FLUKE – a Wonderland of Book Arts

by Mark Katzman

Upon an initial look into the filled-to-capacity 40 Watt with small tables staged tightly together and a slew of people sharing ideas and selling (or giving away or exchanging) their comics, mini-comics, artist books, graphic novels, art prints/etchings, self-published books, wonderfully weird zines and book creations and some that defy genre, I realized I’d better reach out to the organizer, Robert Newsom, to orient me to all things FLUKE, which has eluded me for many years. One thing is for certain, the written word, in all of its myriad forms, is fully alive and well, with participants from not only Athens and the Southeast, but from all over the country, displaying their creative wares at this boutique gathering of like-minded book arts creators and lovers of the printed/graphic (and very mailable) Word. With a mandatory mask mandate in effect (which I believe was the right decision with so many people crammed into a small area) it did make it difficult to carry on conversations. The photos both here and on Instagram give an approximation of the wonders of comics/self-published books/artist books/zines/and graphic arts which is FLUKE.

I spoke with Robert Newsome outside of the 40 Watt before squeezing my way through the crowd of people inching along the displays. The feeling of the comradery between the book makers and the attendees was apparent. The 40 Watt was filled with an energy akin to a music show but with the added interaction of all parties involved. Put FLUKE on your calendar for next year. You will not be disappointed.

Let’s go to Wikipedia first:

“Fluke was established in January 2002 by cartoonist T. Edward Bak. He founded the festival after the previous year’s Small Press Expo was cancelled in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The name of the festival comes from the fact that its genesis was by chance, or a fluke. For its second year, Bak asked for help organizing the event from cartoonist Patrick Dean and ‘zine publisher Robert Newsome, who has ended up serving as its organizer in the years since. The mission statement for the festival states:

Conceived as a venue for the discussion and exchange of timely ideas related to mini-comics, zines, and other independent publications, FLUKE is not a large comic convention or merchandising-saturated extravaganza. We have kept the organization of the event as simple as possible to ensure that it remains focused on work and ideas rather than merchandising.

Interview with Robert Newsome:

Athens Uncharted: When did FLUKE start and what was the impetus for it?

Robert Newsome: FLUKE started in 2002. In 2001, September 11th happened and the Small Press ExPo (SPX) in Washington, D.C. was cancelled that year. But there were a lot of artists who were from the Southeast who had stuff ready to go to SPX and so Todd Bak, who was a cartoonist living in Athens, started FLUKE. And it was, basically, a venue for those artists who had stuff ready for SPX to get together at Tasty World and show off what they were doing. I was not involved with the planning of the first FLUKE at all but I volunteered to work the door. It was great. I loved it. And my friend Patrick Dean and I wanted to do it the next year, but Bak didn’t. So we took over and became co-organizers of FLUKE. And there has been sort of a rotating cast of people doing FLUKE, but it’s always been me, Patrick and a cast of volunteers who help with the artwork and the setting up of the tables. We’re very fortunate to have a strong community of supporters.

AU: What’s the heart and soul of FLUKE?

RN: FLUKE turned out to be a comics-heavy show because it’s first year people were people going to SPX and they had a lot of comics stuff and were mainly working that area in-between the Atlanta campus and the Savannah College of Art and Design. So a lot of people who are doing comics there will come to FLUKE as either their first show or one of their first shows. Low barrier for entry, low cost. Just throw some comics together and put’em on the table. That said, we really try to stress that it’s for all sorts of self-publishing, small press, independent publishing, not just comics. It is a comics-heavy show and I think that’s great but we want to make sure that people who make zines and people who are doing small press self-publishing and independent publishing who are not comics-focused are represented.

AU: What does your own work involve?

RN: The zines that I do are not comics-based. Sometimes there are comics in them but they’re not by me. One of the reasons I like doing FLUKE is because you find people who are doing this stuff that you are looking for. And I think that there’s a lot of that. Every year I find something in FLUKE that’s happening really close in physical proximity to where I am that I never would have known about otherwise. So I think that’s what keeps me going with it because there are so many people doing this kind of work.

AU: The room looks filled to capacity.

RN: We sell our exhibitor places out very quickly but we’re going to experiment with a lottery system next year. I don’t want to do jury and we don’t want to leave the 40 Watt. We acknowledge the fact that this exists because of the small press publishing scene in this town. That scene is largely, but not entirely centered, through Bizaro-Wuxtry who sponsors us because that store has fostered the scene. I think people gravitate towards the curation of the work that the manager of that store has done which has really built a scene around it. And I don’t want to commodify it because of a store. It’s the community that’s grown up around that place.

AU: The future looks bright for FLUKE.

RN: The future looks exactly the same. (laughs) I don’t have aspirations to go bigger. I just want to stay this way as long as we can. Patrick passed away two years ago in May. This is for him. We want to keep it the way it was. We’re very fortunate and lucky because a lot of people try one thing or another and it doesn’t work, for one reason or another. And FLUKE works. That’s why I don’t want it to change. I’m reluctant to tinker with it. It’s like an old car. You don’t know how it keeps running but it does. You put the same gas in it. You drive it the same way and hope it holds up.