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Matthew Thompson doesn't believe in being bored. “The world is full of boring people,” the publisher of FLUKE, a local punk zine, said. “My grandmother used to say if you’re bored, you’re boring.”
He didn’t want to talk last week about what brought him to Phoenix from Little Rock, Arkansas, 21 years ago. “Let’s just say I needed a change of scenery. I needed some sunshine, and it turned out that Arizona has been really good to me. So I stayed.”
He’d tried Chicago and Seattle in the early '90s. Living in the desert hadn’t crossed his mind. “Not in my wildest dreams,” was how he put it. “Arizona was never on my radar. But my mom moved here, and I came out for a visit and, I don’t know. Good things started happening.”
He began a career in communications (“I don’t like to talk about my job,” Thompson said. “I keep my public and work lives separate.”). He got married and started a family. He bought a house. And in 2001, he relaunched FLUKE, a punk rock fanzine he’d started in Little Rock with two high school friends, Jason White (now a touring guitarist for Green Day) and Steve Schmidt, whose idea it was.
“Steve was working at an ice cream shop and this homeless guy would come in every day and write on this piece of paper,” Thompson recalled. “The guy was teaching himself to write, and that inspired Steve to get off his ass and create things. He started a band, he started a public access radio show, and then we started FLUKE.”
The zine’s mail-art-themed 30th-anniversary issue has just dropped, chockablock with articles about renowned mail artists and glossy reprints of their work. Via post, it arrives in an elaborate mailer covered in colored stamps, a rubber-stamped Post-It stuck to its cover.
In the '80s, fanzines were a necessary part of punk culture, Thompson said. Big-deal punk bands were touring, but not getting much media coverage. Thompson and his friends noticed.
“We’d interview the punk bands when they came to Little Rock,” he said. “We had record reviews and stories and photography and journalism. Art. Friends would collaborate with articles about local things in the scene. Back then before the internet, a zine was a way to communicate with others outside your city.”
Unlike its grungy first issues, the newest FLUKE is perfect-bound and printed in full color. The zine’s early days were more primitive. Thompson and his friends knew a guy who worked at Kinko’s who’d print 100 copies for $10. “We just passed them out to our friends and sent them off to national publications for review. The response was always positive, so we kept going.”
White and Schmidt left FLUKE after Issue Two to focus on their music careers, but Thompson kept on. He liked working behind the scenes.
“I’m a big music fan, but I am bad at playing it,” he said. “I’ve tried, and it’s not my thing. So instead of playing I’m publishing FLUKE, and it’s in stores all over the country. It goes out all across the world. I’ve been getting orders from Asia, Australia, Canada. It’s my art. It’s what I do.”
FLUKE is now an annual, which has freed up Thompson’s time for other projects. He started a publishing company last year to print a collection of posters by Phoenix's James B. Hunt, a sticker and flyer artist better known as NXOEED. He’s looking forward to publishing more of Hunt’s work and is already planning the next issue of FLUKE.
“Zine culture is very much alive and well,” he said. “They’re way bigger now than they were in the '80s and '90s.”
Thompson often hears how the punk underground is long gone, or that it’s not what it used to be.
“Well, for somebody it is,” he said. “It’s just that we’re not supposed to know about it. It belongs to the younger people."
He continued: "They’re still doing punk shows in the basement, still doing zines and making music and art. For each other. They don’t want us old fogeys to know about it. And that’s how it should be.”