creative:impact - Come Out! In Detroit (and Ann Arbor)
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT ISABEL CLARE PAUL:
Isabel Clare is a freelance illustrator. She was born and raised in Michigan and has a BFA Degree in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies.
She likes to draw weird things with a thousand tiny little lines.
Feel free to contact for any project discussions!
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in to meet another creative guest rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. We're going to look back about 50 years at a seminal moment in the LGBTQ plus movement, as it is illustrated by our guest. From Ypsilanti, let's welcome Isabel Clare Paul to creative:impact. Welcome.
Isabel Clare Paul: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Deb Polich: So glad to have you here in the studio. You know, so we're going to talk about the fact that, back in June 1972, the first LGBTQ plus pride celebration was held in Detroit. It was really, truly a game changer in so many ways. And there's been many celebrations already marking this 50th anniversary in Detroit and other Michigan cities. And, on August sixth, Ann Arbor is going to do Ann Arbor Pride. It will join in that celebration. You are part of a book--or a comic book, as you're calling it--called "Come Out! In Detroit." And that tells the story of the first pride celebration. It's written by Tim Retzloff, who is a historian, and he asked you to illustrate it. So, Isabel, what attracted you to this project about something that took place long before you were born?
Isabel Clare Paul: So, I had graduated from the College for Creative Studies in May 2020. Middle of lockdown. And I didn't get to have my senior show. I didn't get to walk at my graduation. I missed all of these exhibitions I had planned. And then, Tim approached me, and he said, "I want to do sort of like a small, five-page commemorative comic for the 50th anniversary of Michigan Pride. Would you be interested?" And I said, "Oh, please! Absolutely! I just want to have some sort of project to work on." And as we were, you know, trying to parse down the story and figure out what was crucial and what needed to be included, we realized, "Oh, this is going to need to be a lot more than, you know, a page in a newspaper. This has got to be a whole project on its own."
Deb Polich: And it ended up being something, like, 30 pages?
Isabel Clare Paul: Yeah, I think it's 28 pages of actual illustrations.
Deb Polich: So, you mentioned illustration a couple of times. And, for our listeners, can you describe what illustration is? The art of illustration?
Isabel Clare Paul: So, it's such a wide thing. It's such a good launch point for every other...you know, it's so applicable in so many different ways. But it can be, you know, book covers, it can be drawn advertisements, it can be, you know, labels and things. It's any sort of surface that you see where you're like, "I think that needs a cool, thoughtful drawing." That's illustration.
Deb Polich: Okay. So, it helps tell the story in pictures. Right. Okay. So, let's get back to come out in Detroit. Tim was the historian. And were you involved, though, in the research and interviews of some of the people?
Isabel Clare Paul: To a certain extent. But mostly, it was Tim's work. He's been, you know, he's been focusing on, you know, gay Detroit history for longer than I've been alive. This is his whole career. But there were certain things in the comic book, like the cranky that the lesbian theater troupes had. And it was a big sheet of butcher paper that they cranked.
Deb Polich: Oh, sure.
Isabel Clare Paul: And then, there would be a story that would move along on the butcher paper. And then, they would have, like, women acting out the scenes as the story went on.
Deb Polich: Like butcher paper film stock.
Isabel Clare Paul: Yeah. And so, we knew that the, you know, these guerilla theater troupes of women in the seventies had these machines called crankies, but we had no idea what they looked like. And we couldn't find anybody who knew what we were talking about. And so, when I was trying to figure out how am I going to illustrate this machine that I only sort of can conceptualize, I had to do a fair bit of research on my own. But I ended up finding a page that showed off exactly what it was and exactly what it looked like. And so, one of the panels that shows the cranky in the comic book is pretty much, like, lifted from a photograph of, like, what is meant to look like.
Deb Polich: So, after putting this together, what have you picked up? What have you learned about those early organizers and what they faced at that time?
Isabel Clare Paul: Quite a bit. There's one thing about this project is, you know, I jumped on it because I enjoy history. I thought this is just absolutely fascinating. And I wanted to kind of learn my community roots, so to say.
Deb Polich: Sure.
Isabel Clare Paul: But there was just so much in terms of, like, the history and the DIY aspect that people were, like, nobody else is going to do this. We have to put this on ourselves.
Deb Polich: Truly grassroots.
Isabel Clare Paul: Yeah. We have to organize it ourselves. But then, also, how many parallels there are to sort of the issues that gay people and LGBT people still are fighting against today, like police brutality and racism and you know--
Deb Polich: Sexism and all the others. Yeah.
Isabel Clare Paul: Being, you know, a minority and trying to come together in spite of that. So, I was really shocked at how many parallels there still were between being gay in the seventies in Detroit and being gay in modern-day Detroit. But then, also, you know, the differences.
Deb Polich: So much has moved forward, and so much is still the same. 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Isabel Clare Paul. Her illustrations grace "Come Out! In Detroit," a comic book marking and telling the history of the first pride event in Michigan that took place 50 years ago in Detroit. So, Ann Arbor has a pretty direct connection with the June 1972 Pride celebration and after that, too. So, tell us a little bit about that.
Isabel Clare Paul: So, in the comic book, it really...it's, you know, marketed as "Come Out! In Detroit" because that's just the meeting place where everybody accumulated. But Ann Arbor, Lansing, you know, Kalamazoo, all these places from across the state had come together to meet in Detroit. And, in Ann Arbor, there was a lot of direct sort of political action and organizing because the college campuses were really kind of the focal point. That's where a lot of the students were meeting and were already at and meant to....
Deb Polich: Yeah, I noticed that a lot of the locations weren't identified by cities, but by the universities. You know, the 18-year-old vote came in 1972 in January. And here in Ann Arbor, two human rights party candidates won city council seats.
Isabel Clare Paul: Mm hmm.
Deb Polich: And that legislation, or that council, their legislation included the $5 marijuana law, a human rights ordinance, and funding for health care and childcare. And also, that council also declared Gay Pride Week, the very first known official recognized gay pride event by a governmental body in the United States. And then, two years later, in 1974, Kathy Kochezco--sorry--was the first openly gay person in the U.S. to be elected to a government body, which is also pretty amazing for our community. So, do you know of any of the plans that Ann Arbor Pride is doing to mark this 50th anniversary? And will "Come out! In Detroit" be part of it.
Isabel Clare Paul: "Come Out! In Detroit" will be a part of it. Tim and I plan on being at the Pride event in August, and we'll be handing out the comic books. You know, take one if you want one. Share the story.
Deb Polich: Yeah. You guys decide to make this free. Why?
Isabel Clare Paul: We really, really wanted it to be accessible. And then, previously, we talked about things that I learned. There was a lot about just history and facts and sort of the community coming together that I as, you know, a 20-something year old had no idea that this history had happened. And so, we really wanted to make sure that it was accessible. It was free, that, you know, gay people my age and older gay people could kind of unite and come together and be like, "This is a treasure of history." And, sort of, you know, all of this is a direct source and make sure that the stories weren't lost.
Deb Polich: Yeah. I think that date for the Pride in Ann Arbor is August 6th. Yeah, great. I'm glad I got that right. So, what do you hope the long-tail impact of "Come Out! In Detroit" is going to be?
Isabel Clare Paul: I've already had, you know, teachers come up to me and be, you know, "I need 30 copies for my classroom to use this as a teaching material." I've had people who come up to me and go, "You know, I wasn't there, but my aunt was. And she's going to love this." And so, just making sure that the history was, you know, recorded, that these stories weren't lost, that that can get kind of passed on and treasured. That was really important to me. So, you know, if 30 years down the line, if somebody reads the comic book and learn something new, I'm totally thrilled. I've done my job.
Deb Polich: So, I'm actually curious. You call it a comic book. We often hear about graphic novels and others. Does the term comic diminish? I mean, does it have the potential to diminish the importance of this?
Isabel Clare Paul: I don't think so, because everybody likes comic books.
Deb Polich: True.
Isabel Clare Paul: We wanted, again, the accessibility of the story. We wanted people to look at it and not think, "Oh, this is just going to be another dry academic text." Or we didn't want people to look at it and go, "Oh, this is going to be silly. This isn't going to be taking the subject seriously." And Tim and I decided, you know, everybody likes comic books. And, you know, at the crux of it, this is an origin story for sort of heroes that led our community to become what it is today. And so, we thought that was really fitting.
Deb Polich: So, after missing out on many of the celebrations because of COVID as you were graduating from CCS, what's this book meant to you in your career just at this point?
Isabel Clare Paul: It's been such a great launchpad. I've met so many people. I've gotten so much interest because of it. It's just really great.
Deb Polich: Awesome. Well, listen, I really hope that "Come Out! In Detroit" informs today and inspires tomorrow. Thanks for helping us understand the project and what you've done. And thanks for being on the show.
Isabel Clare Paul: Thank you for having me.
Deb Polich: That's Isabel Clare Paul. She illustrated "Come Out! In Detroit," a comic book that tells the history of the first pride event that took place in Michigan 50 years ago in Detroit. Find out more about Isabel, where to get "Come Out! In Detroit" and upcoming Pride events at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Join us on Tuesdays to meet another creative guest and this, your community NPR Radio Station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.
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