Last weekend, the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA once again hosted Fluke, and once again, it was easily one of the best conventions of the year. This was the third year I'd gone, and as always, the focus on indie books and mini-comics -- and its close proximity to SCAD -- meant that there was a ton of new, exciting stuff to check out.

I ended up coming home with a pretty huge stack of minis, so with convention season just starting to get into full swing, here are a few highlights from independent creators to watch out for this year.First up, Kyle Starks' The Legend of Ricky Thunder No. 2:

I've written before about how much I love Ricky Thunder, the story of a pro wrestler who is simultaneously confronted with doubts about his place in the world and an alien invasion that can only be stopped by single combat with an intergalactic warrior who has mastered the dreaded vertical suplex. This, however, was Starks' first convention after a successful Kickstarter campaign -- and his first convention ever, as it turns out -- which meant that he had all of the bonus material for sale as well.

In addition to the Ricky Thunder paperback, there was I Can Kill Anything, which collects the short Wild Dog and Frankenstein stories that we've put in the spotlight here at CA, as well as two stories of Starks' own Punch Captain. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, he's a captain. Of punching. It's pretty self-explanatory.

The big draw for me, though, was Ricky Thunder No. 2, a short 12-page sequel to the main story, in which Ricky continues to defend both his Heavyweight Championship and the planet Earth:

Starks has described this one as a gag that's rooted in fan-service for the wrestling fans in the audience (ie me), but either way, it's great. And more importantly, it's also the only thing on Starks' table that's not available to read online, so if you're a fan of his work, keep an eye out for it.

Along the same lines was another new contribution to a comic I'm already a fan of Totally Awesome Terrific Magazine, a mini based on Chris Thorn, Gardner Linn and Dave Lentz's fantastic webcomic Registered Weapon:

Registered Weapon started as a buddy cop story that paired up a loose-cannon homicide detective with his new partner, a sentient crime-fighting cash register named FELIX. Over time, though, it introduced a second robot cop, this one built from a surprisingly boy-crazy ATM. Thus, the mini, which is presented as a zine created by TATM herself, with FELIX as a beleaguered copy editor.

With so much backstory involved, it's probably not a surprise that it's not a great introduction to RW, but if you're already a fan -- and you should be, it's easily one of my favorite webcomics -- the gags in here are amazing. And if you're not, well, the comic is available in its entirety online, and T.A.T.M. shares space on the table with a paperback collection of Frank and FELIX's first case as well as CDs with six of the comic's story arcs in DRM-free PDF. Then again, it's entirely possible that a minicomic about a sentient ATM giving advice column answers to 911 calls and ill-informed bird facts might be surreal enough to carry it even if you're not familiar with the backstory.

Speaking of robot detectives -- a subject about which I am very passionate -- one of the nice surprises of Fluke was Rachel Ordway's Heroina: Robot Detective: Little Things:

All day, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen Ordway's name somewhere, and sure enough, it turns out that I'd highlighted one of her pieces in a post way back in 2011. She and tablemates Jessica Huang and Sara Vivanco had a bunch of minis that I grabbed, and along with a great little fan-comic about Spoiler and Batgirl, Little Things was a definite highlight.

At eight pages, it's a quick murder mystery, but what it lacks in page count, it makes up for in density. Ordway averages around ten panels per page, and amazingly, that doesn't affect her art. It still looks good in a small, photocopied mini, with her animation-inspired style really coming through well. The characters are expressive and well designed, and as odd as this might sound, there's a great sense of place to everything. It's solid stuff, and well worth checking out -- which, fortunately, you can do right there at her website. Behold: The magic of the digital age!

In other such wizardry, I grabbed a minicomic version of Emily Erdman's I Dunnokémon:

The premise behind this one is pretty simple: Erdman, who's only familiar with the original 151 Pokémon, has been drawing the often-stranger Pokémon from later generations without looking up reference, based only on written descriptions. I'll say right up front that it's not quite the book you want it to be -- whether Erdman's familiarity with the originals is giving her a good base to work from or whether she's just getting really good descriptions, her versions end up actually being pretty close to the genuine articles. There are only a few that really deviate, with the rest being close enough that they feel more like alternate versions or lost steps of the design process than the weird versions of, say, "soul-devouring chandelier" that you might expect.

That said, that's also where a lot of the fun comes from. The drawings are so close that when one of the descriptions tries to get something across in a specific way, it often leads to a pretty interesting take on artistic shorthand. Case in point: A description of Chikorita as having "Disney character shaped eyes" led to this:

Also, her version of Smeargle includes the disdainful eyes and cigarette of a world-weary artiste, and that's pretty fantastic. You can check 'em all out at her site, categorized for your convenience.

My favorite sketchbook from the con, though, was the first printed installment of Erin Gladstone's Year of Disney:

Again, it's a simple premise: With the release of Disney's 52nd animated feature (Wreck-It Ralph, a film about candy), Erin decided to watch one a week, producing one finished, inked piece based on each. The book covers the first thirteen, and while that means that my personal favorite isn't included (Robin Hood, for those of you keeping score at home), what's here is already pretty amazing. Once again, they're all available online, and the Alice In Wonderland piece in particular is pretty excellent.

Beyond those, there were plenty of other great comics, including minis from Box Brown (who's currently working on a graphic novel biography of Andre the Giant), the latest installment of Jason Horn's incredible Gruff, and a comic from Cara McGee that included a bag of blended tea that's given my entire stack of minis a pretty refreshing scent. They're exactly the sort of things that you can only get from the minicomics crowd, which is exactly why shows like Fluke and SPX are so important. If there's one in your area, or even if there's a big convention that provides space for indie creators, check them out. There's always amazing stuff to be found from great people out there.

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