Things Are Meaning Less

By Al Burian
160 pages, black and white
Published by Microcosm Publishing, distributed by Top Shelf Productions

When I first opened up Things Are Meaning Less, I felt like I’d somehow read it before. It took me a minute to realize that this wasn’t true; what I’d mistaken for the actual material was instead a similar mood that other material had also evoked. It brings to mind books by creators like John Porcellino, who tell stories about everyday life with a certain wistfulness that quickly infects the reader. Needless to say, I think this is a good thing indeed.

Al Burian’s stories in Things Are Meaning Less are small, slice-of-life pieces that often seem to meander rather than forcefully move towards a conclusion. Reading a story is like riding shotgun with Burian as he stumbles his way through life, interacting or sometimes just observing those around him. Each excerpt from Burian’s life can have as much or little meaning as imaginable, from his first girlfriend to listening in on a conversation at the post office. The important thing, though, is that Burian treats every story as importantly as the one before. You never get the impression that something doesn’t count, or that you’re wasting your time. It’s an important attitude, and one that helps give the book a strong cohesion in tone.

The format of Things Are Meaning Less is an interesting one, in that Burian refuses to let himself get locked into a single form of expression. Some of the chapters are told in traditional comic book format, with panel progression and word balloons. Others use narrative boxes, avoiding word balloons all together. Some of them are merely long text pieces with the occasional spot illustration. In each instance, it’s clear that Burian is using the method of storytelling which suits his narrative the most. I really appreciate that he’s not letting himself get stuck on the idea that he has to always stay in a specific format, instead always doing his own thing. Burian’s art itself is very rough and matter-of-fact, but that’s really just part of the charm of the book. Its almost childlike squiggles will no doubt turn off some readers, but I think it’s great; its no-nonsense look mirrors Burian’s dry look at the world around him. He’s not there to impress, he’s there to tell a story.

Published by Microcosm Publishing and distributed by Top Shelf, 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. Things Are Meaning Less is in the February Previews for books shipping in April 2004; it’s on page 316, or just tell your retailer to use order code FEB04 2692.

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