Shira Spector, Photo credit Zoë Gemelli

On the second episode of VanCAF’s 2021 podcast Andrea Warner talks to artist Shira Spector about her new book Red Rock Baby Candy from Fantagraphics! 

Participants
Shira Spector
Andrea Warner
Available now! LISTEN HERE
Also available on Spotify!

Shira Spector is a Jewish Canadian lesbian cartoonist whose work has been widely anthologized and exhibited in the Toronto area, where she resides. She has a BFA in Fibres (with Distinction) from Concordia University in Montreal. Red Rock Baby Candy is her debut graphic novel.

>> ANDREA:  So I’m really– I don’t know if the word, like, your book has hit me on so many levels and in so many different ways, and I think it’s beautiful and devastating and joyful, and just… I think of it as very disruptive of so many different things, like traditional comic form and memoir, and the idea of grief and time as linear things.

And silence around infertility, pregnancy loss within the queer community. And I kind of want to talk about all those things if that’s okay.

>> SHIRA: Yes, I love that the first thing you think of is disruption, ’cause that’s very true.

>> ANDREA: Well, yeah, I mean, the moment I like, looked at the first page, I was just like, “I do not know what I’m in for,” and I love– I love going into a book like that.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah, and I think the experiences I was talking about really mirror that feeling, just going through so many intersections of grief and joy and plenty, and also scarcity, it felt like that. Like, it felt like I didn’t know what was going to happen next either, so…

That kind of beautiful disorientation that, like…

>> ANDREA: Absolutely.

>> SHIRA: That, like, living really feels like. I’ve been thinking a lot about fragments, and about how attracted I am to the idea of fragmentation, and how even just being a parent makes you experience life in this very different way. Like, the idea of living without interruptions seems kind of foreign to me. And so I think that’s part of why the book is constructed the way it is.

>> ANDREA: That makes so much sense, and I mean, I also think that’s a much more… I think it’s so much better to sort of, like, embrace the chaos then resist it, you know?

Like…

(LAUGHS)

>> SHIRA: Absolutely.

>> ANDREA: Like, what do we get from trying to conform to any kind of linear, like… it just doesn’t make sense to me.

>> SHIRA: Agreed. And I think it makes intrinsic sense to me as well to sort of, I mean… I come from a quilting background, and that was really how I constructed the book was, you know, I wasn’t really sure that I could do a long-form story telling thing. I hoped I could, but I did know how to make a quilt, and I did know about juxtaposition, and I did know about making patches that you put next to other patches. And that’s how I worked the whole thing.

And I think, yeah, there is a real value to linear story telling. I mean, there are so many kinds of ways to tell a story, and especially in places like graphic mem– not graphic memoir, graphic medicine. I did notice that there was a lot of really linear story telling.

Very like, “This is the story of what happened, and then this happened, and that happened, in this chronological order.”

And that has a lot of value to me, going through medicalized situations, but I was really interested in, like, what about if you– like, what if you mess things up, and you don’t feel compelled to tell people the linear story of what happened? What if you get all fantastical?

Like, the luxury of bringing the fantastical and magical realism and poetry, and things that aren’t supposed to be there, like actual pairs of underwear. Like, what–

(BOTH LAUGH)

What if you just threw that all, you know, at a graphic medicine narrative? Like, what would happen then? So it is like my science experiment in a lot of ways. 

>> ANDREA: You know, that makes a lot of sense, and I do think about that with regards to writing. I do believe that you need to, like, understand the principles of a lot of different ideas around writing and structure and grammar. You have to know those things in order to rearrange them so that they make sense to you. Do you know what I mean?

>> SHIRA: Yeah, oh yeah.

>> ANDREA: Like, it– and I feel like you have to sort of, like, there is a respect for the linear structure, and you have to appreciate that linear structure to reassemble it in this, sort of, like, multi-dimensional way that you have in the book.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, and I think also just about what you’re wanting to communicate, and how. Like how things change if you tell the story backwards or upside down, or if you shift something over. So it was all very deliberate. Like, I was aware that I wasn’t doing it in a traditional way that you are supposed to.

But sometimes that awareness, that– you know, it was brought to my attention by my really good friend Sophie, who is actually in the book, that comics are made a certain way, and there are these things called “panels.” And I literally was like, “Oh, okay.” And she’s like, “You know, you might just want to grapple with that and see what happens.”

And that limitation sort of, became something I played with. Like, I feel it was really gymnastic. It was like having bars that I could swing on and push around, and I just didn’t stay contained inside of where I was supposed to be, which is sort of how I live, really. Most of the time, at my best.

(LAUGHS)

>> ANDREA: Yeah, I mean, I sensed that. I mean, I do think, like… I remember being in college, and one of our professors said, “Okay, you can do anything you want for your final project. As long as it’s creative, I don’t care what it is.”

And half the class was just, like, freed by this. You know, sort of, their imagination. And the other half of the class spent weeks, each and every week, one or two or three students would be in full crisis mode because that was just too much to grapple with.

And I don’t believe the world is… there are binaries in any sort of structure, but it was so interesting to me to watch people. You know, I viewed it as like, being given… we could do anything we wanted, this is amazing! And other people were just so stymied by that. And I really felt, like, “Oh, okay, I understand a little bit more about humanity now.” And what our differences are as people.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, no, for sure.

Freedom scares people. It really does. And I guess, me as well. I mean, I found the limitations helpful, because they gave me something to push against. And I imposed limitations all through the book. Like, at the beginning, I was going to say, “Like I told you,” but I haven’t actually spoken to you yet.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

Like, it all runs together. Um, yeah.

>> ANDREA: No, no, we’ve been talking forever. You just haven’t known. It’s fine.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, I started the book in black and white because I was concerned about the costs at the time, ’cause I started 11 years ago. I read somewhere that it’s hard to get published if you work in black and white and you’re unknown, and so I was like, “I better not use any colour, then.” And then I was… a couple more years in, I was like, “Well, maybe if I just use a couple of colours.”

 And so that limitation really forced it to be really deliberate, the choices I made around when I used colour and how I used it.  And then eventually, around the time when colour became less expensive, I just couldn’t take it anymore. And then the book really has that explosive quality because I was feeling it. I was so starved for the ways colour could be expressive.

But I learned a lot about black and white, and about the colour that is in black and white and grey, and I’m really happy for those limitations that I accidentally imposed on myself.

But yeah…

>> ANDREA: That’s so cool.

>> SHIRA: But freedom can be scary. I’ve worked with kids a lot, and I had to learn that if you just– like, I just wanted to be, like, the magical birthday party clown of art that was telling them they could do whatever they want.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

Like, “You’re free, kids! You’re free!” And they’d become terrified. “What do you mean?” You know, what?

>> ANDREA: Yeah.

>> SHIRA: So I had to learn to actually give some parameters, or some prompts, or something for people to push against, right? It’s interesting.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, that makes so much sense. Quilting, I’ve always thought of, and I mean, I’m not personally a quilter. I’m not very good at anything like that, but I’ve always really appreciated it, and I know, like, friends of mine who quilt, and they talk a lot about the mathematics of it, and the creativity within math, and how it, again, disrupts this idea of, like, you’re right-brained or left-brained. And, like, quilting is really where– quilting and music I think are the two places where that line is completely dissolved.

And so I’m so curious about, like, your quilting brain and seeing how that manifests on the page in so many different ways. Like, can you tell me a little about like, where your love of quilting and fibre arts came from?

>> SHIRA: First of all, I’m laughing, because I also messed with quilting when I was doing fibre work. I was really messing with that.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

I am incapable, I am so not straight in any way. I’m incapable of straight lines, and my quilts were never mathematically perfect. I never aimed for that. I embraced my wonky, bizarre methods of fabric right away from the beginning.

And I was also messing with quilting because they were– my quilts were narrative, and I had this thing where I felt like if my work wasn’t on fabric, my drawings weren’t on fabric, they weren’t real. So in order for them to become real, I’d have to have them on fabric, and then I would interface with them in that capacity. So I would embellish them with sequins, and, you know, cut through them and do reverse applique, which is essentially what I’m doing now on paper.

So yeah, I was already kind of screwing with quilting. They were political, they were queer, they were narrative. I used strange materials at the time. Like, I dared to use fun fur in 1996. You know, purple fun fur on a quilt was like, really radical.

(BOTH LAUGHING)

And so yeah, so I do not possess the– I have seen some beautiful, precise quilt work and I stand in awe. I think I have my own kind of math, and the same with music. And I think music and quilting, music and art, are so intrinsically connected. I almost don’t see a difference, they’re so much about syncopation and rhythm. And I mean, jazz, jazz is quilting. Oh my God, for sure, right? Absolutely, right? Not debatable!

>> ANDREA: Yeah, totally!

>> SHIRA: I once went to a workshop called “Are Comics Music,” and I was like, “What’s the question? Of course they’re music! How else are they anything but music?”

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

But I have… I am tone deaf, and I am not musical. I am, you know, technically not musical, but I love music and I appreciate music. So I think I have my own sort of math, and my own music, and my own way and sense of that.

But back to your question about textiles. Um, I’ve always… I mean, they’re everywhere, they are part of everything we do. It’s the very first thing that happens to us, we’re wrapped in cloth and patterned, you know, growing up– I was born in 1968, so that was a time of, I think, quite a bit of explosive floral patterning that seared itself into my brain and my being.

You know, and I love clothing, I love expressive dressing, I love colour, I love texture. I love my body and how I can put those things on my body, so all of that kind of winds together for me.

And I just thought, you know, why not bring that to paper? I mean, again, it was a limitation. I was out of school, I had lost all the access to all the fancy silk screening equipment, I didn’t have very much money. We had a small apartment; we still have that small apartment. I have kids messing with my stuff.

So I had to find a way to contain myself in a sphere that was workable and that, you know, I could pick up and put down the way you would deal with sewing, where you can just put it away and pick it up later. That’s how I worked this book.

So yeah, I tend to just mess things up, like, I just don’t stay where I’m supposed to.

>> ANDREA: You know, I’m thinking, like, that approach to quilting– I just… I was thinking about how much– and you just talked about the florals being part of your life from childhood, and obviously there is a lot of floral imagery throughout the book, and you talk about “the botany of grief,” is one of the lines of text.

And even just, like… gardening is a lot like quilting, too. That is, um, there is so much there that I’ve never thought about before, but just in terms of how we tend to things and people and the wilderness of ourselves, etc, etc. Like, there is just a lot there. And I think that your book really gets at that and brings it to life.

>> SHIRA: Thank you. I think everything really is everything. Like, it’s so true. And that fascinated me–

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

You know, flowers and how they bloom, and cancer, the way a cancer cell looks magnified is so floral. And it reproduces the same way that cells do when you’re making a baby. It’s the same process, it’s just at a different speed, or more out of control. So those parallels are always so evident to me all the time. It’s a kind of super-power, I guess.

(LAUGHS)

Um, I…

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

I’m so wanting to tell people that, because I think that’s really maybe the underpinnings of my form of story telling. It’s like the same way, of course comics are music. Of course flowers are cancer are also whatever else I imagine they are. It’s the way that I see the world.

And clearly you do, too.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, yeah.

>> SHIRA: I think we all do. I mean, nature is phenomenal. Like, it just repeats itself. Blood vessels look like tree branches. What is that about, right?

>> ANDREA: Absolutely.

>> SHIRA: It’s wonderous. It’s truly wonderous.

>> ANDREA: I think about also that, you know, there’s a lot of ideas, and I think that they are slowly fading and going out of fashion that there are, like, specific ways to grieve. And that there are specific permissions around how long one should grieve.

I think we’re letting go of that a little bit, but obviously not quickly enough. And this is, I think, this is one of the first books that really, I believe, creates… creates a visual art scape that replicates that really, like, tangly, tormented, joyous thing that is remembering people we’ve lost, you know?

>> SHIRA: Yes, I love those words, tangly and tormented. Much like vines in a garden.

>> ANDREA: Yes, yes.

>> SHIRA: Inseparable, right? You can’t pick out what is what sometimes. It all tangles together. Yeah. Yeah. And grief, you know, I wasn’t finding place for my grief, which was another reason I turned to doing– I’m an artist, so that’s how I process everything, but this particular giant body of work was really a kind of hub I built around myself to be able to go to when I needed to process these intersections, and everything that happened.


You know, I also am like a community gal, I’m a dyke, I’m a feminist, so I was like, all ready to find my people and my support groups, and at the time– and I think this has changed, there was very little. The midwife I was working with even said, “I’m sorry, there are no resources.” Like, “There’s nowhere I can send you to deal with your grief.” 

And that just seemed incredible to me, and, yeah… there is just so much silence around grieving in general, but specifically miscarriage is even– it’s the same taboo as death, but it’s a death that occurs inside of your body, and you’re carrying it around with you. And all the traditions around being pregnant, um, sort of lead you into this silence. You’re not supposed to tell people you’re pregnant until you’re three months in. Past the first trimester.

>> ANDREA: Yeah.

>>  SHIRA: And that’s to protect everybody around you, but it leaves you without anybody understanding why you’re so bummed out all the time, right? It’s really unfair the way people who get pregnant have to carry this around.

And it’s common! Miscarriage and infertility are as common as birth, so I couldn’t understand where all the silence was coming from, you know? So I hope I did my part to shatter some of that.

>> ANDREA: I absolutely think so. I mean, I– and I feel like often, and I think the book really gets at this is, like, creating a culture of silence around something, you know, we know that is really never about protecting the person who is coping with the actual thing. It’s about– really, it’s sort of, like, keeping a lot of other people free of accountability and free of participation in, you know– it doesn’t do anyone any good, a culture of silence. You know?

>> SHIRA: Agreed.

>> ANDREA: It doesn’t allow for healing of any kind.

>> SHIRA: And we have a problem with death, this culture does. Our North American culture. We’re very, like– you know, again with nature, it’s all– it’s natural! Death is natural, death is part of everything. It’s really present all the time, and we do everything we can to pave over it and to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. And again, I think this is changing, as well. I think there are, I guess, moves being made towards looking at death more. But in general, there is not a lot of room.

>> ANDREA: There’s not a lot of room, and I mean, I… I mean, this is awful, but I do think the pandemic has to change our relationship to grief and death. Like, it just has to since it’s a global even that, you know… at least I hope it does. I don’t know if it will but I hope it does.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah. There is lots of possibility, I think, any time this kind of disruption happens for there to be positive change, or a change of any kind. So I hope so too.

>> ANDREA: I also wanted to talk– like, I know we’ve talked a lot about, like, a lot of things around sort of how you came to create the visual style for the book, but I’m so fascinated by how much of the book feels like there are some small roots in, like, zine culture. And I feel like we haven’t really– I’ve read a lot of interviews with you around the book so far, but I haven’t really seen that talked about very much, and I wonder if you have a relationship to zine culture yourself.

>> SHIRA: Yes, so in the ’90s, I was not– I made one zine about the very first time I got my period, and that was the end of my zine career. I loved the idea of zines being comics that were easily publishable. I mean, that was before the internet, right? So that whole idea that you could go to the photocopy shop and make something and hand it out to people was wonderful.

But yeah, I see the collage work as more collage-y or quilt-y, and I think that’s what people are identifying. I think there are generational ways people will identify with the book, or will sort of, vision the book. “Vision” is a weird word. Like, will interpret the book. And so yeah, that’s come up a couple of times and I’m quite flattered, because I think zines are fabulous. But I don’t have a huge background in zine-making, so…

>> ANDREA: Well, I mean, so many… so many great things are found within this, ’cause I feel like you just go through so many styles, and you play with forms of memoir, and you play with forms of, like, comic arts, and you play with forms of folk arts, and painting, and the collage, and found text, and your own text… Is there found text, or is it just your own text? ‘Cause it feels like there is some other texts too, I think.

>> SHIRA: I definitely– yeah, like a found text from the Bible. And, uh…

(BOTH LAUGH)

And yeah, text from children’s– The Secret Garden. I quote… yeah, I do quote when I feel the need to quote things. And I sort of played with some song lyrics so I wouldn’t get sued. I changed them up a bit.

>> ANDREA: Yes.

>> Shira. There are fragments of music and literature and stuff in there for sure, yeah.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, there are some of, I think, the most beautiful written lines throughout the book, and I’m wondering if we can go through a couple of them, and maybe you can talk a little bit about them? If you feel like it, and if you don’t, that’s fine too.

>> SHIRA: Sure, no, that’s– I think it’s amazing when people take the trouble to find their favourite lines and then say them back to me. I’m so, like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” Let’s do that.

>> ANDREA: Well, I made a lot of notes of different lines. I won’t read them all to you, but anyway… “My father died just when spring was swinging open like a gate.” So beautiful.

>> SHIRA: Thank you. Yeah…

>> ANDREA: So beautiful.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, and I think that sets up that juxtaposition right away. Summer means everything to me, spring, I’m really, like, a summer/spring person. Spring/summer person. I wait for that, you know, the increase of light, and flowers all over the place, and colour. And the way everything suddenly has, like, more smells. 

So yeah, that juxtaposition of his demise and his dying at that same exact moment when the world was opening up again… I think it kind of set the tone for what I was about to talk about.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And your dad seems like an incredibly cool, cool person.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah, he was. He was pretty amazing. Poor guy, when I first came out as a feminist, I was like, a 14, 15-year-old, you know. And I discovered there was this thing called “the patriarchy,” and I fully blamed him for it. Like, I gave him hell.

(BOTH LAUGH)

Poor guy. Anyways, he was amazing. He was really quite gentle and sensitive. And he always– he always brought the things he loved back to us. Back to the family. And the things he loved were literature and poetry and music, and musicals and dance and theatre. He was a fairly passionate consumer of culture. And I think, you know, he also– he was a singer, and he also wrote, and I think his real aspiration, were he not in this position in his family to be the person who would make money and lift everybody out of poverty– he was a first generation Canadian, his mom came over from Russia fleeing pogroms, and just missed the second World War. Um, I think if he hadn’t had that set up, he probably would have pursued a career in the arts as well.

So he always, you know, encouraged that in me, and I never felt that the realm of the arts was anything less than absolutely imperative.

>> ANDREA: Yeah.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, so he really brought that to me. He was a really lovely, generous, kind, quiet man. Yeah.

>> ANDREA: That’s really beautiful. Um, and I think– I don’t know, I feel like this book does such a beautiful job of honoring the relationship that you had together and that you shared, while also, really like, showing us how that can be a foundation for what you want to– for your own parenting journey, you know?

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Both my parents come with me in how I parent. And I think we all reflexively parent the way we were parented. You just can’t help it, you just kind of snap into, like… I can’t count the times that I am my parents. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes that’s not. Mostly it’s good. I had great parents. Have great parents.

Um, but yeah, I did carry some of that through. The character of my kid is really lovely in the book as well. And I didn’t know that I was going to go there. Like, I didn’t… I knew I wanted to talk about the infertility thing, and I knew I wanted to talk about death. I didn’t know how much– stretching this project over 11 years. because that was how I had to make it, because I was working and because I was raising a kid. Um… would inform the story itself. And so Max’s character growing up, and you know, really growing up and becoming a person with their own gender identity, and their own sexuality was really a lovely juxtaposition that I found, where I could look back on… I mean, I love that part where I’m back through my young girlhood with him, and he’s just like, “What the hell?”

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

He’s so, like, his eyes are just like, “What?” He’s just trying to get away from it all. He can’t believe it, right? 

>> ANDREA: Yeah, there’s really nothing as real as when Max says that there are– there are just things in his life that you’re never going to know.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, “It’s not your movie.” Yeah, and it was at that juncture that I started to realize that I can’t tell his stories anymore. When you have a little kid, you know, he would come when he was little and get in my lap, and he’d draw on my drawing board, and sometimes he’d draw on my drawings. And when I could, I would integrate that into my work. And you know, that was beautiful and wonderous and a great thing, but then there comes a point where it’s like, “This is a person.” I mean, children are people too, but there was a point where it became really obvious to me that I had to be really aware of not speaking for him and not telling his story. And so he tells me that in the book, where he’s just, like, “I don’t care how much you think it’s fun to talk about my life. It’s not yours.”

And, yeah, that was a conscious decision too, at that point. To stop seeing him that way, as somebody whose stories I could integrate into mine. I was like, “Well, okay…”

>> ANDREA: I think it’s a really beauiful thing to model for so many people because there are lots of folks who, you know… honestly, whether it’s their child or not, will– they’re fine to tell other people’s stories, you know? And it’s just… it’s very different to make space for other people to tell their stories, than you just telling someone else’s story.

>> SHIRA: Agreed, and as a person who writes memoirs, there’s so many layers to that. Like, you have to always be thinking about, like, “This is just my version of this story.” This story involves other people, and if you ask them to tell it, there would be a completely different perspective. So there’s a lot of generosity that I encountered in having people in my life let me tell the story from my perspective.

 But yeah, there is an absolute danger in thinking there is only one story, or there’s only one way to tell a story. And especially for marginalized people. Like, I am absolutely not the lesbian spokesperson for infertility, or people who are parenting trans children. Like, I… there are so many… I hope it makes room for multiplicity of voice, and that we move away from this concept of this monolithic story that everybody– you know, that everybody wants to hear the marginalized story, there is none. There are so many. 

>> ANDREA: Yeah, and I thought about that a lot because in the book you mention a couple of different times about, you know, your own experiences with erasure and sort of, like, a longer queer history of erasure within fertility and pregnancy. And I was thinking about, like, this book does so many things, but it writes into history. It writes into a public record. Your story, you know, and all the intersections of your identity now have a space where they exist publicly.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, that is amazing. It’s an amazing feeling. I haven’t experienced that before in this capacity. It’s pretty incredible to feel, yeah, that permanence. That I have both just personally found a place to put down my grief, and explain this whole mess to myself, including the good parts, and the joy and the passion and the desire, you know. But also that it is… it’s adding to the story of what it means to be a person experiencing infertility. To be a femme lesbian, also to be Jewish… and there are so many intersections of privilege and marginalization in my life. You know, I felt like I was really privileged to be raising a child as I was longing to be pregnant, so I wanted to express that as well. Yeah.

There is a lot of… and I’m still a white woman, so there is…

>> ANDREA: Yeah, yeah.

>> SHIRA: So that’s a story we’ve heard many, many times, so I just hope there’s more room. There’s more… that the doors that are opening to me that weren’t open before will open even further for more people.

>> ANDREA: Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, a few more lines that I want to visit with you just before we wrap up. I really love, love, love about “Lip stain is the subtlest form of drama.” 

(IMITATES KISSING NOISE)

Chef’s kiss of a line.

>> SHIRA: Thank you! I love how much you understand that. I love that! That’s the best part of this book getting out into the world is I would never get to talk to you! It’s so amazing to find people who understand that.

>> ANDREA: I also really love “All my shards are glued together wrong.” Like, that… and I feel like that, you know, a book that’s like that visually in different places. But it doesn’t seem like shards, because I think your drawings are, like, a bit softer, right? There’s not like, that harsh jaggedness of a shard. A shard is so specific.

>> SHIRA: Yeah.

>> ANDREA: But it’s so wonderful to see those words, you know, sort of like, enveloped and also in contrast with the… I don’t know, the drawings and the artwork. I think it’s really a beautiful juxtaposition.

>> SHIRA: Thank you. That’s so beautiful, thank you for noticing all of that. I think that there is a brittleness to early grief, too. Like, you do feel hard, and you feel sharp. You feel like you’ve fallen on the floor and you’ve broken in these really sharp ways that are dangerous and could cut you. But yeah, there is a point– like, I did look at my work awhile ago and think, “Wow, this is soft.” Like, it’s all so rounded. I don’t– and when I do have angular lines, I’m very deliberate, in the same way I used colour in the beginning. There are times when I pulled out my ruler and it was on purpose. Yeah, so there is a lot of deliberate visual language in the book.

>> ANDREA: I completely… yeah, I felt like every single thing is so deliberate on so many levels, and even there are moments where my eyes are struggling to pull out words and as someone who really, I suppose, privileges words above everything else by virtue of being a writer, whatever, um, and I would– for a moment, I would get frustrated, and a little resentful, to be clear. Not towards you, but just thinking, like, “Ugh, I want to read this word!” And then I would just, like, let go of it and be like, “This is the experience I’m supposed to have, because this is what Shira wanted me to have, and I have to just listen to that,” you know? And I have to let go out of what– I can’t bring my own expectations into someone else’s work, like, that’s a lot.

(LAUGHS)

But it was really wonderful then, because it’s like am extra layer of being drawn into what you are doing.

>> SHIRA: It’s a challenging book. It really makes you do things. I had to do a reading for an event last week, and I was mad at the book. I was like, “Fucking hell! What did I…”

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

“How did I…” Like, “You can read this four different ways,” right? And it hurts! Like, you have to move your eyes around the page. I think my experience of grieving was so physical that it just came through. Like, it’s a physical book, it’s a physical interaction with it. It’s not… it’s demanding. And I think that’s really beautiful that you could be sort of pissed at it, and also sort of go, like, “Well, I’m going to take a deep breath and try again.” Like, it’s a really– I think books are so intimate and so, you know… It’s so different than going to see a show at a gallery. I could have made this as a body of work and shown it in a show, but that sort of like… the way books can live with you, and the way you can say, “I’m mad at you right now, book, I’m going to put you down for awhile until I feel like coming back. Or maybe I’m not going to come back.” Like, that relationship to the work is really a lovely thing for me to experience. I feel like I found a home for my work in books. It feels right, whereas galleries never felt exactly right. 

>> ANDREA: Well, I think–

>> SHIRA: And the extensions are interesting. Yeah, go on.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, for sure, and I mean, I can see huge… I can imagine huge installations of these pages in galleries, and that’s fine, that’s a beautiful space to replicate that. But I do think the accessibility of a book, and a book being for everyone, and the capacity to belong to everyone in so many different ways… it makes a lot of sense that this is a place that you feel like you really belong.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s nice to find that. I struggled a lot with that early, when I Was just coming out of school. Like, “Where do I want my work to be shown? How do I want to interface with the world?” And predominantly, I just didn’t. I was like, “Well, I don’t know.”

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

I was like, “Maybe I’ll show once every 200 years and then go back to my house and sit quietly inside of it.” So yeah, it feels nice to… I love having audience, I love having… I love when you so get about lip stain! That’s just the best.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

You know, I think we all really just want connection, right? I think that is part of the drive. I mean, you write as well, right? So I think that is partly what we are doing, but yeah, it’s so satisfying to do. And especially in the pandemic, to get to meet people and get to talk to other artists, and have that kind of really rich, beautiful feedback from other people who make work is just, like, it’s amazing. It’s better than school.

(BOTH LAUGH)

> ANDREA: Well, releasing a book in a pandemic is its own challenge. Like I know that’s– it can’t necessarily be exactly what you might have envisioned for yourself.

>> SHIRA: Well, I didn’t know what to vision, really. I mean, in some ways I’m a pretty neurotic, nervous person, so I’m right here in my bedroom, sort of squished up against the wall with my bed in front of me, and that feels good. Like, I can handle that. 

(BOTH LAUGH)

I’m not really sure how I’d handle it.

>> ANDREA: Honestly, that’s great. 

>> SHIRA: Yeah, it feels like a good way to step out into the world, you know, inside of my house.

>> ANDREA: Yeah, that’s perfect. That makes sense. Um, there is– I’ve got just a couple more questions if that’s okay.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, of course. I can talk forever. That’s great.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

>> ANDREA: There’s a pretty significant break in form, and sort of a pretty painful disclosure where you talk, you know, you talk about sexual assault, and there are two lines that I think are just so incredibly devastating. “I was so easy to break into, his hands lost all their kindness.” And I think that those two lines probably mean a lot to countless people all over the world, and I’m wondering, did that piece exist previous to the book, or did you make it specifically for the book?

>> SHIRA: Yeah, that piece… and it’s funny, nobody wants to talk about it, so I really appreciate you bringing it forward. It’s really significant to me. Like, I feel like it’s as large a narrative as the other ones, in a sense. Or like, it seems like it would be part of anybody’s coming-of-age story. I mean, sexual assault is so prevalent, like miscarriage. 

Um, it’s a story I never told anybody. I didn’t tell my best friend when I was… I don’t think I told her at the time. And I certainly didn’t tell my wife of 20 years. I didn’t tell my mom.

>> ANDREA: Oh, wow.

>> SHIRA: It’s so odd. It came forward through making the book, and I let it come forward. And the break in form is also deliberate, it is such a different way of– it’s just a big chunk of text, like, there is no effort to make it anymore visual than it needs to be. Um… yeah.

Yeah. It was weird to do that, but also it felt… it felt right to disclose that to myself. Or to, like, it was this spector of a thing that I never really– I never talked about with myself, and so being able to tell myself that story, and then knowing that the very first person to read it was my editor, it was very raw. Um, and my agent, Nikki Richardson. Yeah. It was… yeah.

>> ANDREA: But you know, we talked earlier about the secrecy, um, and keeping things secret and how it– and actually there is another part of the book where you talk about our bubbie not wanting to know about how significant her cancer was, and how your mom kept that secret for her.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, that’s right.

>> ANDREA: That was a really beautiful line, too. Painful, but I feel like there is this continuum of grief that, you know… the copy of the book tells us it’s going to be about X, Y, and Z, and then we get deeper into the book and we see, and I think a lot of us will recognize so many different ways in which grief and loss, sort of, hide in our bodies and in the world.

>> SHIRA: Yes, and how they attach to other griefs and losses. I mean, they’re really sticky.

>> ANDREA: Totally.

>> SHIRA: It’s like, if you’re going to start excavating, you find out that there are like, a whole chain of things that come up, you know. So yeah, I felt like I had to– whatever… I have this gross image of pulling hair out of a drain that I can’t stop thinking of, but it’s just like that, where you’re like, “Eww, eww! There’s more hair here!”

(BOTH LAUGH)

And you’ve got to get it out otherwise your drain is going to be blocked! So, yeah…

>> ANDREA: But the other thing that you do so… I am just so struck by one of the things that this book does, is that it doesn’t shy away from a lot of graphic imagery, and I think it’s so wonderful to see a work that depicts bodies in so many different everyday states. Like, menstruating, orgasming, pregnant, miscarrying, just existing. Like, there are so many different states in which you depict your body, or like, your alter ego body. How ever you want to frame it.

It was so refreshing to me to see, just to see. Just to see it, and just witness it, and I thought it was… it was incredibly tender and intimate, but just factual.

>> SHIRA: Yeah, yeah.

>> ANDREA: Like, it just normalizes it to see bodies.

>> SHIRA: Totally, right? ‘Cause we all see our bodies. We’ve all looked down into our underwear a billion times, and so why aren’t there more images like that? I’m not sure, there’s some sort of taboo around all of that stuff, but yeah, thank you. I’m glad that came through.

>> ANDREA: But like, when you’re drawing, do you… and as you have grown as an artist over your lifetime, like, have you grown into those depictions of bodies? Did you used to sort of shy away from it? Is it something that you have sort of grown into, or is it something that have always been interesting in, depicting the human form in very realistic, and also, like, magically surreal ways?

>> SHIRA: I think I just try to depict… I don’t go for likeness when I draw a person, or myself. I go for essence. So I think it was like, my body changes form throughout the book. It’s always sort of taking a different shape, and I think it was just about needing to express a feeling, and then how that comes through my hand somehow, without seeming too mystical or bizarre. It’s just sort of the way it happens. So it is a deliberate process, and I did… you know, I also just think that like, there needs to be more images of the things that…

It’s just my life, right? It’s just my life, so I things I think people think are, like, really incredulous or brave are just my life. And I think I forgot to have shame, like, I have shame.

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

But I have a lot of, like… I guess I’m a bit of an exhibitionist, and also I’m just… I don’t often… People are telling me, “Oh, it’s so brave, and it’s so honest,” and I’m like, “Well, it’s just what it is, right?”

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

And I recognize that there is bravery and there is honesty in the book. But its literally the way see things, so things change for me. It’s almost the way that people are… the way I find people attractive. It isn’t necessarily about, like, “Well, you have this kind of face or this kind of eyes.” It’s about how people animate themselves that I find attractive, right?

>> ANDREA: Yeah, yeah.

>> SHIRA: So it’s sort of like that, it’s like the essence of our bodies, and the essence of being a person translates into those shapes for me. I don’t know. That was a weird answer.

>> ANDREA: Yeah. No, no, I think that’s great! And I think it actually is the lack of shame around the form of al of the bodies in the book that is most appealing to me.

>> SHIRA: And like sometimes I feel like I take off my clothes a lot, but then I’m like, “I also take off my skin.” Like, I need to show you my organs as well, so it’s like, whatever I had to do, I did. I was like, “Well, it’s necessary for you to see my bloody underwear right now.” Like… to me that was really a big part of the experience of not being pregnant was that punctuation. All that waiting and all that wanting, and then the blood coming again and again. And all people who menstruate experience that every month or so.

>> ANDREA: Yeah.

>> SHIRA: There’s one page, I think it’s a beautiful– and it’s the page of looking down, it’s my bloody underwear, and I was very, very delighted that I got, like, a little bit of that blood kind of darker or dried. It felt accurate to me. It was like, that’s what the beginning of a period looks like. And I come from a time of like, you know, commercials for menstrual pads with the blue liquid, right?

>> ANDREA: Oh, for sure.

>> SHIRA: So, yeah, that does feel important, and just… it’s just bodies, right? Like, again with the taboos about like, our leaky bodies. They leak, they do things. We all do them. Why are we so ashamed? It’s weird.

>> ANDREA: Well, I mean, would we have capitalism without shame? No.

>> SHIRA: You’re right, you’re right!

(ANDREA LAUGHS)

And I’m glad you pointed that out because I feel like the fault of everything is capitalism. I feel like if we could just eradicate that, then we would be in a much better place. Art would be in a much better place.

>> ANDREA: Absolutely, a thousand percent.

>> SHIRA: Let’s just talk about that.

(BOTH LAUGH)

>> ANDREA: Maybe, yeah, I mean, that could just be how we form a pen pal relationship. We’ll just send each other postcards about capitalism and how we could defeat it. So many good conversations or our future.

>> SHIRA: Totally. We are sisters.

>> ANDREA: So I do have to probably wrap it up, but I just wanted to give you a chance, is there anything else that you want to say about your book? It’s a debut 11 years in the making, it’s so beautiful, it is– it really is a complete and utter disruption of form and what we think about a lot of times when we think about graphic novels and cartooning and comics. So is there anything you want to add that we haven’t talked about?

>> SHIRA: We’ve talked about everything, and you’ve been an amazing interviewer. I really appreciate the depth that you’ve brought to these questions. I mean, I really hope that the book opens doors for more stories. More and more and more stories, and more silence-breaking. I threw everything I had into this project, and you know… yeah. I don’t know.

>> ANDREA: Well, I think you did an amazing job, so thank you so much, and I really appreciate it, and I know that this will stay with me for the rest of my life.

>> SHIRA: Aww, thank you, Andrea! That’s so sweet.

>> ANDREA: Well, thank you so much. I don’t know how they want us to wrap it up, so let’s just say, like, it was really nice to talk to you.

>> SHIRA: It was lovely to talk to you. Thank you so much.

>> ANDREA: Thank you so much. Bye!

>> SHIRA: Bye!