Things are Meaning More—catching up with Al Burian

Microcosm’s first paperback books came out back in 2002, and as I’ve been reading my way through them, I’ve been wondering—where are the authors now? I fired off a few emails with nosy questions, which were followed by a deafening silence… then at last, to my relief, Al Burian wrote back with thoughtful and generous answers. Thanks, Al. 

1. Hi Al! What are you up to these days? Where in the world are you and what’s it like there today? 

My last publication for Microcosm (Burn Collector #15) was about moving to Berlin, Germany, and in fact I’m still living there, even still living in the same apartment. But today I am not at home for a change; I am in Hamburg, a few hours away. I’m at a band practice in a basement room, filled with musical equipment, like so many similar rooms around the world: familiar, non-exotic territory. Outside, the day is a drizzling, oppressive dark grey. I imagine it is comparable to winter weather in Portland, OR.  drawn al

 2. Your first book with us was a comic book in 2003 (!), Things Are Meaning Less. Your work now is pretty different in format and also in tone—what changed and why? 

I don’t really feel that my work has changed so drastically, but perhaps readers see that differently. My early stuff was informed by a younger persons’ sensibilities, of course. In my twenties I had the typical know-it-all attitude that comes with a liberal arts degree and an obscure record collection. After I finished college I began touring with punk bands and produced a lot of zines; I enjoyed writing in an academic, pseudo-literary style, even as I described dumpster-diving, visits to Waffle House, and other low-brow everyday behavior. The contrast struck me as funny. Other people might have found the affect annoying. 

Now that I’m older and have had a few of the important traumatic adult experiences, my horizons have broadened, and I feel like I hardly know anything at all. I’m slower to produce and much more self-critical. I find myself talking about how it’s not all so black and white, weighing both sides of the issue, displaying all the wishy-washy attitudes that used to annoy me about old people. I don’t feel so comfortable anymore with the “insert situation, make fun of everyone’s haircuts, end with a Nietzsche quotation” style of writing. Nonetheless, I would maintain that it is not me that has changed so much– I have actually remained pretty consistent– but rather the context within which I’m working, the milieu I’m in (not touring so much, and definitely not much in North America), the recontextualization of the meaning of analog creative forms in the digital era…. stuff like that. 

3. What’s your plan for where you’re going with your work next?  al photo

I don’t know. I’ve never had any kind of plan. My creative history is one long and uncoordinated flail forward. In theory I agree, having a plan is a good idea, and I even tried to formulate one when I moved to Germany, which was to quit doing music and focus on writing. Apparently to succeed and be fruitful, you need a solid focus and single-minded discipline; all the self-help books say so. But those have traditionally been my weak spots, and sure enough, now a few years later I’ve meandered off track completely. In 2015, maybe some new comics, most likely will put out some new music, and possibly but not very probably will finish up one of many long-term writing projects. 

 4. What books and music have you liked recently? Or maybe “like” is the wrong metric, so: what’s gotten stuck in your head? 

Books: The Nostalgia Echo by Mickey Hess, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Loom of Ruin by Sam McPheeters, Susan Sontag: the Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cott 

Comics: Anna Haifisch, Mike Taylor 

Music: Mothers of Invention with Napoleon Murphy Brock, Disappears, Corrosion of Conformity self-titled album 

 5. What question should I really be asking you? 

Anyone can ask me any question they want to– leave a “comment” at But as far as “should,” I’d say, hey, no pressure. Maybe you don’t have any more questions. That’s OK too.

This is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The next interview is with Anna Brones.