Shira Spector weaves a dreamlike graphic memoir from ink, watercolor, and mixed media collage. In its nonlinear timeline the story details, among other things, Spector’s pubescent sexual awakening, her miscarriage and struggle with infertility, and her father’s decline in health and ultimate demise due to a brain tumor. The first death that shapes Spector is her Bubbie’s—a story that is interspersed with lyrics from the children’s clapping song “Down Down Baby.” One page features: “Gramma, Gramma, sick in bed. Called the doctor, and the doctor said…” when a parent interjects with the news: “Bubbie is dead.” The story jumps to a portrayal of a country/folk artist singing the book’s titular song, a “queer infertility anthem” about the magical Red Rock Baby Candy Mountain, where babies grow on bushes and are naturally well-behaved. This quick leap from trauma to comedy is par for the course in this big, beautiful, messy book.

It’s often difficult to glean the story from the art, since many pages feature poetic words splayed out across images rather than a clear explanation of what happens next. These pages are emotionally resonant and evocative; it’s possible Spector intended to give readers the opportunity to feel what it’s like to experience these things, rather than detail the minutiae of her own story. The early pages of the book are all in black-and-white pen drawings with hatched shading and occasional grey ink washes for additional shades. Spector adds pink as an initial spot color, mostly for lipstick, flowers, veins, and blood vessels, the latter two of which remind me of the external hearts and snipped arteries in Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas. Gradually, a second spot color is introduced – blue, such that the pink and blue juxtapose and seem to poke fun at the binary of genders assigned to babies before they are equipped to understand their own identities. Once the story turns to miscarriage and infertility, Spector brings in paper collage. Most of these images appear to be cut from vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks, with layers of ornately-decorated cake, hard-boiled eggs, and sliced ham forming Spector’s own miscarrying body. It’s visceral and truly unlike anything I’ve seen in a book; I could see many pages from this book featured as stand-alone pieces in a feminist art gallery.

When Spector finally has a kid, the book shifts to a realm of full color illustrations, where it remains as it delves into a history of her childhood sexual experiences (including a scene many people—myself included—can relate to, in which she discusses masturbating to Judy Blume’s seminal book Forever) and her gradual realization that she’s a lesbian. One page stands out among the psychedelic illustrations due to its computer font paragraphs and its title across the top: “On My First Fingering.” This page details a sexual assault that turns into an ad for Sexy Baby Time perfume (likely a reference to Love’s Baby Soft perfume), which girls should purchase because “Boys like the way babies smell. Brand new and vulnerable…So delicious they want to ruin them.” This is not an easy book to read.

I could go on about the fertility doctors who say Spector was having trouble getting pregnant because “it wasn’t the natural way,” or how she proposed marriage because she “secretly…hoped getting married would bring my stubbornly dead dad back,” but instead I will say this is a strange book filled with a mix of straightforward and stream of consciousness writing, as well as a blend of realistic drawing and abstract lumps. Like Lynda Barry’s work, it strikes that delicate balance between a childlike perspective and a very, very adult one. Also like Lynda Barry’s work, and like Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, most pages of this book feel like they were quickly sketched in a notebook hidden in a high school desk from the teacher’s prying eyes. It’s powerful and different and addresses plenty of important topics in a moving and thought-provoking way. I would recommend this book for most adult graphic memoir collections.


Red Rock Baby Candy
By Shira Spector
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN: 9781683964049

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Lesbian, Jewish
Character Representation: Lesbian, Jewish

  • Shira

    | They/Them Youth Services Librarian, Northville District Library

    Shira is from the DC area and is currently a Youth Services Librarian in Northville, Michigan. They have been involved in ALA in an Association for Library Service to Children committee, a Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table committee, and as an elected member of the Executive Board of the Rainbow Round Table. When Shira is not putting comics and queer books into the hands of excited children and teens, they can be found snuggling all the cats, playing drums in rock bands, or testing out recently-purchased board games. Shira also writes professional reviews for School Library Journal and AudioFile Magazine, plus not-so-professional reviews of Baby-Sitters Club books in exhaustive detail for their Goodreads profile (username Shiramario).

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