Spring is here, which means it’s time for the start of convention season. Major conventions always have their pros and cons, but some of my favorite to attend are the small, intimate experiences. This past holiday weekend, I sojourned with some friends up to Athens, Georgia to check out the FLUKE Mini-Comics and Zine Festival. I was trying to think of the best way to package my weekend experience, as Athens itself is so much of what made the trip great, so I decided to share a travel journal about my time there. I hope you enjoy.
9:00am: I’d probably like to get more sleep since we went to a friend’s house for dinner and egg dying the night before, but we’re supposed to leave at 10am and I haven’t packed yet, so here we are. I manage to champ it out by 10, but my travel companions, Stephen Green (I just wrote about him and you should check that article out!) and John Caldwell are running a bit behind schedule and the new plan is for 11. Our fourth friend, Jordan Mooney, is traveling separately, but texts to say that he wasn’t able to get our Exquisite Corpse finished. I volunteer to print it since I’m ready to go early.
10:45am: Driving to Office Max. The Exquisite Corpse is a weekly project where our drawing group, The Savannah Society of Cartooning and Eschatology, continue a comic strip story by only seeing the panel that proceeds it. Our core group is often joined by guests and friends, so this project was contributed to by eleven artists, including a guest panel by Mike McKone! We decided to put it together for FLUKE. Fortunately, the Boomtube zine (more on that coming soon) and my personal mini-comic, Are You Haunted by A Cat, were printed earlier in the week.
1:30pm: After some complications, everything is finally printed, and Stephen, John, and I are on the road to Athens! I regrettably ate some McDonalds on the way to meet Stephen and John.
2:30pm: Gas station stop. I got strawberry Fanta and Skittles. I maybe need to rexamine my life Vis-à-vis my relationship with food.
5:45pm: We check in at our hotel, and Stephen considers drawing Larry King in the back of the Gideon Bible in our room and labeling it as “about the author”. He decides against defacing hotel property.
6:15pm: We stop in to Bizarro-Wuxtry, Athens’ famous comic book shop. The amount of stock is overwhelming, but I still manage to walk out with a 90s Black Bolt figure, some Batman Adventures comics, a Moebius Dark Horse Presents issue, and a particularly fascinating self-published Steve Ditko book, The Mocker. Time to eat.
7:30pm: After calling a friend for recommendations, we have dinner and drinks at The Globe, and then more drinks at another bar I can’t remember the name of.
12:00am – Y’all. Athens has a place called Insomnia Cookies, that sells WARM COOKIES. We wonder why Savannah doesn’t have such an innovation as we eat cookies in the rain.
12:30am – We get back to the hotel and a gang of girls (one of which looks like John Candy) in the room next to us are having a 21st birthday party. They invite us over for beer and Four Loko. We decline.
9:30am – Time to be productive. Lil’ Black Bolt is joining me today on the adventure.
11:00am – The FLUKE doors open, Jordan is already set up inside, as he was the one who got the table. I walk around for a couple of hours exploring the tables. I am really impressed by the quality and quantity of work being represented by artists from around the region and country. A couple of folks even came from as far as Portland, OR. That’s some comics dedication.
So you might be asking, what is FLUKE? Well, a press release for the event describes it much better than I can:
“FLUKE is a mini-comic festival that has been organized by Athens-area comic artists, underground publishers and their enthusiasts since 2002. 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. The organization of the event is kept as simple as possible to ensure that it remains focused on work and ideas rather than merchandising.”
I wander the floor never quite sure how to end a non-purchase transaction. Is there some written etiquette for going to a table, picking up a comic that looks really awesome, and then escaping when it doesn’t meet your expectations? Certainly you can’t buy everything, you have to be choosy, but you also don’t want to seem like a jerk when you’re not interested. The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking we should publish a Ms. Manners article leading into convention season for navigating Artist Alleys.
Chris Sims from ComicsAlliance is here with his book Down. Set. Fight., published by Oni. They are one of the sponsors for the event. I talk with him and co-creators Chad Bowers and Josh Krach ( illustrator Scott Kowalchuk was not present). Chris is a very convincing salesman, and I grab a copy. I plan to review it later for the site, but for now I’ll just say BUY THIS COMIC.
1:30pm – We wander out to grab some Record Store Day exclusives at Wuxtry (they have a record story downstairs from the comic shop), but I can’t find the Sam Cooke album I’m looking for. But I get a Miles Davis album anyway. We go to Herschels for lunch, and i”m not super impressed.
3:00pm – Back at FLUKE, I’m struck by how little I really know about indie comics as I converse with some of the artists. I can talk with the best of them about mainstream comics, but I find myself at a loss when it comes to small and alternative press work. I make a note that I need to fix that. I chat with a few artists to find what excites them about Fluke. Emily Erdman, a SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Atlanta student had this to say…
“This is my second year tabling at FLUKE, I’ve been coming here for 3 years….I like that it’s a small, intimate atmosphere, and it’s just basically a big place where you can hang out with your friends who also trying to sell their comics, and you meet so many people…”
Another SCAD student, Maggie Venable, loves FLUKE because it’s easy for students to enter into, and that it’s a great way to break the ice and get into the convention circuit.
Christopher Green is at FLUKE representing his school, the Sequential Artists Workshop of out Gainesville, FL. It’s his first time at FLUKE, but SAW is a FLUKE sponsor. He explains that at SAW, “we learn comics history, visual storytelling, technical drawing skills, illustration…” and that he’s a first-year student in their program.
I think about the differing paths into the comics industry, and wonder what influences folks to get into comics. Emily pointed to web comics and Maggie indicated that her gateway was newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes and manga. I was surprised by how few I talked to were inspired by superhero comics in the way that I was. It’s kind of neat.
5:30pm – We’re pretty exhausted, so we head out to get some coffee. We end up at Walker’s Coffee and Pub, to rest for a bit and survey our haul. We compare notes on what we all got vs. what we were really mad we missed. A few notable favorites that I grabbed:
Alien Vs. Predator Vs. Brown Vs. The Board of Education by Adam Casey: This was easily the funniest book I picked up. The title is a really good representation of what you’re going to get.
Dude Bros by Joe Walton: The only book you’ll ever need on the topic of bros.
Titan by Francois Vigneault: Absolutely beautiful sci-fi adventure. I picked up the first issue, and i’m really intrigued…I won’t say too much, but you can read it online at the Study Group Comics page.
Yearling: Masked Detective and Killer In My Sleep by Rich Tommaso: Rich brings a really great retro style to his books, each exploring a different crime/suspense genres. The books I picked up were so great, and left me wanting MORE of his stuff.
7:30pm – We have dinner at a diner across the street from Walkers, and debate the pros and cons of going to a party vs. going back to the hotel. We ultimately decide to not be the worst and most lame, and go to the party. It’s hosted by the super talented Eleanor Davis. We won’t know anyone there, so we take some time to psych ourselves up and buy some whiskey.
10:00pm – It’s a little weird for us at first, but eventually we talk to some new people and have a really great time. Eleanor has a wonderful home and an impressive collection of indie comics. We make some new friends, talk shop, and debate the pros and cons of GLBT representation in comics (typical, right?). Eventually, it’s time to head back to the hotel. No cookies or John Candy this time.
2:00am – We have some more whiskey and channel surf. I stop on Stomp the Yard, and John and Stephen aren’t familiar with black fraternity and sorority stepping, so I make them watch a few scenes. We catch the beginning of Forrest Gump, and we watch it just to see Savannah.
10:00am – We get up and pack up, we have to check out by 11. We drive around a bit looking for lunch, it’s Easter so many places are closed. We have crepes at Pauley’s. It’s really tasty. We go back to Bizarro-Wuxtry just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We did. I pick up a few old Fantastic Four issues, 90s X-Factor, and a Marvel one-shot from 1991 called Suburban Jersey Ninja She-Devils by Steve Gerber and Amanda Conner. It’s….a sight. Don’t worry, I’ll be covering it in great detail in a couple of weeks.
3:00pm – We have some Ben and Jerry’s and get on the road. I navigate us to the highway, but we get pulled over for speeding. Oops. It’s kind of the death knell of the trip, but we still manage to talk about conspiracy theories, Alex Jones, and the current global political climate on the ride back to Savannah. Things got deep.
7:00pm – Home. Time to pass out.