Archivist Spotlight: The Magnus Archives Staff
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
[The Magnus Archives is distributed by Rusty Quill. It's written and performed by Jonathan Sims (with guest voice actors) and directed by Alexander J. Newall]
Happiest of New Years to you and yours! May it be less awful than the one before!
Alright, niceties out of the way, let's talk about the lack of representation in media where archivists are concerned. When I write articles for this website, I'm working from a master list of movies, television, comic books, fiction, and other forms of media I've either cobbled together from my own memory and research, or from suggestions given to me by friends and fellow archivists. What has become very, very, VERY clear as I write about archives and archivists in pop culture is how white, heterosexual, and cisgender male the landscape appears.
Regarding race, yeah the archival community is overwhelmingly white. Most survey data, specifically for the United States, shows over 50% of those who identify their career as an archivist are white. That doesn't mean there aren't Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islander archivists doing the work. If anything, I've seen more people of color leaving the profession because the lens of whiteness lords over a lot of the literature and discourse. But there are just as many archivists of color pushing back and calling out leadership within the Society of American Archivists (SAA) for those practices. The onus shouldn't be on archivists of color to do that, by the way, but it's there nonetheless.
In terms of gender identity, however, there are more women, or those who identify as female, within the profession then there are men, or those who identify as male. This has been a steady rise for decades, but the media I've observed or written about, so far, skews male 80% of the time. And it was only in a recent survey from SAA about women's salaries within the archival profession that gender identity was included as part of the demographics. There's definitely a dearth of representation regarding gay, lesbian, nonbinary, asexual, transgender, and queer archivists in media, but I'm seeing more of that on rise as creators of color and those on the gender spectrum create and craft the worlds and characters where people like them exist.
Which leads us right into the Magnus Archives fandom. I love the Magnus Archives podcast, which is surprising because I don't naturally gravitate to horror. Fortunately Jonny Sims, the writer and voice of the Archivist, is a damn good storyteller creating a world of eldritch monsters and disaster characters that suck you in before you even realize you've been listening to over 100 episodes of nightmare fuel. With the final season premiering April 2nd, I thought it was important to acknowledge the brilliant artwork of the fan community who've managed to create an archival staff that represents the kind of diversity I want to see not just in the depiction of archivists, but in media as a whole.
By it's very nature of being an audio drama, the Magnus Archives has to rely on a substantial amount of descriptive language in order to successfully convey the horrors within the story. And while Sims doesn't hold back on the spine-tingling and cringe-worthy aspects of world-building, he's less specific when it comes to the characters operating in his Sturm und Drang reality. Unless it's important to the plot, which it only was in the case of Sasha and Not-Sasha, there's very little description given towards what any of the lead characters look like. And while some might find that frustrating due to the audio format, it's actually one of the more cleverly deliberate choices made by Sims. The lack of canon description leaves the characters entirely open to interpretation and the artists have run with it like kids in a candy store.
The only thing Sims has been relatively explicit about has been the sexuality of his characters when it's relevant either to character development or a story beat. It's safe to say that the staff of the Magnus Archives is the queerest I've ever come across in media thus far! These aren't major revelations within the narrative, obviously, but when you have a confirmed asexual-biromantic lead character in a media landscape that absolutely lacks asexual-biromantic characters it still feels like a major win! The only relationship Sims refuses to give a name to is the one between former police constables Daisy Tonner and Basira Hussain. In the Season 4 Q&A, he made it clear that, as far as the narrative within the show was concerned, theirs would exist in ambiguity based on the type of story he was trying to convey through them. It not a negation of anyone's headcanon, but it's probably the most hardline stance taken on a shipped couple.
It's fascinating, though, what artists pick up on or latch on to when listening to the podcast. A simple line from archival assistant Martin Blackwood describing himself as "not exactly the smallest guy in the world" led to a number of artists depicting him as either fat, bulky, or generously plump. There was a twitter exchange between Sims and a cosplayer trying to lock down whether or not Martin was six feet tall based on the description of a worm-creature either jumping that distance from across the room or jumping that distance in order to reach Martin's full height. The vague language has resulted in Martin often depicted as taller than, if not most of the staff, then at least the Archivist. Sims was delightfully cagey about it, but he and the rest of the crew at Rusty Quill have always been insistent that all fan interpretations are valid. It's an entire cast and production staff in favor of death of the author.
The depiction of race in the fandom, however, is where I got the idea for this article. Specifically, how Jon the Archivist was, and continues to be, drawn. It only takes a quick Google search to find out that Jonny Sims, the real life person, is a white man, but a significant amount of the fanart for the Archivist portrays him as brown. I couldn't tell you when that particular portrayal started. It was likely someone thought to make him brown and other artists picked up on it and did the same. Or, as is always the case with audio, the lack of description allowed people of color to see themselves reflected in the Archivist and drew him as such.
I bring this up because I remember when Welcome to Night Vale became ridiculously popular and how the fanart of the lead character Cecil Palmer became more reflective of the actor voicing him, Cecil Baldwin. Part of that may have been Night Vale's live show tours. Fans became more familiar with Baldwin, got to watch him perform, and decided he and his Night Vale counterpart were one and the same. I don't see that in the Magnus Archives fandom. Of all the pieces in the galleries depicting the Archivist, none of them give you the impression of the man behind the voice and I couldn't be happier about that.
The same goes for the supporting cast of characters. Tim Stoker has, to my knowledge, absolutely no description applied to him, which gives the artists so much leeway as to his race, body type, and overall presence. Basira Hussain is purely a name and a vocal personality, but a large portion of the artwork interprets her wearing a hijab when it's never been stated that it's part of her wardrobe. The art rarely matches the actor, but it matches the voice and how the artist interprets it. And it is absolutely the most beautiful expression of fandom.
But what's the point of talking about art if you've got nothing to show for it, right? Below you'll find a gallery of images for members of the archival staff. I tried to keep things as spoiler free as possible, but that's hard to do with some of the pairings. So here's a blanket SPOILER WARNING for all of The Magnus Archives.
This is also only scratching the surface of the amount of art online. If you have a few free hours, go search on Twitter or Instagram under #MagnusPod, #themagnusarchives, or #magnusarchives and you will find a treasure trove of art. Every piece featured in this article is posted with permission by the artists. If you are an artist within the Magnus Archives fandom and you're not featured in this article, it isn't a slight on you or your art. I was working within a short time frame and everyone I got in contact with had a quick means of communication and responded within a day or two of my request. Please know that all of your art is beautiful and valid!
Also, these are not the only characters in the Magnus Archives. I limited myself to the main staff for obvious reasons, but there are plenty of monsters and secondary characters worth looking up!
Also-also, apologies for the make-up of the final gallery. None of the website layouts could quite capture the formatting of certain pieces, so I went with what could at least show the work without compromising the piece too much.
Content Warnings: Blood, Swearing, Sexual Language, Scars, Extended Sounds of Brutal Pipe Murder
(voiced by Frank Voss)
Alice "Daisy" Tonner
(voiced by Faye Roberts)
Basira and Daisy
Artwork by: @diamancris, @ykkalpha, @serhawke, @VeraRaeArt, @VISITFROMHR, @domirine, @thepensw0rd, @ehlihr, @Rabdoidal, @pepohki, @panicbone_, @BeeElderly, @dismurrit, @charmophron, @CocoaBats, @DarcLaFarse/tumblr, @Introverted_ppl, @xmencryptid, @citriccenobite_/tumblr
(voiced by Ben Meredith)
Artwork by: @VISITFROMHR, @ttjesje, @panicbone_, @VeraRaeArt, @skogs_dotter/tumblr, @SailorHannibal, @Oak2Rainy, @notjustbecca, @kerebrin, @gummybyrd, @HalfDryad, @domirine, @Megzilla87, @2impostors, @chickpeamcb, @ElliotHTArt, @CaryAth/tumblr, @CloudKBD, @samwisegamzee, @aeskoro
(voiced by Sue Sims)
(voiced by Lydia Nicholas)
Melanie and Georgie Barker
(Georgie voiced by Sasha Sienna)
Timothy "Tim" Stoker
(voiced by Mike LeBeau)
Artwork by: @CaryAth/tumblr, @fioblah, @waldmotel/tumblr, @crafty0geeks, @saj_who/tumblr, @LhoBrockhoff, @thelilnan_art, @DarcLaFarse/tumblr, @panicbone_, @SailorHannibal, @notjustbecca, @chickpeamcb, @kindlestuck/tumblr, @charmophron, @samwisegamzee, buzzhmm
(voiced by Lottie Broomhall)
(voiced by Alexander J. Newall)
Artwork by: @sugardrift, @somethingherbal, @rrhaes, @kingcael/tumblr/Instagram, @Inconceivable_/tumblr, @karinh_art, @heidzdraws, @waldmotel/tumblr, @vermilion_shade/tumblr, @VeraRaeArt, @ttjesje, @thepensw0rd, @thelilnan_art, @serhawke, @saj_who/tumblr, @Megzilla87, @SailorHannibal, @kindlestuck/tumblr, @notjustbecca, @arcanagoat, @gummybyrd, @fioblah, @clankclunk/tumblr/Instagram, @ClaryCorts, @charlie_doods, @gucciegoth, @CaryAth/tumblr, @altoidoibs, @2impostors, @a_line_crosser, @samwisegamzee, @adriabun, @GalacticJonah, @eggwish, @LhoBrockhoff, @ElliotHTArt, @DarcLaFarse/tumblr
Jonathan "Jon" Sims, The Archivist
(voiced by Jonathan Sims)
Artwork by: @Zerinity, @_chaoticawesome, @waldmotel/tumblr, @VISITFROMHR, @vermilion_shade/tumblr, @valkwise, @ttjesje, @thepensw0rd, @thelilnan_art, @TheArtingAce, @sugardrift, @serhawke, @skogs_dotter/tumblr, @saj_who/tumblr, @saphizzle, @SailorHannibal, @pepohki, @rrhaes, @panicbone_, @Oak2Rainy, @notjustbecca, @nomoshobia, @koyikomad/tumblr, @klimtsonian/tumblr/Instagram, @kingcael/tumblr/Instagram, @kindlestuck/tumblr, @kelelelelelele, @karinh_art, @jaderavenarts/Instagram, @isvbellx, @heidzdraws, @HalfDryad, @ClaryCorts, @fioblah, @formbextron, @ehlihr, @drborishabit, buzzhmm, @dismurrit, @domirine, @Megzilla87, @CocoaBats, @arcanagoat, @CloudKBD, @a_line_crosser, @crafty0geeks, @2impostors, @oatmealspet, @altoidoibs, @CaryAth/tumblr, @LhoBrockhoff, @citriccenobite_/tumblr, @adriabun, @aeskoro, @samwisegamzee, @BlackSalander/ArtStation, @eggwish, @gucciegoth, @ElliotHTArt
Jon and Martin
Artwork by: @jaderavenarts/Instagram, @Rabdoidal, @Oak2Rainy, @ykkalpha, @somethingherbal, @charmophron, @ildi_art, @kingcael/tumblr/Instagram, @pepohki, @saj_who/tumblr, @planetsandmagic, @TheArtingAce, @thelastbashtion, @diamancris, @waldmotel/tumblr, @klimtsonian/tumblr/Instagram, @xoxobouma, @Introverted_ppl, @GalacticJonah, @CaryAth/tumblr, buzzhmm, @ElliotHTArt, @VISITFROMHR
Artwork by: @domirine, @isvbellx, @BeeElderly, @a_line_crosser, @caitmayart/Website, @charmophron, @chickpeamcb, @jaderavenarts/Instagram, @clankclunk/tumblr/Instagram, @dismurrit, @formbextron, @drborishabit, @ehlihr, @ildi_art, @kerebrin, @koyikomad/tumblr, Beck Houser, @krakatoaeyes, @nomoshobia, @maxatttack, @notjustbecca, @planetsandmagic, @sophietalia, @TheArtingAce, @thelastbashtion, @xoxobouma, @twynksdisease, @ykkalpha, @_Surikane, @Megzilla87, @adriabun, @LhoBrockhoff, @oatmealspet