Cybertron Street View

[Originally written for my Comic Cartography image blog.]

Who are maps for? Which way, temporally speaking, is a cartographer looking when collect their data and set down their lines?

The maps I grew up with, the ones in atlases and gloveboxes, looked to the future. Implicitly, they expect minimal change; their data will hopefully remain relevant in a month or a year or maybe even a decade. They mapped the present to benefit the future.

Narrative maps also look to the future, but instead of focusing on the present, they look to the past. They use minimal data, striving instead to create a sense of place or story. They map the past to preserve it for the future.



The first two maps above, attempt to reconstruct crimes of the past. In the third, Ken’s journey was through a place that no longer exists due to the mutable nature of the world of Mark Connery’s Rudy. The same sense of temporality—reconstructing a past in order to show people in the future—applies to historical maps as well.

But what about today’s post, along with the rest of the work of Tom Scioli? Who are these hectic diagrams made for, filled as they are with exploded views and character rundowns?

To explain, I want to take a closer look at Transformers vs GI Joe. It’s a series about change. However, as opposed to Ken’s Journey from Rudy, which is full of unwilled, natural, biological change, the change in TvGIJ is willful, harnessed, and directed. Control of that change is the main goal of the book’s conflict. (Tom Scioli himself harnesses change in his review of Transformers: Age of Extinction, willing it from a bad movie to a good one.)

The power to impose change is most often controlled by Cobra and the Decepticons, the antagonists of the book, but even when it’s in the hands of GI Joe, they fail to fully understand what they’re doing. The results are purposeful mutation toward forms that further destruction and fascism. The past is seen as a scrapyard of materials available to be razed, moved, subverted, converted.

And as the rate of change speeds up, the future becomes increasingly hybridized and constantly escalated and enlarged—essentially unknowable to those of us in the present. Data becomes harder and harder to gather, and the data we get becomes less reliable, so what’s the point of maps?

Maps are useless for guidance in TvGIJ, so they become narrative, but for the narrative to be understood, the gap between past (ruined, confused) and future (unknowable) must be shrunk to a pinpoint—an eternal “now” exploding with data that could become meaningless in the next second.

There are obvious parallels to the real world. Mapping has taken a more iterative approach with Google’s Map and services like the Transit App.

And then there’s Google’s Street View. (Their fleet looks like real-life Transformers and GI Joe equipment:


And you’re invited to enlist in their army.)

Street View is curated most dramatically at @9eyes. The images there could easily be translated into freeze-frame expositional comic pages; like those pages, they’re single moments that, once past, are unable to be visited or recreated. They are maps created in the present for the present in the light of an impending and fickle future.