Thursday, 3 October 2013

Of Monsters and Maps

My new picture book with illustrator Poly Bernatene is called "Here Be Monsters", a phrase that originates from old nautical maps. Cartographers used it (or it’s variant “Here Be Dragons”) to indicate an uncharted region. Sometimes they’d draw pictures of the monsters and show them attacking ships and devouring the unfortunate crew.

My favourite example of such a map is the wonderful Carta Marina, or “Map of the Sea”, created by Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus in the 16th century. The map shows the Nordic countries and Magnus drew so many monsters in the sea surrounding them, it’s a wonder that anyone that saw it had the courage to set sail.

Olaus Magnus’s wonderful Carta Marina.  Click here to see a larger version

The map is packed with wonderful detail, including a monster that sailors have mistaken for an island. The sailors are shown lighting a fire on the monster’s back, which always makes me wonder if it has some connection to The First Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, in which Sinbad and his crew make the same unfortunate mistake.

A detail from the Carta Marina, showing some of its monsters.
Sailors have mistaken the monster on the left for an island and are lighting a fire on it.

This map, and others like it, were the inspiration for an unpublished pop-up book called Here Be Monsters that I produced in 1995. At that point, I was both writing and illustrating and this book was my first attempt at paper-engineering as well. In that early version, an intrepid young girl called Maggie discovers a magic map with an island labelled “Here Be Monsters” and sets out to see it for herself. Maggie travels across a pop-up landscape on her quest and as the pages turn a host of monsters are revealed to the reader, but Maggie sees none of them. When Maggie eventually reaches her destination, the reader sees that the island is itself a giant monster, just like the one on the Carta Marina. The magic map appeared on every page of the book, with the drawing changing as Maggie progressed across it.

The magical map from my unpublished Here Be Monster pop-up book. The map appeared on every page
of the book, with changing details and the dragon and griffin scroll-heads fighting each other.
You can see more of this pop-up version on my web site.

I reworked this early pop-up Here Be Monsters a few times, but was never able to find a publisher for it. For one reworking, I produced a bigger, more detailed version of the map, which folded out from the book’s back cover, like a map in a guide book.

The large “guide book” version of the pop-up book map. (Click image to enlarge)

The picture book version of the story is quite different from the original pop-up book. The little girl, Maggie, has been replaced by a band of villainous pirates. All of the monsters they encounter are sea monsters and, while their fearsome captain remains oblivious to them, his unfortunate crew do not. The stories also end differently. In the picture book version, the island does not turn out to be a giant monster — but there’s an equally scary twist!

Before Poly Bernatene started work on his wonderful illustrations for the picture book version, I mentioned to him that the Carta Marina had been a big influence on the story. So I was delighted to see that Poly had included some of Magnus’s monsters in the nautical map featured in the book.

The map in PolyBernatene's illustrations includes some of the monsters from the Carta Marina.

Find out more about the book at my web site

find your local bookshop Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US