Join Alex Acks and Paul Weimer as they talk about fantasy maps in order to give you the tools you need to create and map your world. Topics include basic geologic principles, common mistakes, forms maps can take, how maps reflect world view, and how maps change over time.
Excellent Twitter thread from Jeannette Ng talking about old maps in the context of fantasy map design. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart: fantasy maps are essentially modern maps whose design language post-dates 16th- or 17th-century mapmakers like Olaus Magnus and Joan Blaeu; Ng talks about what are essentially the non-geographic purposes of old maps, and as I understand things she is entirely correct. Start here and scroll down.
Critiques of fantasy maps have more to do with the shortcomings of fantasy worlds than the maps that depict them.
There’s something I’ve noticed about the recent round of debates about fantasy maps, something I’ve been noticing about discussions of fantasy maps in general. They don’t talk about fantasy maps in terms of their cartographic merit. That is to say, they don’t judge fantasy maps as maps.
When Alex Acks vents about fantasy maps, it’s because the mountain ranges in Middle-earth don’t make sense, not because the cartography of Pauline Baynes or Christopher Tolkien wasn’t up to the task. It’s more that the territory is shaped to fit the story rather than the other way around, less that the maps of said territory frequently lack a scale. When Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza says that “Game of Thrones has such a terrible map it could be presented as a parody of bad fantasy maps,” he’s not saying that the cartography of the various Song of Ice and Fire mapmakers, such as Jonathan Roberts (The Lands of Ice and Fire), James Sinclair (books one through four) or Jeffrey L. Ward (A Dance with Dragons), is deficient. He’s saying that the Game of Thrones geography is terrible.
This post describing how to make a fantasy map using macaroni has been making the rounds of Tumblr for a while—it was first posted in January 2014—but it just got picked up by Tor.com recently, so let’s talk about it. The point of the post is how quick and easy it is to make a good looking fantasy map:
LOOK AT THIS WONDERFUL PIECE OF SHIT IT TOOK ME LITERALLY TEN MINUTES TO MAKE TOPS AND NOW YOU JUST NEED TO FIGURE OUT WHERE TO PUT ALL YOUR DWARF-FUCKING ELVES AND LIZARD-PEOPLE WITH BOOBS
(All caps in the original. Yes, it’s like that throughout. Sorry about that.)
But it seems to me that its quick-and-easy appeal is also an indictment of the fantasy map making process—just like the Uncharted Atlas bot (previously), which demonstrates that fantasy map terrain can be algorithmically generated. They do not, in other words, require much in the way of human imagination.
Meanwhile, on the Atlas of Ice and Fire blog, Adam Whitehead has a look at the maps of the Malazan world. Originally co-created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont as the basis of a role-playing campaign, the Malazan world is the setting for multi-volume fantasy series by both authors.
Quartz’s Corinne Purtill has a Q&A with fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts, who drew the maps in The Lands of Ice and Fire (see my review). Roberts has a lot of interesting things to say about his work, the differences between the Game of Thrones TV show and the books, and fantasy map design in general. (I spoke to Purtill a few days ago while she was preparing this piece, and did my best to offer some background on fantasy maps in general.)
Jared Lando’s How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps (Impact, August 2015) is a step-by-step guide to fantasy cartography. That it professes to teach how to draw “authentic fantasy maps” is as clear evidence as any that fantasy maps have a clearly defined style that is difficult to deviate from. This is a book I need to track down, stat. Amazon, iBooks.
To mark the publication this week of a new fantasy novella, The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster, the artist hired to create the map, Tim Paul, wrote an essay on how he did it. I’m struck by the lengths he took to “avoid making the map look too European” and by the careful consideration of what a map from that world should look like, which is almost unheard of in the fantasy map business, where maps invariably conform to a very specific style. The end result is a map that evokes portolan charts, replete with windrose lines and looking like it was drawn on vellum. As fantasy maps go, it’s one of the finer executions I’ve seen.
This Book Riot piece on fantasy maps from last September touches on a number of subjects I can never get enough information on: the editorial decision on whether to include a map, how one becomes a fantasy map maker, what information from the author does the map maker have to work with, how the maps are created. Practical subjects, in other words. Includes quotes from two people in publishing and two map makers: Tim Paul and Rhys Davies. [via]
I sometimes get asked how to do a fantasy map. I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m basically a fantasy map critic, not a working illustrator. What the people asking me this question want is an instruction manual for the standard fantasy map, and for that, Roberts is their man, because he’s an actual illustrator. He does operate within the dominant fantasy map paradigm I often critique (though with a good deal more colour and texture than the standard line drawing), but he does it very well, and more importantly shares his methods. Roberts’s blog is full of interesting material on how he goes about creating fantasy maps: see for example this tutorial.