The best fiction often succeeds because its creator has constructed a convincing world. By that I don’t mean a place that seems realistic, but rather a world that’s believable because it’s been thought through — pages of notes, characters described down to their beauty marks, the relationships between them, their homes and towns mapped out. Vladimir Nabokov was known to draw and diagram not just the elements of his own stories, but of others’ as well.
Comics are an especially apt medium for this type of construction, since, well, they’re visual. Diagrams and maps in comics can do different kinds of work: they can be used as exposition, to help readers get their bearings in a story, or to create a mood or feeling, or simply as a prop. They’re not even necessarily made-up — Jason Lutes’s Berlin is a series of fictional stories set in a historical place.
Comic Cartography, a lovely blog that I discovered today, collects images of maps from all different kinds of comics, from Lutes’s Weimar-Era Berlin to the office layout of the Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper featured in the Spider-Man comics. The wide range of work makes the blog engrossing, as it highlights the many forms and shapes that maps can take but also their underlying commonality: we use them to make sense of the world, even if that world exists only in our heads. To that end, there’s also something wonderfully meta about seeing these images within images — they seem to simultaneously represent a homing in and a zooming out.
Started by comics critic and enthusiast Aaron King, Comic Cartography is a sort of second coming of another blog from four years ago that departed from the same premise: Comic Book Cartography. That blog drew heavily on superhero and mainstream comics, whereas King’s reach seems broader, taking in everything from newspaper cartoons to graphic novels. Although he’s written that he’ll be slowing down from one post a day to whenever he finds relevant images, I look forward to following along as he continues to compile some of the most imaginative visual records in comics.