Matthew "Fluke" Thompson and his daughter Emma. Photo by Chrissy Piper.
Matthew Thompson hasn't lived in Arkansas in 13-14 years, yet no one chronicles the state's punk and DIY culture more ardently. Thompson, 38, stays connected online and has a website (flukezine.com
), but his primary mode of publishing, like a lot of his editorial content, is throwback. Since 1991, he's published — somewhat sporadically — Fluke zine, a thick pamphlet-sized book of interviews, essays, photos and artwork. And while he doesn't cut and paste and rely on hook-ups at Kinko's to publish anymore, his methods today seem like a natural evolution: He relies on friends for contributions; lays out each issue in Microsoft Word; prints, for about a dollar an issue, at a small press in Berkeley, Calif., and distributes by mail order.
I wrote about Fluke in this week's Book's section (and swiped that first paragraph). Here's a longer interview with Thompson:You haven't lived in Arkansas for 13-14 years, yet still continue to put out a zine that's wrapped up in Arkansas punk and metal and skate and DIY culture past and present. Is that a testament to the vitality of the Arkansas scene? Or are you a sucker for nostalgia? What's the deal?
I consider myself a nostalgic person, honestly. Which some people might see as a bad thing. I personally enjoy looking back on the past. Not living there of course, although I did spend a lot of years living in the past. I try to do my best living in the present these days. It's also a testament of the scene as well and what's going on there and basically my love for Little Rock. The thing about Fluke is that it always has been a community-oriented thing. It's not a one-man show. It's a collaboration of effort from a lot of different people. The heart of the zine has always been in Little Rock. That's where Fluke belongs.
I read on the Towncraft site about the origin story of Fluke, with Steve Schmidt pooling his efforts that were originally intended for Plaid, a zine that never happened, with stuff you and Jason White came up with stuff. But beyond that, why did you start a zine? Was that the thing to do in 1991?
It was Steve Schmidt who kind of started it. He had his own thing where he was going to put out the zine Plaid. He had some interviews. And Jason had an interview or two and some writing. We were all hanging out together. We all skated together and went to shows together and were very close. So I wanted to get in on it. There was another zine called AHOALTON that Mark Dober did. There was that zine that came out before Fluke. We were all just hanging out. Jason was still in high school. It was the summer, and we didn't have a whole lot of responsibilities and there was a lot going on and we wanted to document it. Then around 1992 there was this huge influx of zines. Everybody was doing a zine. It was pretty overwhelming. A lot of them were really, really crappy. Some of them were good. And some of them were supposed to come out and they never did. It was the era. There were a lot of national acts coming through. It was a good way to document that. How did you distribute when you originally started?
I can remember doing #1 and Colin Brooks was working at Kinko's in North Little Rock, and he printed them off by huge discount. We may've printed out 100. The night we were done with Fluke #1 we were driving around, just distributing them by hand. We had a few in Been Around and Arkansas Record Exchange. We had them available through File 13 mail order and Burt and whoever else would put the zine on their flyers or handouts. Mostly you had 100 zines and pass them to your friends and maybe they'd give you a dollar. Nowadays, I have my own website where I sell them. Microcosm Publishing is distributing Fluke #8. Then I try to put them in as many record stores as I can. Other than that Andy Conrad is kind of the de facto street team president. He usually has some that he can sell. Burt at Max Recordings has a bunch. Travis Hill at Last Chance has some. With advent of the Internet it's a lot different. How many did you print of Fluke #8?
750. Would you do another run if you sold out?
I wouldn't sell 750 of copies. I don't have tons of people knocking down my door. Markley, who was the drummer of Econochrist, he did #7 and #8. He's the owner of Econopress in Oakland. I try to keep it in the family, you know. Where'd the name Fluke come from?
I think Steve came up with it. Honestly, I like the name Plaid better. Then, I kind of starting writing Fluke on walls and people started calling me Fluke. I took the zine over when we all started going our separate ways. It's kind of become a nickname for me Does Fluke have an ethos?
It's definitely DIY. I kind of like to have a positive slant on things. I don't want a whole lot of negativity in my zine. I want things that inspire people or entertain or make people think or make people laugh. I think one of the best compliments I ever got was from this girl Lisa Cobb, who told me once that this thing I wrote in one of John Pugh's zines. She said it made her laugh, then it made her cry, then it made her laugh again. I want people to feel inspired, to feel better about the world after reading it. I don't do ads. I'm not trying to sell anybody anything except for the zine itself. The people in it are people who inspire me or entertain me. I want to make it a community thing. That's really important to me. You talk about community, are there people you always count on? Like, is Nate Powell always going to do something?
I hope so, Nate's awesome. I can always count on him. Emily Galusha did the stickers for the last issue. As far as contributors, Mark Howe has been the biggest contributor. He's been contributing since number two. And then Andy has contributed a whole lot over the years. I can definitely count on a few people. John Pugh used to contribute a lot. He said he had a crossword puzzle for me, but he never sent it. Jason [White's] interested. Steve Schmidt has this band called Avenue Boulevard now, and he's talking about doing something. Generally, I've got a couple of people and then I search around to find people I'm interested in. What's your ideal production schedule?
Ideally, I'd like to do one a year. I feel like that's feasible. I'm a family man working stiff these days. I collect things as I go along. I'd like to get another one out this year. How much does it cost you to put it out?
Oh, jeez. This one cost $750. It's kind of a chunk of money. Do you recoup that?
I don't know yet. (Laughs). I'll let you know. I've probably recouped a third. I'd like to make my money back. But it's not a big deal. I've never made a dime on it. I never intended to or expected to, but I'd like to make my money back. I know you're a family man. Do you get pressures at home, like 'What are you doing spending $750 on this stupid zine?'
Not really. My wife knows how important it is to me, and she supports me definitely. I was doing pretty good financially for the last two years, before I was laid off. So I had the money to do it.
I get support. She's helped me lay it out, which I haven't really mastered yet. I did the last two on Microsoft Word, believe it or not. How does Tucson compare to Little Rock?
It's completely different. It's the Southwest. So the culture is 100% different. Tucson has a small town feel to it. I think it's comparable by size. There's a lot going on, a good music scene. But there's good people in Tucson like there are in Little Rock. Can you see yourself coming back?
I don't know. Not any time soon. Probably not. I kind of like the southwest. I miss the South a lot, especially around springtime. If so, it would be years later. What's the future of Fluke?
Next year, I'm planning on doing the 20th anniversary, which'll have all the interviews with bands that've been in there: Fugazi, Lungfish (their first interview), Plaid Retina, Ben Sizemore, Nuisance, Phleg Camp, Monsula, Tim Lamb, Mohammed Lukatah, Jon Hook, Mike Watt, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Kevin Kerby, Christ on Parade. And then whatever pops up. I think it's an interesting dynamic, as I get older, to continue doing it for the community that did so much for me, because it changed so much. You think they'll ever be a digital version of Fluke?
Basically, the idea is that anything in the zine stays in the zine. I don't like mixing those two worlds together. Because the fanzine is a hands on thing. It's something you can put in your back pocket and go and read it on the train bridge in Little Rock. You can pass it to your friends. I can put it in the mail. It's something you can touch and feel. What do you do when you're not working on the zine?
I play with my kids, my daughter and a newborn son. I like traveling with my family. I work as a telephone engineer. I like drinking coffee and eating burritos and reading comic books.