Things Are Meaning Less
by Al Burian Author
Opening with a quote from punk band Black Flag ("Drink black coffee/drink black coffee/drink black coffee/and stare at the wall"), Things Are Meaning Less is a strong, funny, heartbreaking look at young, disillusioned American life.
You might know Al from his zines Burn Collector and Natural Disasters, or from the band Milemarker, or his so-true-it-kicks-your-face-off column in Punk Planet. This however, is Al's collection of comics originally published in the late '90s by designer and fellow zinester Ian Lyman.
From Portland to Providence, Al views his world with a dark, stoic humor. He's a Saul Bellow-ian every-man, up against the wall, suffering the blows, looking for love, and loving the metal. Like Al's issue of Burn Collector (the comic-heavy #14) the drawing here is simple, but it's the kind of simple that doesn't come with beginner's luck. The stuff here is the result of years of fighting and trouble-making, of mistakes made and life scratched out among the sticks and stones.
As Al says, "These are things drawn on napkins in airports, xeroxed illicitly during work." So goes the work and world of Al Burian.
Read an interview with Al on our blog.
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Comments & Reviews
" As a storyteller, Burian makes the trivial engaging. It must be really cool just to sit with this guy and listen to him talk."
"Things Are Meaning Less showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox one day. It’s rather apt; appearing without warning, making an impression, and then slipping back off into the night could be describing the contents of the book itself as well as the actual collection. Every time I fear for the future of zines and mini-comics, this compendium of material from that scene reminds me that there’s still a lot of good work being created. You’ve just got to find it… or have it find you."
"Is Al Burian a postmodern superhero? Probably not, but one thing is for certain: he’s thoroughly straight with you. This collection of comics/stories retains all of the virtues and flaws of its source material: life as a dude in his early twenties. I can certainly relate to this one right now, as I think most of our listeners/readers might, but even I can admit (as Al does in a brief postscript) that this might seem naive to a reader some years older. It’s not exactly the most comics-friendly text in history, but he pulls it off. Still, whatever the reader thinks of Al Burian’s musings, it’s hard not to be impressed by the passion bleeding through his sketches… even if they were just scrawled on napkins in the day-to-day."
Al Burian is someone who keeps himself busy. If he’s not playing in Milemarker or Challenger, he’s making his Burn Collector zine or contributing to others (such as Punk Planet), or he’s creating comics or other forms of artwork. I was interested in asking about his comic background, how he finds time to fit everything in, and where he draws his ideas.
It's unfortunate you feel that way, anonymous, because Al is a truly nice guy, very down to earth and approachable. One could argue all zines are self-indulgent, but I think that would be missing the point.
The kind of praise that Burian gets is confounding to me. You'd think people would be a little more sensitive to his self-indulgence and hubris. I honestly can't stand the guy. His zine, book... none of it. I have a number of friends who feel the same way. I'm sure he's really great and his band isn't bad, but his writing just makes me feel like he can hardly see me to spit on my head from waaaay up there on his pedestal. He's just so impressed with himself and makes it seem like he'd totally be superior and mean if I met him. Since he's just writing from the perspective of himself in this, there's not a sympathetic page in the book. Smile, Al. Please just smile and make friends with readers instead of making them feel bad for not being as poetically tragic and poignant as you are or something. I wanted to like this book, but I think it hated me.
I bought this book at a show in long beach just after reading the first page because i could tell that this guy wasn't really TRYING to sound any certain way and just the words strung together effortlessly produced that sort of strange meaning in the seeming meaninglessmess of absolute truth and reality. i read it in one day and was overcome with a feeling of wanting to talk to al on the phone or e-mail him or something and this was the next best thing.
Al Burian has been a storied name in zine pop culture for a number of years, and until I got this comic/perzine, I had not seen a piece of eir?s work. I call it a comic/perzine in the sense that a lot of parallels can be drawn between Things are Meaning Less and The Assassin and the Whiner. Both of these show what is happening in an individuals? life, as well as having a fluid sense of time. Things are Meaning Less is a key example of this, as Al continually jumps between eir?s days as a teenager and the present. This edition is actually a compilation of a number of different mini-publications Al had put out, detailing eir?s times in places as diverse as New York, Portland,
and Chapel Hill. While the comic-zine ultimately is a little bit short for the $7 price, Al weaves some interesting happenings (in the true form of Seinfeld, about everyday events about nothing) into
a coherent discussion of where ey is going and where ey has been.
As I mentioned previously, I have not seen anything in the way of Al?s work in the past, so when he comes forward and says that ?I am shocked and mortified?how badly it is drawn?, I really can?t see where the drawing is weak. The pages aren?t bogged down by too much in the way of discussion or philosophy, but also aren?t too light in terms of discussion, either. With the comics being created in 1997-1998, one might thing that some of the topics that Al discusses might be a little out-of-date, but in all honesty, what ey talks about are the same exact problems that have been concerning individuals for the last few hundred years.
Overall, Things are Meaning Less is an incredibly feel little read of a comic. It has that type of endearing quality to it that make it something that one can pick up time and time again. While it may
not be as off-the-wall or as funny as The Assassin and the Whiner, it is not Al?s prerogative to be either quality. While there may be unintentional humor at times, the whole ?book reads like a more
approachable Journalsong. Pick this book up if you are the least bit interested in a perzine rendered in a more comic-book like style.
As usual, wonderful.
This is a wonderful book. I picked it up on a whim, and I couldn't be more pleased with it.
I recommend this book. I say that here in the beginning so that you understand that what I am saying is informational rather than judgmental. I am really floored by this work and find it hard to review. The author has written a journal of his ?life?. It is a sad journey, filled with self doubt and depressing observations. Coffee replaces drugs in his older existence. He travels from town to town, working a little living with many. He is at odds with life and the journal captures his views at the time of the events. Coffee coffee coffee replaces the emotional feelings and attachments of life. Having defeated my own demons of depression and sloth this work reminded me of my own journey. It is a collection that reminds of the struggle to coexist with the pain of life until you are able to find your way out. Find it. Find this book too as I think it is well done.
The fact that this entire book is possible to read in under an hour would suggest it could have benefited from being downsized and released as a fanzine. That in mind, it goes on sale for about the $7 mark and thus is priced accordingly. It’s also very nicely designed and doesn’t scrimp on space, allowing the artist to utilize as much or as little paper as he sees fit to get the point across. For instance, to illustrate the feeling of boredom and pointlessness we are given blank pages interlinking various parts of his life. Chapter progressions are also given similar treatment, creating the feeling of entering a new phase in the protagonist’s life story.
The closest parallel I can draw between this and anything else I’ve read is Ben Snakepit’s book issued some time back through Gorsky Press. Unlike “Snakepit” however there’s no indication given whether “Things Are Meaning Less” is truth or fiction, but one can only assume author Al Burian is writing about his own life. Otherwise it would seem a little pointless. You may be familiar with AL through his various ramblings in Heartattack and Punk Planet fanzines and he’s also a member of the band Milemaker out of Chicago. I didn’t connect with this book as much as I did with “Snakepit” for the simple fact that Al tends not to wear his heart on his sleeve as much and thus you’re left with the impression of him holding back. Also, given the length of the book, you’ve finished the thing before you’ve even had the chance to familiarize yourself with any of the characters in it.
The artwork on it’s own deserves a mention though and has an almost Raymond Pettibon feel to it, not fully disclosing exactly what is happening, but allowing you to put two and two together. Taking it one step further, some of the drawings don’t even contain any words and are all the better for it. It’s as much a case of what AL doesn’t say as what he does say!
His story is one much like that of any overgrown teenager – someone who hasn’t moved on from around the sixteen-years-of-age mark and is having difficulty finding any reason to. Al refuses to find a steady job, get on his feet financially or even get out of bed, but seems to think he is worth a million dollars! He gives the impression of a hard day’s work being below him and prefers instead to wander round the various cities he occupies over the course of this book at 5 a.m. and then return to his room and sleep ‘til four the following afternoon. Perhaps he’s depressed or just plain lazy, who’s to say! He’s a good writer and artist but I couldn’t connect with him on a social or political level. The guy lives in the wealthiest country in the world and still can’t get off his arse to make things work? I think not!
This work stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished by harnessing the considerable powers of coffee, alcohol, and existential ennui into creative projects.
This is a wonderful book. I picked it up on a whim, and I couldn't be more pleased with it.
Dilbert for the punk set
Al Burian is known by many for both his personal zine Burn Collector and his band Milemarker. What some people might not know is that Al is also a talented comix artist. Between 1997 and 1998, he drew a bunch of comix and Ian Lynam published them in several books under the Migraine Comics label. Recently, Microcosm released this perfectbound paperback compilation of all of the comix Al did during this time period. I have a couple of the original books, so I had seen most of these, but it was still nice to sit down and read this cover-to-cover. Al wrote these while living in Portland, OR, Providence, RI, and Chapel Hill, NC. Each little story more or less reflects how Al was feeling while he was living in each of these places. Reading these after already being familiar with Al?s writing is a treat, as it adds a whole new (visual) dimension to Al?s obsessive self-examination and his ruminations on the people he interacts with and the places he finds himself in. Fans of Burn Collector should enjoy this book, as will most folks with a penchant for autobiographical comix.
If you're unfamiliar with Al Burian, you should be ashamed. Beyond being a member of bands Milemarker and Challenger, Burian does what is arguably the best zine still being produced: Burn Collector. In addition to all of this, he also has released a sort of zine/comic book hybrid entitled Things Are Meaning Less. Much like Burn Collector, this new work from Burian takes the most mundane, every day occurences in his life and creates something more broadly important. His ability to make thought provoking points within in the most trivial of stories still blows my mind. Do yourself a favor and get this, as well as any issues of Burn Collector you can find.
THINGS ARE MEANING LESS is an interesting little book. First comes the struggle to define exactly what it is; certainly it’s a memoir, as Burian guides the reader through his travels and angst. But as to whether or not it is a graphic novel or an illustrated prose book, that’s an entirely different question. The book combines both in heavy doses; many sections are carried strictly by Burian’s cartooning, yet perhaps even more of the book is handwritten prose accompanying the pictures or even pushing them away completely.
The confessional nature of the stories Burian tells here reminded me very much of the work of Jeffrey Brown, though I actually liked Burian’s work better. Brown’s work tends to be annoying and whiny, but Burian does a very good job of putting his problems on the page and not waving his dick at them. You see him, you see what’s wrong with him, and he doesn’t need to tell you just how big of a fuck up he might be at that moment. I really respected the way he handled those moments.
I’ve become fairly inured to confessionals over the last few years, so it takes a lot for something in the genre to light me on fire. But if you like cartoonists like Brown, then I have no hesitations about recommending Burian for a reading experience you’d enjoy.
Al Burian is probably best known for his work with Milemarker and Challenger (post hardcore bands from Virginia [sic]) or his writing prowess in Burn Collector. Essentially what you have here is an opportunity to delve into the everyday life of a normal person. In an age where so much emphasis is placed on the happenings of celebrities, politicians, and other marketable characters [sic], it is refreshing to take a step back and enjoy a straightforward, honest approach to the insanity of modern times. Now, when I say that Burian's stories or agenda (or lack thereof) are minimal, I mean it. You get a taste of the mundane, including sleeping late, getting coffee, staring out the window, and eating. Somehow, the quirky black and white artwork of this graphic novel accompanied by the kind of storytelling overheard at the local coffee shop is utterly addicting. An indie version of Seinfeld in print. It's a story about nothing and as you read along, you learn pretty much everything.