Thing: She Knows Who She Is

Chicago History Museum

Thing Subscription Card (front) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

What is Thing?

Thing
magazine was founded as a platform for black LGBTQ+ life. As such, its issues are full of art, house music, interviews, commentary, small and large
features, recurring columns, poetry, and articles centering around black
culture, LGBTQ+ culture, HIV/AIDS activism, drag, camp, and more. Individuals
highlighted and interviewed in the ten issues include notables such as
Marlon Riggs, Joan Jett Blakk, Essex Hemphill, RuPaul, and Vaginal Davis.
Thing was published in Robert Ford’s Chicago apartment from 1989 to 1993, and thousands of copies were
distributed worldwide through stores, subscriptions, and written requests
for individual issues. At its height, the zine reached a circulation of nearly 3,000.

The Format

A zine
is a self-published, small circulating publication. The styles and formats of
zines can vary widely, from small photocopied and stapled publications with
content created by one person to larger format publications such as Thing and its predecessor Think Ink, which contain work solicited from others and produced by a small staff.

Robert T. Ford (1992-01-05) by Lee KayChicago History Museum

The Creators

Robert T. Ford was the creator of Think Ink and, along with Trent Adkins and Lawrence Warren, was a cofounder of Thing. Ford was a writer, DJ, publisher, advocate, and cultural documentarian based in Chicago. In addition to working as the creative director of Rose Records from 1982 to 1990 and publishing Thing, he contributed articles to publications such as Babble and Planet Rock.

Robert Ford and Lawrence Warren, Lee Kay, 1992-01-05, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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As with all the staff of Thing, cofounders Lawrence Warren (right) and Trent Adkins (not pictured) contributed to the zine in multiple ways—-as writers, photographers, interviewers, and more.

Trent Adkins in the Thing Office, unknown, 1992-07, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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In addition to everything else, Adkins is often credited for styling models and items for Think Ink and Thing photographs.

Stephanie Coleman (left) and Simone Bouyer, unknown, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Thing magazine accountant Stephanie Coleman (left) and Thing artist and designer Simone Bouyer sit on a couch in an apartment, c. 1990. Bouyer's art and graphic design are prevalent throughout Thing.

Think Ink – Back Cover (1988) by Robert Ford (Publisher)Chicago History Museum

Think Ink

Created in 1987, Think Ink was the predecessor to Thing and ran for two issues. It served as a platform for black fashion, art, music, and culture. Robert Ford described Think Ink to Owen Keehnen in an interview: “It was very black and not very gay, but it was pretty queer-friendly, though that wasn’t a defining point for it.” Source: http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Keehnen/Ford.html

Think Ink no. 0 Cover – Ken Hare, Robert Ford (Publisher), 1987-11, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Think Ink no. 0 (November 1987) features Ken Hare styled by Trent Adkins and photographed by Paul Mainor.

Think Ink no. 1 Cover – Aisha Hays, Robert Ford (Publisher), 1988, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Think Ink no.1 (Spring 1988) features model Aisha Hays styled by Trent Adkins and photographed by Ernest Collins.

Think Ink – Interview with Robert Williams (1988) by Robert Ford (Publisher)Chicago History Museum

Gerry Fisher interviewed calligrapher Robert Williams and the resulting piece was published in Think Ink no.1 (Spring 1988). Ford and his cocreators featured black artists, musicians, performers, and institutional leaders in Think Ink, using the large format for displaying art pieces and conducting long form interviews.

Think Ink Music Section (1988) by Robert Ford (Publisher)Chicago History Museum

Music is prominently featured in Think Ink. Since Ford and Adkins were close to the house music scene, both issues of Think Ink boast large music sections featuring "best of" lists, song suggestions, critiques and reviews, and tips on where to go hear a good sound. Rose Records, the record store where Ford worked, is often advertised in the zine.

This music section appears in Think Ink no.1 (Spring 1988).

Think Ink Ad Page, Robert Ford (Publisher), 1987-11, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Rose Records wasn't the only business to be advertised. Think Ink featured ads for apparel, small businesses, artwork, and more.

Trent Adkins compiled these art and various items for sale, which were photographed by Bradley Starks. Below are ads for two accountants: Stephanie Coleman, who worked with Thing as an accountant, and Frank R. Ford, Robert Ford's father. Published in Think Ink no. 0 (November 1987).

Think Ink – Photographic Test Sheet, Bradley Starks, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The Thing magazine records contain a large amount of photographs and drafts used in production. Photographs and test sheets are often marked up; this one of a hat, for example, is marked to fit the advertisement page pictured previously. Photograph by Bradley Starks, c. 1987

Think Ink – The Tee Glossary! (1988) by Robert Ford (Publisher)Chicago History Museum

The differences in the focus of Think Ink and Thing are prevalent, but one common feature of the two zines was the "Tee Glossary," in which Trent Adkins would list and define cultural terms and slang. This glossary appears in Think Ink no.1 (Spring 1988): 34.

Thing no. 9 – Subscription Card (back) (1993) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

Thing

Though Think Ink served as a solid platform for the black underground, it did not quite fill the void Ford was hoping to fill. That would be left up to Thing. As he recalls in an interview with Owen Keehnen: "We knew for ourselves what a rich and important cultural thing gay black men have and share. We wanted to make a magazine that would be a way of documenting our existence and contribution to society. Our idea was not so much radicalize or subvert the idea of magazines as to make one from our own point of view. It wasn't about deconstructing what a magazine is, it was playing within its perimeters.” Source: http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Keehnen/Ford.html

Inside Cover of Thing no. 1, Thing Publishing, 1989-11, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The inside cover of Thing no. 1 (November 1989) shows a Simone Bouyer ink drawing of Ken Hare with an expression of surprise.

Cover of Thing no. 2 – Little Richard, Thing Publishing, 1990-04, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The front cover of Thing no. 2 (April 1990) features a stylized photograph of Little Richard.

Thing no. 3 Cover – Trent Adkins, Thing Publishing, 1990-08, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The front cover of Thing no. 3 (August 1990) shows "A detail of Trent and da Hoover kee-keeing at the old Wholesome Roc Gallery." Photo by Stephanie Coleman

Thing no. 10 – Social Pages (1993) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

Each issue of Thing contains at least one photo spread featuring people, parties, and events around town. With detailed captions, the photographs provide social news, gossip, and information on LGBTQ+ activities. Articles on trends allowed the creators and other writers to get their opinions in print.

Trent Adkins edited this two-page spread of photographs, which was published in Thing no. 10 (Summer 1993): 36–37.

Thing no. 7 – Wigstock Report, Thing Publishing, 1992, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Thing covered events in detail that mainstream media overlooked or dismissed. For example, Wigstock—the annual drag festival that ran from 1985 to 2005—and the presidential candidacy of Joan Jett Blakk were given front and center treatment in the zine.

Thing no. 1 – Hair Care and Culture, Thing Publishing, 1989-11, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Advice and suggestions pepper the zine, often written by the staff. Regular columnists also weighed in, offering editorials, retrospectives, and satire.

Trent Adkins authored this article on hair styles and culture that appeared in Thing no. 1 (November 1989): 6.

Thing no. 3 – Camp Culture (1990-08) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

Thing combated societal erasure and assimilation loudly and often: "Some say that we have the power to stop homophobia by curtailling our 'outrageousness'; by suppressing any hint of a sissified camp sensibility we can easily assimilate into the mainstream. Be more inconspicuous, invisible. But what reward is conditional freedom? Don't believe the hype. There's nothing wrong with being a queen."

Thing no. 4 Cover – Pam Johnson, Thing Publishing, 1991, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 4 (Spring 1991) features model Pam Johnson photographed by Stephen Winter.

Thing no. 5 Cover – Jeff Britton, Thing Publishing, 1991, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 5 (Fall 1991) features Jeff Britton styled by Paul Stura and photographed by Stephen Winter.

Thing no. 6 Cover – RuPaul, Thing Publilshing, 1992, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 6 (Summer 1992) features a bubble illustration of RuPaul by artist Lee Kay.

Thing no. 5 – Essex Hemphill Interview Title Page (1991) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

As with Think Ink, Thing's interviews featured poets, filmmakers, artists, dancers, musicians, and other creators. What Thing provided, however, was a platform specifically for black gay creators.

Essex Hemphill was an openly gay poet, writer, public speaker, and activist. Although he passed away at age 38, he left behind a large body of work.

In Thing no. 5 (Fall 1991): 18, Simone Bouyer's artwork introduces an interview conducted by Tod Roulette.

Thing no. 6 – Interview with Lady Bunny, Thing Publishing, 1992, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Thing provided a new platform for drag artists. Both long form and short form interviews with drag notables pepper the zine, often with multiple interviews in a single issue.

In addition to releasing musical singles, drag artist and performer Lady Bunny organized Wigstock, the annual drag festival that ran from 1985 to 2005.

This excerpt of an interview between Trent Adkins and Lady Bunny appears in Thing no. 6 (Summer 1992): 23.

Thing no. 10 – Interview with The Lovely Carol (Final), Thing Publishing, 1993, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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An interview of performer and hostess The Lovely Carol by Jamoo appears in Thing no. 10 (Summer 1993): 31.

Thing no. 10 – Interview with The Lovely Carol (Draft), Thing Publishing, 1993, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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As with the photographs, interviews and articles went through several draft versions before being published.

Thing no. 2 – Music Section (1990-04) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

House music and music in general always played a large role in Thing. Interviews with dancers and DJs can be seen in several issues, and each issue has a music list curated by the creators, complete with commentary and discussion.

Think Ink – Interview with Frankie Knuckles, Robert Ford (Publisher), 1988, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The first page of an interview with DJ Frankie Knuckles in Think Ink no. 1 (Spring 1988).

Robert Ford DJing, unknown, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Robert Ford DJing, c. 1995.

Thing no. 5 – Music Spread (1991) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

Later issues of Thing included music suggestion cards, which readers could fill out and mail to the Thing office.

Thing no. 7 Cover – Lemuel, Thing Publishing, 1992, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 7 (Fall 1992) features Lemuel photographed by Trent Adkins.

Thing no. 8 Cover – Joey Arias, Thing Publishing, 1992, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 8 (Winter 1992/1993) features a photograph of Joey Arias by Len Prince, which was colored by Ruben Toledo.

Thing no. 7 – Marlon Riggs, "Letter to the Dead" title page (1992) by Thing PublishingChicago History Museum

At a time when there was little information in mainstream media about HIV and AIDS, Thing served up any information it could. The zine featured ads, public service announcements, articles, interviews, and more to promote HIV and AIDS awareness and openness. Even after Thing ceased publication, Robert Ford continued his work in this vein, submitting a regular column focused on HIV called "Life During Wartime," published in PLUS magazine.

Marlon Riggs's article "Letter to the Dead" was published in Thing no. 7 (Fall 1992).

Thing no. 10 – Robert E. Penn, "AIDS Every Day", Thing Publishing, 1993, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Thing magazine touched on all aspects of LGBT+ life, including HIV/AIDS. This article by advocate and writer Robert E. Penn was published in Thing no. 10 (Summer 1993): 19.

Thing no. 2 – Robert T. Ford, "Artnotes", Thing Publishing, 1990-04, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Many artists used work to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS or to depict the turbulent emotions of the epidemic. Additionally, as HIV and AIDS hit the artist community incredibly hard, Thing would feature editorials and retrospectives on artists who had passed away. The impact of the epidemic is clear in Thing—it is not unusual to see a feature by an artist in one issue of Thing and a eulogy for that same artist in a subsequent issue.

Thing no. 9 Cover – Martha Wash, Thing Publishing, 1993, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 9 (Summer 1993) features a photograph of Martha Wash by Dan DuVerney.

Thing no. 10 Cover – Jazzmun, Thing Publishing, 1993, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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The cover of Thing no. 10 (Summer 1993) features Jazzmun photographed by Hollywood Models with styling by Johanna and digital coloring by Simone Bouyer.

Wall Collage at Thing Magazine Office by Thompson, Michael (pending confirmation)Chicago History Museum

The Impact

Thing's impact on the LGBT+ community was profound. The Thing magazine records contain outpourings of love in the form of letters, photographs, and notes from readers.

Rosser Shymanski (DeAundra Peek) (left) and Trent Adkins, Rosser Shymanski, 1992-07, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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From left: Rosser Shymanski (DeAundra Peek) and Trent Adkins, July 1992.

RuPaul with Robert Ford and Terry Martin, Lee Kay, 1992-11-19, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Robert Ford, RuPaul, and Thing editor Terry Martin pose for a photograph in front of a Lee Kay bubblehead portrait of RuPaul at La Laconda restaurant, Chicago, November 19, 1992.

Trent Adkins and Robert T. Ford in the Think Office, unknown, 1992-07, From the collection of: Chicago History Museum
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Robert Ford (left) and Trent Adkins at work in the Thing editorial office, July 1992.

Robert T. Ford (1992-01-05) by Lee KayChicago History Museum

Robert Ford passed away at the age of 32 on October 4, 1994, due to AIDS-related complications. His friends and family—contributors to and supporters of both Think Ink and Thing—preserved his work and brought it to the Chicago History Museum in 1995. As a result, the writings, publications, photographs, research, audio, and video created by Ford and everyone at Thing are available to any and all who would wish to view them.

Credits: Story

Special thanks to the following individuals who made this Google Arts & Culture exhibit possible:

Rebekah McFarland
Julie Wroblewski
Julius L. Jones
Esther Wang
Timothy Paton Jr.
Ashley Gillanders
Solveig Nelson

Delmas Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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