Heroic Efforts at the Indiana Historical Society 

It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s … I.M. HERO!


I.M. Hero, an enthusiastic volunteer, begins his first day at the museum and realizes that it is under attack by Deteriora and her evil agents. Will the hero save the museum? How will he defeat the Agents of Destruction? Who will help him? Find the answers to these and other questions in Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction.




Introduction to Deteriora, Emperor Apathy and Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 1. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society." width="466" height="350" /> Introduction to Deteriora, Emperor Apathy and "The Primary Source" from Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 1. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Collections professionals everywhere are I.M. Hero and the evil villains in our life are (cue dramatic sound effects) THE AGENTS OF DESTRUCTION! The Obfuscator (distraction), Ultra-Violet (light), Mass O’ Frass (pests), and The Dust Bunny (air pollutants) are all evil partners of Deteriora, Ruler of the Agents of Destruction, in her quest to harm The Primary Source (museum objects). I.M. Hero gets some help from Miss Handler and Miss Appropriate in defeating these villains, but it’s a constant struggle.




Villain Ultra-Violet from Chapter 3 of <i>Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction</i>. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. Villain Mass-O-Frass from Chapter 4 from <i>Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction</i>. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.Villains Ultra-Violet from Chapter 3 (top) and Mass-O-Frass from Chapter 4 (bottom) of Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction is a living graphic novel (a comic with photographs) created by the staff of the Indiana Historical Society. The project began when Tamara Hemmerlein, Assistant Director of Local History Services at the IHS, was travelling with the Local History Services department. One evening someone mentioned collections and the agents of destruction and Hemmerlein commented, “that sounds like a comic book!” Then the laughs and the ideas started flowing. 


From that initial spark, the project came to fruition as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Services Connecting to Collections grant, which required an online training component. While avenues like a video or game were discussed among the staff, it was the comic book and graphic novel concept that resonated with everyone. Hemmerlein joined forces with friend Craig Martin, Director of the Purdue University Galleries, who along with Steven Koehler, Director of the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to do a series of Living Graphic Novel projects. Together the three organizations created Deteriora. 


The process of bringing Deteriora to life was incredibly creative, and brainstorming often dissolved into hysterical laughter. Almost every department of the museum, from director to volunteers, were involved as proofreaders, editors or sounding boards and even as characters in the novel. Hemmerlein notes, “It was great to be able to work with colleagues and see them in a very different way…..We don’t really walk around in top hats or googly-eye headbands [as in the video]. All of us got to indulge our senses of whimsy and the theatrical. It felt very much like a team-building moment for us.” It was especially eye-opening when the museum staff got to work with Craig and Steve, who are both artists and work outside the history field. “They helped us adapt the traditional, scholarly writing style to graphic novel text,” explains Hemmerlein. “Craig and Steve also kept us from becoming too ‘museum-y’ so that the finished product would be more approachable for readers outside the museum community.”




Promotional poster for <i>Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction</i>. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. Promotional poster for Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Within the museum community, Deterioria has already proved to be a hit. The week it launched, Hemmerlein was at an IMLS meeting; when she walked into the room, someone shouted, “Hey, Deteriora!” The series has had thousands of views since launching in September 2013. Considering the success of the project, Hemmerlein comments,“People have said that it’s a fun way to talk about collections stewardship, that it’s attention grabbing, that it’s a great way to make collections care accessible.” Hemmerlein even has dreams of continuing the series with Deterioria’s twin brother, Destruction – surely an equally fearsome foe.


Prior to her current position, Hemmerlein was the Hoosier Heritage Alliance coordinator at IHS and worked on the Connecting to Collections project. She notes, “I worked with local history organizations and libraries with their collections almost every day. I have seen some really amazing objects in Indiana’s collections and have talked to hundreds of people who are dedicated to preserving them and the history they represent. They are the museum heroes. Their work is invaluable and I’m proud to work with that community.”


And perhaps that is the point of Deterioria and the Agents of Destruction. It is both a teaching tool and a spotlight on the facets of collections care that go underappreciated and under-acknowledged. What if I were to tell you that all collections professionals are their own I.M. Hero, fighting the Agents of Destructions in facilities and conservation labs the world over? What would you do? 


“Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction” was supported in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project was developed in partnership with the Civic Theater of Greater Lafayette (Indiana) and the Purdue University Galleries which received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts for a series of Living Graphic Novel projects.




The cast of characters from Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 8. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. The cast of characters from Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 8. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The cast of characters from Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 8. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. The cast of characters from Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction from Chapter 8. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.