Valued as Things of Beauty

[Originally written for my Comic Cartography image blog.]

Mancini Panini, the Mapmaker of Migdal Bavel is (spoiler warning) an antagonist in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. He’s not necessarily an evil guy; it’s just that, in order to protect his own interests and preserve the status quo, he stands in the way of the narrator’s self-actualization and, at least in the reader’s knowledge, in the way of love. Total jerk, right?

So when the narrator describes his work as “completely useless since it is almost entirely wrong on every level,” it’s easy to write his work off along with his character. Here’s this kook, sort of a jerk, whose maps are worthless to explorers. Sure, he has an excellent imagination and a steady and meticulous drawing hand, but for Birdman’s sake, he uses monkeys to measure things!

It’s definitely a valid concern. Explorers need accurate maps. Cartography is often seen as a pragmatic field–it’s why one of the “great” theoretical questions (insofar as making it to the laymen makes a question great) is that of the map with the 1:1 ratio.

Pragmatism is certainly important, especially when lives are on the line. If I’m riding in an airplane, I don’t want to sacrifice its ability to fly in order to make it prettier, and if I’m exploring the dangerous parts of the world, I want to know where I’m going.

Sometimes I want to look at a pretty airplane, though, and I don’t care if it flies. (This is especially true if the airplane was built by an old man and monkeys with no cost to the taxpayer.) As this blog has hopefully demonstrated, maps can be used to understand everything from a day’s progress to a person’s comfort area and more. Sometimes, an excellent imagination and a steady and meticulous drawing hand are worth more than accuracy.

I imagine Mancini Panini as the Henry Darger or the Dr. Evermor of Migdal Bavel, and I can only hope that, thousands of years after his death, his maps are collected in coffee table books and serve to accurately measure the thoughts and dreams of his life.

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