A couple of years ago, you wrote a cookbook for Elly Blue Publishing (which we’re reissuing as a Microcosm title in the fall). Can you tell us a little about the book and what you’ve been up to since?
Slowly but surely, we’re aiming to introduce you to Microcosm’s hard-working, book-loving team. Here’s an interview with our on-staff graphic designer, Meggyn Pomerleau. She designs many of our covers, and sometimes illustrates entire books.
I’m looking at your last interview here, with Eleanor Whitney when you were designing her book Grow, which was before you were at Microcosm full-time. Can you give us an update on your evolution as an artist, both art-wise and career-wise?
I can say with full confidence that I’ve achieved the goals I set while in that interview, sans high stress agency job. My life is now devoted to design and Microcosm, and it’s a much better turn out than I could have ever expected. (I haven’t been inside a cubicle in over a year!!)
In the interview, there was even a mention on developing a style and I think I’ve nailed that. I feel more confident as a designer, illustrator, and artist. Basically this all has lead me to believe that if you truly set goals and want them, you will get them.
We went to the climbing gym the other day. It ruled. How’d you get into that, and what other pastimes and passions are you pursuing?
The thought of falling off a cliff and not being able to simply pull my own body weight up has always terrified me. Recently, I’ve been trying things that will help me out if I’m ever in an intense survival mode, such as the situation I just described. When I was introduced to climbing by a friend, I thought that top roping (the one people usually see with 30 foot walls and being tied in with a harness) was all that was available….and then I discovered bouldering. Freedom. I fell in love. I had never done much physical activity like that before, and it motivated me to get in shape and push myself harder. Other than that, I’ve turned my side writing-gig into a side illustration-gig, drawing bands or people and my interpretations after seeing a concert or stand up show. I was never much of a writer and I now have the freedom to “review” with a drawing rather than words. I enjoy hiking with my dog, Padme Creampuff Blueberry Parmesan, and eating all of the burritos in the world.
You always recommend music for our Rampant Media Consumption posts. How does the music you listen to go with (or not go with) your design sensibilities and life philosophies?
Most of the music I listen to inspires me because it reminds me of specific memories and takes me to a place where I can see, feel, touch, taste, and smell everything. I reflect on the past a lot because it’s a constant reminder of why I am the way I am now. I don’t think music shapes my aesthetic or even my philosophies, but it definitely keeps my drive constant. I’m frequently distracted by how much good music is out there, and I have to take a minute to step back and just pick something I can have on in the background…such as Las Vegas (my hometown) club music.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently finishing up Manspressions and Teenage Rebels, two of the hardest and most fun projects I’ve ever done. I’ve pretty much been laying low and holding my breath until their completion, and it will be nice to come out of hiding once they surface.
Favorites! What’s your favorite food? Favorite game? Favorite place in Portland? Favorite place in the rest of the world?
My favorite food of all time are burritos. Traditional (vegan) burritos, non-traditional (full of mac and cheeze, fake meats, and veggies) burritos, raw vegan (collard wrap with seeds and nut pate) burrito, the list could go on. There are so many options! The most perfect handheld food.
My favorite game goes back and forth between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. I’m terrified of the day I invest in a game console and one of those….I’ll really never come outside.
My favorite place is Portland is the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library….because it’s literally a dream. I’ve never had a terrible time/interaction/drink there and the vibes are so inspiring. It’s my favorite nighttime place to work. As far as exploring and nature, the hike to Eagle Creek is breath-taking.
My favorite places for the rest of the world are a bit sad because I’ve only been to the northern tip of Mexico and a few places in this country! It’s probably a tie between Chicago, Austin, and San Diego…all of which I plan to visit this year.
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.
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?
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?
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 alburian.com. 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.
Taylor is one of the newer additions to the Microcosm work crew. She labors in every part of the wordstream, from big ideas to spelling specifics, working with authors to make sure that the books we publish are the most awesomely practical and grammatical versions of themselves that they can be. Here’s a list of some of her favorite stuff we have in the store.
I’m an editor at Microcosm, which technically entails me overlooking the structure of each book we have going to print. I look specifically at obvious things like spelling, grammar, tone, etc., but also whether or not certain ideas have been fully developed, whether main ideas have been adequately explained. Since this job allows me to work from my computer, I operate mostly from my bed or random coffee shops. I don’t like looking at books unless I have a lot of time to spend with them, so it often ends up being something I will set aside a whole day or so for anywhere from 3-5 days a week.
I started in 2014 as an intern under Tim. I was interested in editorial, but Joe was touring with his documentary Aftermass so my application had been set aside until his return. Tim found it and I started worked on distribution lists and mail orders with him, asking too many questions and butchering more stamps than I was able to successfully print. When Joe returned, I began interning under him. At first I just looked for basic spelling and grammar errors, but I was given several books on editing and (again) asked an endless amount of questions, eventually developing a stronger sense for what I was doing. After a few months of interning, I was offered an official position as editor.
My style of editing is best described as analytical. It is entirely different from the way I would approach a book I am reading for my leisure. It is easiest for me to make a list of things that are promised to be delivered throughout the book, so as I read I can check back to make sure these things are indeed addressed, and to what extent. Other things to consider are also the audience that is being targeted, the type of market this book will exist in, and what kind of author the person behind the book is. In editing someone else’s work, it is crucial to make sure you are not replacing the author’s tone with your own. I usually will look through a book two or three times before submitting my changes, and there are usually three to four rounds of this.
My favorite Microcosm book is probably Hot Pants. It contains so much important info not only about women’s bodies but also about herbalism. Lately I have been really into John Berger’s books, specifically his essay “Why Look at Animals”.
When I was little I wanted to work in theater. I grew up in LA, and my mom was like every other mom in thinking I should be an actor. As I got older, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of working for National Geographic, and I started taking photo and anthro classes at the community college when I was finishing up high school. I interned with a newspaper and hated it, quickly abandoning that dream.
I don’t know what my favorite place in the world is, but one of my top five would be this bookstore in Ojai, CA called Bart’s Books. It consists of all shelves that together form a sort of maze, and there is no roof. They carry almost no new books, and primarily books you would not find anywhere else. They have a few small sheds offering art books and more delicate works that can’t be left outside. There never seem to be any other people there on days when I am, and I love that feeling of privacy. One of my favorite things about it is that the walls on the outside of the store are lined with shelves of books too.
In Portland I really like the downtown library. Everyone else I tell this too says that it smells like pee and that they don’t see the appeal, but I think the combination of its classic architecture and the number of homeless people it attracts gives it character. Again, I like how quiet it is there and the privacy it offers.
One of my newer favorite places in Portland is this coffee shop in the middle of Ladd’s Addition, Palio. They have a lot of space, and it is generally very quiet and an ideal place to do some reading or computer work. There is also this one review on Yelp that describes it as having “the prettiest coffee shop floor in Portland”.
Some of my favorite things to snack on are kale chips and anything I can sample at New Seasons! A weird creative outlet is this app on my phone that is essentially the Paint program for iPhone, called “art studio”. I would say I’m best at drawing women or funny little nudes of women, and my favorite thing is being on the bus trying to draw one of these and seeing the looks I get from other bus riders who happen to be looking over my shoulder. My favorite colors to draw with are lighter shades of purple and blue, as well as red and grey.
Microcosm is growing! Our team is working around the clock (yes, our schedules are all over the place!) to bring you the books, zines, t-shirts, patches, and of course the Slingshot Planners that you need to super awesome your life. I’ll be interviewing folks for the blog as they come up for air. Starting with our bespectacled Sales Manager…
So, what do you do here at Microcosm?
Ostensibly, I’m the sales manager, but I feel that Microcosm’s staff all work hard to ensure that each title makes it’s way into the world, so I take credit for my part, as being just another on that team. That being said, in an average week, I’ll do a little line editing, brainstorm with the crew, tend to the needs of our wholesale accounts, research new outlets for our titles, and a considerable amount of emailing and spreadsheeting!
What’s your background, what path have you followed to get here? Definitely not a straightforward one, I know!
I have a long background as an on-again off-again student. I finished a degree in Philosophy, but that was scattered amongst a lot of traveling and odd jobs. I grew up in St. Louis where I lived until I was 23. Once I left (in the middle of my schooling) I took off west and made my way through obscure work in Colorado and then up to Oregon. While in Eugene I worked at the brewery Ninkasi until I finally felt compelled to finish my degree. I took my degree to Prague where my wife and I taught English. After a year of that we moved back to Oregon and made Portland home. Microcosm’s ethics and published works suited my ambitions, so Joe Biel got a visit from me, mostly unannounced, we talked for about an hour and I began researching sales outlets pretty much the next day.
You wrote a book for us! Brew It Yourself! Anything you want to say about that?
Not too long after I began being paid as a staff member, Joe asked me to take a look at a manuscript on home brewing. My experience in the brewing industry made me the ideal candidate, so I looked it over. The idea was to fit this title into our DIY series, and as I read on I realized so much was missing. I’d read home brew books before and worked in the industry, and as I compiled notes for the book, I took notice that they were growing beyond the size of the manuscript. Once I related this to Joe, he decided to scratch the original and have me write the book. I now had the chance to write the book I wished I’d had when I began home brewing. I never thought I’d publish a book on beer, but the more I wrote on, I realized the more I had to say on the subject. It was rewarding and fun to use the knowledge I’d accrued while working at Microcosm to guide me along, and in my opinion, it was all over too quickly.
Based on that experience is there any advice you have to offer about writing a book or the publishing process?
The publishing world has many metrics at play to measure up the success of any book. Things I kept in mind all along were, making sure what I was saying maintained a continuity with the title, making sure the book was offering something new to the market while not being genre defining (as new categories are more difficult to market), and most importantly, trying to make the writing playful enough to make the relatively dry information stand out and be remembered.
Favorites please! Bands, books, philosophers, snacks, things to do on the weekend, things to think about while you’re waiting in line, etc.
As far as music goes, I’m quite old fashioned. I probably listen to more Beethoven than anything else, I still think it’s riveting! But I have a soft spot for old roots reggae, soul and obscure disco, basically I look for production quality and sometimes that takes me to to odd places. Albums like “Tusk” and “Soul Rebels” have little in common other than they are innovative in their production techniques, which always makes me listen. I like to keep Nietzsche by my bed, I find his optimism scathing! It’s typical to find me eating peanut-butter filled pretzels to fuel my need to rock climb and surf, which occupy most of my free time. Mostly when I’m waiting in line, I listen to other people and muse on how funny it would be to have the on-the-spot commentary, like in Annie Hall when Woody Allen pulled in Marshall McLuhan to debunk the pseudo-intellectualisms of the guy in-line in front of him.
This is one in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The next interview is with editor Taylor Hurley.
Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! is a practical field guide for creative people to achieve success and sustainability on their own terms. Part of Grow’s mission is to empower creative people to come up with innovative solutions to make their creative passions sustainable career options. The first step in that process is to assess where you are and define where you want to go. In the spirit of Grow I posed a series of questions to Meggyn Pomerleau, who designed the book, about her career and goals so far. The issues that Meggyn outlines in our conversation are the ones that inspired me to write Grow: How to balance your creative passion with “real life,” how to understand what you and your creative work is worth, and how to face down an uncertain future with a careful planning.
Right now I’m in the process of putting together a series of workshops around the country this summer that will help creatives like Meggyn plan for DIY success. Until midnight on April 1 (9 pm pacific time) we are running a campaign on RocketHub.com to support the workshop tour and the production of Grow. We’d love to have your support!
How do you describe yourself creatively? What do you do and make and what would you like to do and make?
– I am a graphic artist. I make, draw, manipulate, form, paint, and sketch. Professionally, I’m a graphic designer and I primarily build websites. What I really like to do is illustrate and create typefaces.
What skills do you think are your strongest?
– My communication skills have gotten me to a point where I haven’t had to seek out work, ever. I’m also surprisingly good at drawing using my touch-pad on my laptop.
What skills do you feel you need to develop? How will you go about this?
– I still need to work on my time management skills, as well as practicing and researching my craft. Unfortunately, because I’m still a full time cubicle drone it’s difficult to find the time to work on my technical skills. That’s my main challenge right now–to make the decision to devote myself fully to my passion, or taking small steps to allow myself to have it in the future.
How integrated is your creative work into the rest of your life?
– My life is design, despite having the office job. I dream about typography; I pay attention to advertisements and details in logos, banners, and posters; and I’m constantly brainstorming pieces in my head. If I had to break it down in numbers: 40% of my life is the non-creative office job, 25% is actually creating, and 35% is everything else.
I believe it’s completely possible to turn the 25% into 75% if I choose to, but I’m worried about failure, inconsistent work flow, and settling for work I wouldn’t be interested in.
What is something you didn’t learn in school that you wish they taught about making your life and living as a creative person?
– One thing no one discussed was how to know what you’re worth. A lot of fresh graphic design graduates settle for production work, which doesn’t do anything for you, creatively.
Additionally, I wish that I had more one-on-one guidance and the professors helped us determine what kind of designer we were, how technically skilled we were, and where we should go to look for work in order to shape our future a bit. Design can be applied to many things, and if it’s not narrowed down to a specific category, it’s overwhelming to try to decide what category you’re going to focus on and try to pursue.
What are your creative goals for the next year? For the next five years?
– This next year, my goal is to develop a consistent style in my design that draws people to my work. I haven’t painted in the longest time, and I’m going to start again, to get back to my roots of being an artist.
In the next 5 years, I’d like to work for an agency or something fast paced and high stress or work as a freelance artist full time with clients sending me consistent work.
Check out Meggyn’s work in Grow! https://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/3905/
And support the RocketHub campaign here: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/14039-empower-diy-creative-entrepreneurs-with-grow
How’d you get here?
Mackenzie: The Northridge Earthquake, which hit just before my before my scheduled due-date, urged my mother to go to her home town to have her lil’ baby. Therefore, I was born in St. Louis Missouri rather than Los Angeles, my real hometown, but permanently moved back to the west coast shortly after my birth. Now, many years later, I go to school in Vermont, which enabled me to intern at Microcosm. I drove up the 5 from Los Angeles all the way to Portland with my good ol’ friend Phil.
Elizabeth: Born in Texas, raised in Tennessee, schooled in Vermont – a drive to Albany, a flight to Cleveland, a drive to Knoxville, a flight to Denver, another to Seattle, another to Portland and here I am.
Phil: I’ve been an LA boy my whole life, but now I go to school in Vermont. Mackenzie and I drove up to Portland with full hearts and a full car.
Favorite Female Vocalist And Why?:
Mackenzie: Aaliyah, hands down, because she is a powerful independent woman who was tragically taken from this earth in her prime. Classics like Rock the Boat are always bumpin’ in my mind when I’m having a rough day or when I left too many receipts in my pockets in the wash. She was a sweet angel.
Elizabeth: The Crutchfield sisters. They’re raw, they’re relatable, they’re pretty.
Phil: Julie Doiron because she makes me want to fall in love and move to Canada just to stay inside with a fire and tea while the snow falls outside.
Early 2000s guilty pleasure:
Mackenzie: Blink-182 but I refuse to have any guilt over that.
Elizabeth: It’s 1999, but “No Scrubs” was a semi-serious tattoo consideration last year…
Phil: Linkin Park
Who would you be if you were a cartoon character?:
Mackenzie: I would be Ein from Cowboy Bebop. He’s just absolutely adorable, and that episode about him being found by Spike and Jet is a really good one. It made me laugh because they talk about VHS and VHS beta and how its absolutely ancient and out-dated.
Elizabeth: In fifth grade when Dave the Barbarian was popular, a girl used to call me Fang. Maybe the uninhibited version of me.
Phil: I would love to be a little Kodama from Princess Mononoke and just frolic around the forest all day.
Things that you enjoy:
Mackenzie: I really like putting Abba Zabbas and sticks of Now and Later candies in my pockets and skateboarding around town for a little while so they get warm and aren’t so hard to chew. I also really like adult swim late at night. Phil also makes a mean cup of tea n’ chia. I enjoy these greatly.
Elizabeth: Loretta Lynn, carbohydrates, gender theory.
Phil: I like licorice induced asphyxiation, I like real life skittle rain pounding against my soft naked flesh, and bellyflops off of chocolate docks into the rocky road abyss below.
What was the inspiration to write about fixing things?
We were throwing around the idea of having a book about canning, I think. But there are a million books out there about canning. I started wondering why some preservation skills were so glamorous all of a sudden, while others went under the radar. So I decided to take that same great energy around canning, pickling and whatnot and expand it to include things like mending and home repair.
Definitely. People see maintaining as more of a chore than anything else, which, to be fair, it often is. And it can be hard to create community around fixing things up. But humble as they are, those skills make you a great asset to the people in your life (and to yourself). They’re especially crucial when folks you know are struggling. Homemade food and clothes can be a huge comfort, but helping out with a broken window or a leaky toilet is an absolute godsend.
I’d be lost without my lovely local library. My friends and family were a great resource, too–people have all sorts of secrets they use around their own homes. It’s really awesome to see all the McGyvers and repair whizzes come out of the woodwork.
Play the cello. Edit video. Also, electrical stuff still confuses the crap out of me.
I’m a big flaming feminist, but I don’t think of Make It Last as speaking exclusively to women. Women have always done the lion’s share of domestic work, including household repairs. But more and more, men and women alike are encouraged to buy more stuff instead of making simple and cheap repairs to the things they already own. That’s great for the companies that make those things, but not so great for the rest of us. I want to empower everyone to fix everything, or at least, to think about what they can fix and what they have to buy, and making an empowered decision that’s in line with their values.