entire story end to end was really beneficial. I learned by immersion.
Steenz - It was Oni Press’ idea to do the graphic novel format. I believe it’s a better format for the story. It ended up strengthening the plot and characters having it be all in one.
The main character navigates her own mental health issues, which you rarely see in comics. Why did you choose to include that particular aspect of her character?
Ivy - I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for most of my life. These things look different on everyone – there’s no one way to deal with mental health issues, there’s myriad ways they show themselves and how people react. So it was important to me to show an in-depth, nuanced portrayal of struggling with your mental health, that felt very personal to Cel. It was also really important to me to end the book not with Cel being “cured” or “fixed” but just starting on her journey to get help and learn how to take care of her needs.
When you’re not working on your own work, what comics are you reading?
Ivy - I read a little bit of everything! I’m really enjoying Snotgirl, I’m a longtime fan of Saga and The Wicked + The Divine. Mister Miracle is excellent. I also read a lot of manga – I’ve really been loving The Girl From the Other Side series lately. It’s so gorgeous.
Steenz - Mister Miracle, Ms. Marvel, Giants, Descender, Saga, Detective Comics, Death Bed, Gideon Falls… those are some of the single issues I’m picking up. I also have been reading some graphic novels, like The Prince and the Dressmaker, all the Lion Forge books, and some oldies but goodies from Hoopla!
Archival Quality is out now through Oni Press.