Burn Collector #14 by Al Burian

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Burn Collector #14
By Al Burian

alburianburncollector14coverIn its purest form, a zine ought be regarded as a clearing house for ideas, a thrown against the wall approach to literature, largely—or, more preferably, entirely—devoid of outside editorial oversight. Its an approach that Al Burian has seemingly become rather comfortable with, one which manifests itself in issue 14 of Burn Collector more than in many other recent issues of the seminal Chicago zine.

While Burian’s near-poetic true life tales have long been the selling point of his sporadic publication, there’s a clear joy in the seeming abandon with which the author culled together the rather dissonant approaches into a single volume. The issue begins in a fairly standard manner, with musings on the Chicago Transit Authority (not the band) and the happy resurgence of house shows in the area. All the while, however, the pieces are supplemented with Burian’s own crudely-drawn strips, sometimes complimenting the text, and other times simply playing out as their own contextual tangents.

Halfway through 14, Burian shifts abruptly, with a nine-part essay, entitled “The Future of Comics,” wherein the artist takes on “Modern Cartoonist,” a decade-and-a-half-old treatise on sequential arts penned by Dan Clowes for Eightball #8. For all intents and purposes, the piece might as well have been titled—“Why I Draw,” or, better yet, “Why I Have Been Devoting Pages of Burn Collector to My Drawings.” Okay, okay, I’ll admit that the second one is probably a touch too longwinded for Burian’s purposes, but the point remains.

The author does forward his own hypothesis about the upcoming wave of sequential art, rejecting Clowes’s assertion that forward thinking artists ought “get away from the arena of vagueness and into the realm of the specific.” Instead Burian cites a seminal moment from his own childhood, wherein he discovered that, as with the guitar playing of Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, the best art isn’t always the most technically proficient—which is to say, in a sense, cartooning is Al Burian’s punk rock.

It’s a philosophy that manifests itself in every panel on every page of issue 14. And while Burian’s poetic prose has long been reason enough to pick up what is arguably the best on-going zine this side of Aaron Cometbus’s eponymous book, Burian’s journey down the sequential art rabbit hole offers added incentive for comics fans and artists a like. Burn Collector 14 is finds an established artist dipping his foot into a new craft. Burian offers criticism and a running commentary of his own trials and tribulations within the context of his panels. “But what can you do?” he asks in a strip toward the beginning of the issue. “You can’t force poetic insight…And I can’t even figure out how to draw myself.”

Burian doesn’t let such frustration hinder him, however. In fact, he embraces it, alternating with reckless abandon between graphical takes on the manner of autobiography that has defined much of his work and far less nuanced takes on genre work, including war comics, funny animal strips, and Jack Chick tracts, the whole thing culminating with one extended, hyper-self-aware take on Eternals-era Jack Kirby book.

Burian, it’s clear at first glance, is far from a master of sequential art, but there’s a lot to be said for the author’s commitment to the form—and for his willingness to share his unrefined attempts in a very public forum. And while Burian will likely never be the next Dan Clowes, the writer seems rather content with his fate.

“Comics are just one more tool for expressing universal truths,” Burian writes in ‘The Future of Comics.’ “Clowes wants desperately to fit into the grown-up world, to be accepted as a professional who sits at a desk like everyone else. The last I hear from Mat [Brinkman], he was squatting an abandoned Wal-Mart. For me, the choice of role model is obvious.”

Surely Greg Ginn would be proud.

–Brian Heater