New Orleans: ‘Totally Unrealistic’ Fantasy City

Don’t miss writer and game designer James L. Sutter critiquing New Orleans as though it was a city from a fantasy novel. A major criticism of fantasy maps, whether of cities or worlds, is their lack of realism: unrealistic rivers, mountains and so forth. New Orleans, with its totally unrealistic terrain, doesn’t pass the test. “Please clean up your map and resubmit when it follows the rules of a real-world city,” Sutter concludes.

Dan Bell’s ‘Tolkien-Style’ Maps of the Lake District

Dan Bell, “The Lake District National Park.” Giclée print.

Maps of real places done up in the style of fantasy maps are a thing, as those who have been following along will know by now. I’m planning a dedicated page on the subject in the Fantasy Maps section. That page will have to include Dan Bell’s maps of the Lake District—maps, he says, “that resemble the iconic style of J. R. R. Tolkien.” His maps have suddenly got a bit of media attention, which is atypical for this sort of project: BBC News, The Westmoreland Gazette. They resemble more the maps done for the Lord of the Rings movies than the maps created by Christopher Tolkien or Pauline Baynes: one tell is the triple-dot diacritic above the a, which is used in the movie maps and comes from Tolkien’s Elvish script. Bell, a 25-year-old “ordinary guy” from the Lake District, is selling prints of the maps online. [Kenneth Field]

#mappingfantasy

Cat Rambo livetweeted some of the good bits from the online class on creating fantasy maps she taught with Alex Acks and Paul Weimer earlier this month (see previous entry), using the #mappingfantasy hashtag. Most of those good bits were common sense worldbuilding advice; by and large the intended audience is authors creating their fantasy worlds. They’re the ones who benefit most from basic geological or geographical advice, such as:

Other tips would be familiar to cartography students.

Here’s a point that makes sense from a worldbuilding perspective, but it has led to the cliché that every point on the map has to be visited:

On the other hand, there were some subversive bits that are so prosaic and pregnant with meaning that I’d love to know the context.

An Online Class on Fantasy Maps

Alex Acks and Paul Weimer are teaching an online class on creating fantasy maps:

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.

Acks, you may recall, wrote pieces on Middle-earth’s problematic mountains and rivers, and fantasy maps in general; Weimer, for his part, wrote a defence of fantasy maps. The class costs $99 and takes place via Google Hangouts on 16 December.

The Illustrative Purposes of Old Maps

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.

The Territory Is Not the Map

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.

Continue reading “The Territory Is Not the Map”

Jonathan Roberts, Scientist and Fantasy Mapmaker

Fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts is profiled in a short, paywalled piece in Crain’s New York Business. (Winter Is Coming has a summary.) Roberts is, among other things, the artist behind The Lands of Ice and Fire, the boxed collection of 12 maps of George R. R. Martin’s Westeros. Things I did not know about him: he has a Ph.D. in physics, works as Dotdash’s chief innovation officer—and was given all of 12 weeks to complete the maps for The Lands of Ice and Fire. [Cartophilia]

Previously: A Q&A with Fantasy Cartographer Jonathan Roberts.

Fantasy Maps: Macaroni and Malazan

macaroni-maps

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.

Mapping the Dreamlands

vellitt-boe-cover villitt-boe-map-full

Once again, Tor.com is marking the publication of an upcoming fantasy novella, this time The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, with an essay on how the book’s map, executed by artist Serena Malyon, came into being. Malyon takes us from the author’s own map through several iterations of what ended up as the final map. The end result is a unique take on the fantasy map style, marked by the use of watercolours and perspective, backgrounded by a constellation-filled sky. Amazon (Kindle) / iBooks

Previously: Mapping The Drowning Eyes.

A Q&A with Fantasy Cartographer Jonathan Roberts

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.)

How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps

blando-how-to-draw 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.

Mapping Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

shangazi

In a blog post, Bradley Beaulieu describes how he worked with artist Maxime Plasse on the map for his fantasy novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (published in the U.K. as Twelve Kings). “There’s been a lot of back and forth to get things from my very rough starting point to the final version, so I thought I’d share some of it to give you a sense for how the process typically works.” I am, as you know, a sucker for process; Beaulieu takes us from his own map, which he generated with Fractal Terrains and Campaign Cartographer, to Plasse’s final, full-colour map (above). [via]

Twelve Kings in SharakhaiAmazon (Canada, U.K.) | iBooks (U.K. edition)