Mark Maynard is an Ypsilanti figurehead. Truly. There's a
puppet in his likeness acting up around town. Talking with the people.
Prodding the mayor for answers. Crowning a falafel speed-eating king.
How is that? Why does a city immortally cast one of its residents in
cloth and wood? Must be that he and Ypsi go way, way back. See,
Maynard's been there, done that, yet his to-do list still wraps around
Maynard originally hails from Kentucky, where,
incidentally, many Ypsilantians have roots. His collegiate days were
interspersed with time off for odd jobs and historic archeology work
excavating one of the first glass foundries in New York City, old
bakeries, homesteads, and such. "For somebody who was interested in
American culture, it was a really nice career and I would've stuck with
that. I loved it, but there's not much money in it."
majoring in American Studies at the University of Michigan, he played
noise music with Prehensile Tailed Monkey Skink. "It was a purposely
confrontational kind of band, the kind that young men are known to be
in." After graduating in 1993, Maynard moved to Atlanta with his future
wife, Linette Lao. A few years later they moved to Ypsilanti for her
graduate program at EMU, and afterward left for L.A. When the start-up
where Maynard was employed went belly-up in 1999, the couple moved back to Ypsi for good.
Maynard says he returned, in part, because of places like
Freighthouse, a vintage 1800s warehouse in Depot Town. He recalls
sharing space around a pot-bellied stove with a cross dresser and
African American kids dancing with old white men. That
take-me-for-who-I-am vibe defines the city for Maynard. Few chains
locate in or near the downtown. When they leave, the independents move
in. Pita Pita is in a former Dunkin' Donuts. Pacific Beach Burrito used
to be an A&W. "I think in Ypsi, you may not like [everything], but
it'd be hard to deny that it has character. People are looking for
authentic real places and that's one of the things we've got to our
advantage," Maynard says. "That's certainly one of the things that
resonated with my wife and I when we decided to move back here."
he returned without having a job lined up. But that quickly changed.
Maynard's day job today is in marketing and business
development, but his sidelines are what make the headlines. He never
imagined that a brief foray into underwear design would land some
national attention. Co-created
with his wife, the Ypsipanty – a tribute to the city's circa-1800s
underwear factory – went
viral when Elvis Costello flashed a pair on stage.
The writerly rundown
Maynard was first
known for his zine, Crimewave USA, which he still
co-publishes with his wife. "Crimewave is an excuse for us to
talk to people that we admire, to some extent," Maynard says. Think
Peter Falk, Daniel Pinkwater, and the Velvet Underground.
he's got the web humming with his eponymous blog of the last eight
It's a second career on which he spends hours every weeknight, leaving
him a scant six hours of Zs. The blog draws 400-500 unique readers
daily, he estimates, with out-of-staters comprising 25% of the
readership. Maynard follows the news "obsessively", dividing
left-leaning content between local events and issues and national
interest topics. A recent post questioned The Wall Street Journal's
decision to run a 17-year-old photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena
Kagan swinging for the bases – a move he perceives as a jab at her
"I think I use my blog to
[build community] in Ypsi, Ann Arbor, just to get a bunch of people
involved in talking to each other, even though they've never met in real
And, more importantly, readers are a testing ground for
Cranking out the films
His best, must-do, whack-on-the-side-of-the-head
Powered Cinema (exactly what it sounds like). Inspired by the
riverside setting of a cinema classic, Night
of the Hunter, Maynard conceived of an open air theater along
the Huron River in Ypsi's Riverside Park. But how to run the projector
and audio equipment? Pedal power! "That was one of those kinds of
things, where it was one of a hundred ideas I threw out [in the blog]
over the course of a year. A lot of people not only showed interest,
they volunteered their time to do it."
"People tell me what we
need to have so no one gets electrocuted and so we're able to create the
power," he explains. One person can produce 40-60 watts, so Maynard
figures that eight in-sync pedalers could provide enough power.
The first bike was cobbled together with
Maynard's personal funds plus contributions from visitors to Ypsi's
Shadow Art Fair. The Corner Brewery and its patrons,
Sidetrack, and the Elbow Room donated another
$800 to rig a second bike and purchase an inverter. Next is a proof of
concept showing at the end of May, using two riders to charge a
battery-run movie.He plans free showings of three or four flicks a summer.
"The people in the community are pedaling, the people in the community
contributed to make it happen, the people in the community voted on what
movies to see. I want it to be a very democratic, community grass-roots
kind of event." It'd also be the first of its kind in the country,
Maynard believes – though Liverpool,
England has everyone beat.
A bike also powered his laptop
at the Shadow
Art Fair, Ypsi's counter-culture answer to the venerable Ann
Arbor Art Fairs. Conceived five years ago, "The fair was all the
most interesting people we knew who were actually making shit," co-founder Maynard says. The five
founders jury the show spread over 40 tables at the Corner Brewery, a
wide open space banded with a necklace of huge old industrial windows.
They tend to look for firsts. "We don't necessarily choose the people
with the most sellable stuff. More than anything we look for people that
are doing kind of interesting work, especially work that engages
people." Past fairs were dotted with arty hairdo stations, a
confrontational cat, and a stand dispensing hugs with your vegan gumbo
(soup for the soul!).
When the staff at the Dreamland Theater needed a
character for a play on the history of Ypsi, they looked to Maynard as a
modern-day version of local curator and historian. Thus the Mark
Maynard marionette was born.
Tonight, a talk show Maynard began hosting at the theater last
March with his puppet stand-in, balances his need to engage with his
innate stage-shyness. He sees guests on camera and does the voice-over
through a mic. "It makes it a lot easier for me. I'm somewhat phobic,
but I'm also kind of torn between liking a lot of attention and not
wanting attention... these two halves of me are constantly fighting."
puppet proxy emcees and yammers with guests. The show is a good balance
of on-your-toes questioning and comedic reprieves. The future lineup
includes a possible mayoral debate for June, and visiting celebs are on
the radar. When Amy Sedaris politely declined an appearance during a
visit to EMU, "It made me realize we need to get our stuff together in
order to sound more legitimate... It sounds kind of insane when you say
you want your puppet to talk to [guests]."
At a recent gathering, Maynard presented footage of
skateboarders jumping off mini homemade cement ramps at a vacant gas
station on Cross Street to Dug Song, a member of the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee. "We had all these Ypsi people skating it like it was a real skatepark
and it probably cost $20 to make everything there. We showed it to Dug
and said 'This is what we have in Ypsi. We don't have a million dollar
skatepark, but our people still skate.' "
illustrates the different city mindsets: One is Power Point; the other,
paper and glue. Even a typo has its place; Ann Arbor is quirky in some
respects, OK, but Ypsi is just quirly.
"I think one of the reasons I like Ypsi too is that in Ann
Arbor there's an entrenched kind of leadership. Everything runs
smoothly and it seems like they've got things pretty much together.
There's a well established arts community. In Ypsi there wasn't that
kind of infrastructure and there weren't a lot of people to stop you
from doing interesting things. You can come to town with a good idea,
and people want to see what you can do with it."
Arbor's Tech Center was torn down, creatives looked to Ypsi in search of
welcoming, affordable space and inspiration. Despite this creative
influx, Maynard thinks some are content to see his city as a mere
bedroom community for Ann Arbor. He won't settle for that. "I'm not
ready to give up on manufacturing and stuff. I would love to have a
company be here that was making alternative energy products, putting our
workforce to work and making turbine blades for windmills or things
like that."He recently heard from a friend who knows eight people
moving to the city within the next few months. And his wife met someone
who moved there after attending the Shadow Art Fair. "That's really
gratifying, to think that some little kernel of an idea I had five years
ago could actually trickle down to a taxpayer moving to Ypsi. It's
And those unrehearsed kernels can meet with
surprising success. Maynard sings for the Monkey Power Trio, a quintet
of friends that meet just one day a year to record and press to
seven-inch vinyl. An early song "You've Gotta Have Hope" was picked up
by Fox Sports for a national ad campaign and the late John Peel, the
vaunted BBC deejay, played a few songs. Note: listen to "Winifred".
think one of the reasons I like making music is you don't have to
really be proficient, and this is kind of true of a lot of my
projects... It's more important to just get out there and contribute,
and make something instead of consuming something."
Tanya Muzumdar comes with strings attached. She's also the assistant editor at Metromode, a freelance writer, and frequent contributor to Concentrate. Her previous article was Bridging the Generational Divide Over Downtown.
Please send comments here.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.