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Comics About The Commons: ‘Seeing Beyond The Map’

In a novel popularization about commons, the Centre for Future Natures at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK, has published a compelling set of comics, “Seeing Beyond the Map.” The two comics, presented in the style of an old-style pulp comic book, are an amusing  educational experiment in alternative cartography. 

The stories unpack many mystifications about the commons, including the so-called “tragedy” parable, while offering a more accurate conceptual map and narrative of the commons. (You can download the 14-page PDF here.

In a blog post introducing the comics, Amber Huff, Principal Investigator at Future Natures, writes,

“Maps tell stories about relationships. They can tell us how to get from here to there (relationships between places), explain a theory or concept (relationships between ideas), show cause and effect, or show changes and flows over time and space….

“We generally trust maps to represent something in the ‘real world’. But maps aren’t just objective tools. Maps use abstraction and representation to tell stories about the world and these stories are always embedded with power relations. Maps can direct what we see and don’t see in it and how we should move and behave in it.”

Applying these insights to the commons, “Seeing Beyond the Map” challenges the standard capitalist, colonial maps that depict commons as zones of commodities and non-white people to be exploited, and instead shows how commons are places of generative living relationships and care. 

The second comic explores struggles against enclosure – not just those involving “land and resource grabs, but also, relations of value and care, people’s autonomy and even imaginaries of better worlds and possible futures.”

The art and text for “Seeing Beyond the Map” are by Timmy Zocco, with editing and additional text by Amber Huff, Nathan Oxley and David Harvie. The comics are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial, No Derivatives 4.0 International license. You can follow Tim Zocco on Instagram @futurenaturescomic.

While at the Future Names website, check out some of the great blog posts and essays there, such as “Naming, unnaming and commons”   “How land in England be reformed for the commons,” and “Food that’s not for sale.”

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