Arts & CultureArts & Culture Features

Fluke Mini-Comics Festival

A long line of people—comprised of artists anxiously waiting to set up their tables—snaked around the bend of Pulaski and Washington streets outside the 40 Watt. This was the sight outside Fluke Fest last year, but it wasn’t always that way.

The Fluke Festival is an annual event which showcases independent comic artists. “The first year we did it, 50 people showed up, and we thought that was great,†says program organizer Robert Newsome. “And it grew year after year, until this year was the first year that we did pre-registration, and it sold out in two weeks.†Newsome estimates that nearly 75 artists will be featured at this year’s festival, with work ranging from mini-comics to indie-zines to art books, manga and graphic novels.

“As far as what is or isn’t encouraged at Fluke, I really don’t care,†Newsome says boldly. “If you’re shoving a crayon up your nose and scratching it on a piece of cardboard, that’s fine by me.â€

Original Fluke organizers Patrick Dean and Todd Bak envisioned the fest as a gathering place that offered a free exchange of ideas among indie artists. Devlin Thompson, curator for festival sponsor Bizarro-Wuxtry, concurs and says of the event’s modus operandi:

“It’s not about bringing in Battlestar Galactica stars and washed-up pro-wrestlers. Basic policy: no celebrity guests and a minimum of big-deal exhibitors.†Bizarro-Wuxtry was involved with the festival from the start, yet Thompson does not always personally attend the events. “I guess I’d say we’re more like the theme-center—like the Epcot Dome,†he says. “It’s important for me to be here to help people coming through the shop on that day.â€

The quirky store perched above the renowned record shop on Clayton Street accepts comic submissions from artists exhibiting at Fluke. “We encourage anyone tabling there to bring in their stuff. We’ll try a couple of just about anything.â€

However, with the rise in the popularity of conventions like Dragon-con and Comic-con, there’s pressure for smaller comic festivals like Fluke to expand and be more selective about whom they choose to exhibit. What began as a small gathering of indie-comic creators at the now-defunct Tasty World in 2002 has grown significantly, drawing nearly 400 attendees last year. As scale increases, one questions whether or not Fluke can escape the allure of becoming a more profitable convention by moving to Atlanta or even touring nationally. But Newsome remains firm that Fluke is here to stay.

“The spirit of this festival and what it is and what it has become is something that only exists because of something that a town like this can provide. We’re never leaving Athens.â€

Although the number of artists vying for position at the fest may be rising, perhaps many do not seek to confine themselves inside the creative walls of mainstream comic artists. Fluke is an event designed for the unpublished, after all. And that’s not to say professional artists and publishers won’t be in attendance—Marietta’s Top Shelf Publishing and Savannah College of Art And Design’s Sequential Arts Lab are both sponsors—nor to say that unpublished work is somehow less relevant than the mainstream. But the allure of success pulls at the back of every artist’s mind, whether they are a hobbyist or a professional, and also at the minds of the organizations that exhibit them. With great passion comes a great desire for progress, so maybe this year’s Fluke Fest will reveal a surprising but vibrant future for the Athens indie-comic scene.