I started drawing maps of fantasy worlds when I was eight. As I got older, I moved on to making maps of real historical periods, then modern-world maps, and started publishing them online.
My Map of the Internet includes the land of YouTube, the islands of Deep Web and Great Southern Land. This last is a forgotten wasteland full of obsolete services and websites. My conceptual map, which came to the media’s notice in 2014, shows websites like countries on a classic world map. The biggest countries are the sites with the most visitors or the companies with the most users. The great eastern continent, the Old World, is all software and gaming companies. The western part, the New World, comprises two major continents: the northern one of social networks, websites, blogs and forums, and the southern one of dating sites, adult websites and internet crime.
It was quite shocking when the map went viral. Within a few hours, I was getting all these messages. I think it captured people’s imaginations because the internet had never been mapped on such a scale. It made people look at it in a new way. I’m now working on the fourth version of this map, which is much bigger. It will be finished in a few weeks.
With “Liberty for rich white guys” (US), “Stiff upper lip” (England) and “Middle Earth” (New Zealand), my Map of Stereotypes was another big hit. It depicts the most prevalent western stereotypes about other countries and regions all over the world and was partly inspired by Yanko Tsvetkov’s Atlas of Prejudice. After it went viral, I got a book deal. I was 16.
Maps of Common Foods around the world, and the cost of a beer, appear in my first book, Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps. But it also includes serious maps, such as the Map of Separatist Europe, which shows what the continent would look like if all the regions striving for independence achieved it, and more lighthearted ones, such as which countries prefer dogs to cats.
National Geographic maps are some of the best maps ever made. But I am inspired by historic maps from the 16th to 19th centuries: I’m a big fan of a vintage style, but I put a modern twist on it. Some of my favourite historical cartographers are Fra Mauro, who created a map of the world in the 13th century; Abraham Ortelius, who created the first modern atlas in 1570; and Joan Blaeu, a Dutchman who published the first heliocentric world map in 1648.
When I started making maps, I drew them by hand. Then I learned to use Windows Paint, and now I use Photoshop – it’s so much easier. A small map, such as a Map of Festivals around the world, might take me a week. A big one, say the Map of Literature, which catalogues more than 7,000 writers, poets and dramatists over 5,000 years, takes three or four months. Up to half of that time is spent on online research. Then I make a rough draft, mapping areas of interest into continents. I slowly build it up, adding coastlines, seas, shading and texture.
One of my new maps, Britannia Under the Waves, shows how the British Isles would look if the ice caps completely melted. If this happened and sea levels rose 70 metres, much of the nation would be submerged, including cities such as London, Liverpool and Glasgow, and most of eastern England. It shows Norwich surviving as a few Anglian Islands and a standalone Norfolk Broads national park. I’ve made a similar map of the effect of rising sea levels worldwide, but this one goes into more detail. I’m very interested in the UK even though I’ve only been once, to visit London. I’d love to go back and see Wales, Scotland and the Lake District.
Astronomy is my other big passion, and my second book, Vargic’s Curious Cosmic Compendium, is a visual guide to space, the universe and everything in it. Its illustrations – including giant vertical graphics that unfold over 10 pages – cover everything from stars to the evolution of rocket science, with maps of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Earth and the moon.
Making maps doesn’t feel like work, it’s just fun – I can happily spend 12 hours a day on them. In that sense, the coronavirus crisis hasn’t had too big an effect on me, as I work from home anyway. When I need a break I go to a big park 15 minutes’ walk from where I live in Bratislava. I was learning to drive, though, so that’s on hold.
I travelled to 40 countries before I was 16, mostly in Europe but also Vietnam, Cambodia, the US and Cuba. In the past six years, the furthest I’ve been is the Czech Republic and Austria – and they’re just next door! I’ve been too busy working. I want to go to Iceland, Ethiopia and New Zealand, places with inspirational landscapes, and get more into photography. Ultimately, I’d like to have a business selling prints of my maps. I love the idea of making something beautiful that someone wants as a centrepiece in their room.
But before that, I’m working on a map in time for the US presidential election. Watch this space for a Map of the World According to Donald J Trump…
Interview by Rachel Dixon
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