In the Marvel Universe, planet Earth is more than just a backdrop for stories of heroes and villains. It's a living, breathing world filled with locales exotic and mundane, both fictional and real. This November, readers will get to learn more about such places when the first of two "Marvel Atlas" issues hits stores. CBR News spoke with head writer Michael Hoskin and artist Elliot R. Brown about the unique Marvel Universe handbooks.
Hoskin and his fellow handbook writers began campaigning for a Marvel Atlas in 2006. "I don't know why the stars finally aligned themselves in favor of the project, but it is sufficient that they did," Michael Hoskin told CBR News. "I felt that a Marvel Atlas would be an interesting reference tool, one that I would have been proud to own as a fan. Hopefully this Atlas will find a comfortable place on the bookshelves of many fans, even those who think they have enough handbooks already (delusional souls!).
"Marvel's Earth is simply fascinating in how it draws inspiration from the real world for drama, allegory and humor. As a Canadian, I've always been drawn to appearances of my homeland in any fictional reality - be it Ned Land from Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' or the version of Richard Hannay from Alfred Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps' - so I appreciated those instances where, say, the X- Men would visit Calgary and it would actually look like the Calgary I know. For me, the Atlas is the perfect representation of the collision between the real and the fantastic.
"I think the most perfect expression of Marvel's Earth is the use of Latveria in 'The Fantastic Four,'" Hoskin continued. "It isn't just a fictional country that makes Marvel's Europe a little different from our own, it's one of the most vital elements in what makes Dr. Doom the premiere villain of the Marvel Universe - his nation's culture, his diplomatic immunity, his relations to other nations (real and fictional); the richness Latveria has accumulated over the decades is what each fictional country should aspire to."
In "The Marvel Atlas," readers will find a wealth of information on the fictional and real-life countries of the Marvel Universe. "Each entry features statistical data on the country (population, resources), their significant relations to other countries (ie, Latveria's alliance with Symkaria), lengthy lists of known countrymen, the history of the country, the nation's flag and the country's position on the map. There will also be additional images of landmarks, cities and the like. These entries actually have more headings than a typical handbook profile.
"Returning to my personal attachment to Canada," Hoskin continued. "I have noticed that many comic fans share an appreciation for the use of their homeland in a comic - even US fans enjoy seeing their home town depicted. Knowing that Germans like to know which heroes come from Germany, Brits like to know which characters hail from the UK and Aussies like to know which heroes live in Australia, it is my hope that fans based worldwide will enjoy this peak at an alternate version of their homeland (and try not to be offended that your government has yet to wipe out those Hydra terrorist cells)."
Each issue of "The Marvel Atlas" will cover a variety of continents. "Issue #1 takes us through Europe, Asia, Australia and other locales of the Pacific," Hoskin explained. "Issue #2 wraps it up with North/Central/South America, Africa, the Middle East and Antarctica."
The entries in "The Marvel Atlas" span the globe but not every country will be covered in-depth. "Every country - fictional or real - will be depicted on the map," Hoskin said. "However, not every country will be granted an entry because there was often very little to be said. Ksavia, for instance, was mentioned once and never depicted. Iceland almost made the cut, but other real world nations took priority in page assignments."
Like all good handbooks, the entries in the "Marvel Atlas" contain a wealth of historical details about the nations of Marvel Earth. "I personally went all the way back to the beginning to draw out early appearances by real world nations of the time," Hoskin explained. "However, Atlantis is the one fictional nation of that era which will be represented. I didn't feel quite right assigning locales once used to stand-in for Nazi Germany such as Prussland and Swastikia (I'm not making that name up). If fans of those nations feel slighted, they are invited to speculate on how those nations were dissolved in the aftermath of World War II or the fall of the USSR - but we won't be going there."
Additionally, "although the primary goal of the 'Atlas' is to gather what was already known about each nation, countries such as Vorozheika (from Gaiman's 'Eternals') or Morvania (Hulk) have been more fully embellished to meet the format," Hoskin explained.
The "Marvel Atlas" will be more than just a handbook of factual details. The book will also contain detailed maps of the countries of the Marvel Earth drawn by a man who's almost become the official cartographer of the Marvel Universe, Elliot R. Brown. "I had done various maps for the original run of 'The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe' and, because they were usually the last pieces of art to be done, there was little time to add any 'pizzazz' or interest to them," Brown told CBR News. "This time, I am enjoying the hope that there will be enough information and time to add something to each piece.
"I always liked maps," Brown continued. "When I was a kid, I learned of the Piri Riis Map-- the ancient map that showed the coastline of the Antarctic continent, coastlines of the North American continent -- the map that Columbus may have had! Crazy, heady stuff. It compelled me to learn more about maps and map-making, merely so I could better understand what I was looking at. I have an odd-lot assortment of maps and books about maps that I still dip into these days for fun."
It's the "What If?" factor that makes assignments like the "Marvel Atlas" so appealing to Brown, who remarked, "What if you stumbled across a box of old maps--and here's one of Gondwana, or what's this on that map of Manhattan? A S.H.I.E.L.D. office on 70th Street (next to the old FBI building!), here's an ESSO map of Metropolis! Maps are the way for us armchair adventurers to travel the world-- also worlds that don't exist. Imagine, say, a National Geographic article on 'Superhero Hotspots of the World' with a folded-in map! With all my work, I try to have one word, or in this case a look or device, that will reach out and grab a professional. Maybe get them to look again. I hope a cartographer might see one of these maps and say, 'hmmm modified Mollwiede
Projection.' Not to be too elitist, I throw in lots of words to make young people think-- I hope!"
Brown's art for the "Marvel Atlas" will include a variety of map types and possibly some other illustrations as well. "I hope I can figure out what each situation will be served best by a particular style of map. Sometimes straight informational maps are what work best. There might be little need for an ancient, hand-drawn style," Brown explained. "As for supplemental images-- I would like to think there would be enough reference in the books to provide some 'postcard' inserts. They do make the page more friendly and approachable. Alas, sometimes a simple, graphic style map is all that's needed. Also, I am loathe to step on editorial toes-- at least too obviously! By adding more information, no matter how logical or even appropriate, I may be precluding an upcoming event. Or 'nailing' something down that could be, should be changed. I have often found myself adding more to maps at the pencil stage and then inking only half of it! I did a map of 'Madripoor' from a Wolverine book where that happened.
Over the years, Brown has provided maps and detailed technical schematics for a number of Marvel handbooks, but he's never worked on anything quite like the "Marvel Atlas" before. "The only other large and expansive mapping effort I undertook was a map of Kull's Lemuria (I think it was Kull-could have been King Conan). I tried to emulate a 14th Century Arabic style, flowing-type map--translated into English by Irish Monks--that sort of thing. I was able to design it so that it could be taken apart and the pieces used separately. The full map and the parts were used many times that way. Series Editor, Larry Hama had gotten a Kull expert to spot all the place names, I made it a map-like thing and Diana Albers (one of the sweet souls of comics) lettered the whole thing, perfectly following my attempts at 'old' lettering. Big job."
The "Marvel Atlas" is a project that's presented Brown with a unique artistic challenge. "The artistic challenge is whether I emulate a modern map style or do I have to learn to make the maps using Illustrator?" said Brown. "There is a 'look' one way and many advantages the other. Nothing is harder to capture than the 'stop on a dime' look of mechanically produced lines. But the machines seem happy to do it."
For Michael Hoskin, the chance to collaborate with Elliot R. Brown and an international team of co-writers was one of the most enjoyable aspects of working on the "Marvel Atlas." "I have already mentioned that I come from Canada, and it is worth observing that each co-writer hails from a different nation - Anthony Flamini of the USA; Eric J. Moreels of Australia; and Stuart Vandal of the UK," Hoskin staid. "Also, being raised on the Deluxe Edition handbook naturally means that collaborating with Eliot R. Brown is like a mad dream come true."
If readers respond to the "Marvel Atlas," there is a good chance they'll see future installments covering even more territory of the Marvel Universe. Hoskin said, "I already have a few ideas about expanding to include Earth's satellites like the moon and Starcore."
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