By Carrion Baggage
In an interview in Sluice zine Matt Thompson is being given space to celebrate his own zine. Zines interviewing zines seems like a setup to a joke. But Matt is old and accomplished — he’s not taking his time here frivolously.
He describes making the first issue of Fluke with his friends as well as the second issue a year later. “1992 saw a huge influx of zines.” And for sure, the whole decade was like a wildfire cutting across the land. Thousands of people were motivated to get out their ideas, stories, personality and anything else they could onto paper. This spark reached Matt and Co. all the way to the remote flatlands & hills of Arkansas. The fact that numerous grassroots spaces like info shops self-identify as “zine libraries/making space” hints at the force at play. Given that was 30 years ago, there’s always an excuse why it’s not the same today. The internet. Deforestation. Ego Trips Are Bad for Children (and other living Beings too)
Fluke made only five issues during the ‘90s, when it seemed like everyone made a zine. It was later, when most people ran to video and web design, that he came back and intensified his efforts in publishing. Matt’s life was in disarray; a failed love relationship, struggles with addiction, becoming a parent and the general problems of life made him double down on what inspired him to act. The return to Fluke helped to signify the music he loved, the diaspora of Little Rock freaks and the uplifting of other creative projects from graffiti to underground film.
Matt recently came to the East Bay upon the release of Fluke #19 which is a beast of a new issue. It shows how sustained effort makes results. “I started this issue in December 2018. I did two issues since then as well as starting a publishing company where I published ten other zines. (Which includes works from Phoenix artist NXOEED, Hawaiian punker New Wave Chicken and fallen wild man Matt Limo Zine). “This has been something I’ve been working on in the background (the whole time).”
Matt is a tall guy with a large frame. Almost a mini giant. His speech is languid with hints of a Southern twang but not quite with the generic flourish you get with a speaker from the Mississippi or Texas. It’s a voice of a laborer who plows through tasks. His words are measured. “And then dealing with self doubt…dealing with any type of personal issues I may have had at the time. Those always come into play.”
Issue #19 has none of the dear diary personal demons of its maker often associated with ‘90s zines. The new issue is interviews with people who make Mail Art — that is art sent through the post office. A niche scene of creators not too far from the punk scene that he dedicated the previous eighteen issues. He describes the commonality being “People sharing ideas and art.” Many of those he interviewed first heard about Mail Art in the early 1970s in an article in Rolling Stone Magazine. It is an underground art movement that has slowly attracted new practitioners over time & space.
“They are strangers at first but become friends and form common bonds. They share couch space. They travel and do events across the country…and in the world.” This issue talks to people in San Francisco, Vancouver, Sweden & Japan. Some felt their work at the time was outside the mainstream definition of “Fine Art” but are also content to be where they are.
“People tell me I have no audience for Mail Art — its not really gonna work out. There have been times I wanted to throw it in the trash and not even do it.”
Zines often cover “who cares” type of things and attempts to get the rest of us to. Fluke is one of the many publications taking cue from the zine Cometbus in content as well as form. The first issues of that zine championed local Berkeley bands. It quickly led to pages magnifying the hangouts, personalities and lifestyle of punks as well as the freaks around town. Cometbus came from & covered one of America’s most offbeat grassroots communities that was transformed by the 1960’s — as it went through a slow boil into a yuppie MK Ultra soup of today. It took the Bay Area funk, style and intelligence outside the imaginary bubble. It helped popularize exploring new cities, dumpster diving and overdosing on coffee. It’s one thing to proclaim “revolution” and a whole ‘nother thing to demonstrate it. Cometbus turned forty in 2021, yet it continues to be in production. This whole time shifting focus and approach, yet keeping punk and a community freak vibe as foundation. It has inspired thousands of zine-writers to get to work. Often the zines are pale imitators, making the same things Cometbus writes about seem lifeless, dull and self indulgent. Ah ‘90s zines. Fluke started off looking like Cometbus but with issue #19 it is making a firm step up. The new issue shows how good it is to bust out of a niche scene playing with mirrors. It’s not just a zine interviewing zines or punks doing secret handshakes to other punks.
“Gathering all the information, piecing it all together…It’s been a labor of love for me. I love to persevere and see it come to fruition. I love to prove my own self-doubt wrong. It came out way better than I imagined.”
The new issue is surprisingly handsome. Many pages are full color and on glossy paper. None of the interviews are overly long or repetitive. And the whole thing is priced in the $5 range — to counter the trend of everyone raising prices and lowering quality. A path that new zines seem to follow to only end up having their hard work be ignored.
In the tradition of the subject matter of Mail Art, each issue has a cool old stamp posted inside. But the fun of making a zine doesn’t end so easily. “This is just half-way through the process.” Meaning sending out orders, visiting stores that carry zines and other such tasks. At one point Matt endeavored to send out a piece of mail each day. Not just zines but letters, postcards — you know the things people do with their phones these days. This eventually lead to Matt’s adventure to find caches of unused stamps in the numerous estate sales on hand. An activity necessitated by the outrageous fee increases forwarded by the Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (everyone hiss). It’s a lot of work that only a few people appreciate.
Matt’s visit to the Bay Area brings to mind the historic visit of first wave English punk band The Clash. In between shows they were taken to Mt. Tamalpais. It is one of the Bay Area’s most distinctive landmarks whose shape is said to be that of a woman reclining. A Native American princess. Man what a way of first meeting California. In busted-ass homage Matt was taken to Indian Rock — a place he had never seen despite his love for the area. Outside of the North Berkeley Pegasus Books (where they refused to carry his or any zine on their shelf) — with it’s small town sleepy suburb thing going on it is a short but steep climb to reach. Another world is there above the trees and roofs. Line of sight to the Golden Gate Bridge, “the City”, Oakland…Richmond, Marin and the aforementioned Mt. Tam. It’s good to get a little high after a bunch of long days laboring over these art projects. And what a spot to contemplate this “civilization” that we fight for AND against everyday. It’s daunting to think sometimes where it’s all going — but a whole ‘nother thing to think how short of a time it’s been this way. All this human development….-barely 150 years. Often we hope for change to make improvements on our condition only to be met with the joke being on those who care.
With the advent of access to the cheaper technology of the last twenty five years, we had a short run where activist organizations were in full bloom against the big corporations (Anyone remember Indy Media?). Only in these last few years to see an explosion of small time thugs doing startup media and pushing the right wing opinion forever and ever Amen. The new indy media of today is funded by the Koch Brothers, Raytheon and Bayer.
The Clash made it to Mt. Tam from the dire conditions of 1970s England. Poverty. Racism. War. Perhaps society was really gonna collapse at the time. A toxic cocktail that a small group of friends transformed into something that helped them get out of the prison of their world and to the other side of the planet. In the process they reach millions of dissatisfied people who were ready to give up. Their music and the movement of the moment gave them a way outta no way. Though Fluke zine started as a small group like a band, it says much how one person continues to do it. Much like how Slingshot as one person (because let’s be real, presently it’s not really a collective) is able to make things happen and open doors for other people struggling. The threat of collapse is very much on people’s mind today.
-“Its funny doing a magazine-a publication..it always seems to drive itself. It directs me where it wants to go and I listen to it. It’s good to build something from the ground up. And now that it’s out it is half-way through the lifespan.”
Back home where he lives now in Phoenix, Arizona— it is a life without much fanfare for the maker of a fanzine. Day job, kids, and, at best, trips to the post office downtown where he can then celebrate the day at his favorite cafe. As Matt is filling orders for zines he dreams out loud about future issues of Fluke. Is anyone else thinking positively about the future?
…Um, show not tell
PO Box 1547
Phoenix, AZ 85001