Building The World Of Wakanda

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A few weeks back, in advance of Black Panther #1, I did a conversation with the great Evan Narcisse over at Kotaku. When Evan called, I was in the midst of fooling around with some mapping software in hopes of putting together a geographical vision of Wakanda, the setting for my story.

I’ve always liked maps. Maps were half the fun in any Dungeons and Dragons campaign. When I was a kid I spent hours pouring over my parents’ atlas of the country. Nevertheless, the results from this outing were … less than spectacular. I fiddled around with a few programs—Campaign Cartogapher, Fractal Mapper, and then finally Photoshop. Ideally I’d continue with Campaign Cartographer, but it, along with Fractal Mapper, are PC only and I do most of my work on a mac.

That left me working in Photoshop (which I can no longer buy but have to license??) The map I made with Fractal Mapper is just risible. But here is a less risible version I made with Photoshop:

Paintbrushes by Star Raven.

This isn’t much of a map. But it has the basics down in terms of where Wakanda exists in the world and what’s around it. In my imagination, Wakanda is a small country in East Africa, just off the Western Coast of Lake Victoria. It is bordered by four other mythical countries in the Marvel canon—Mohanda to the North, Canaaan to the West, Azania to the Southwest, and Niganda to the Southeast. I can’t say too much, but Niganda exerts a subtle influence on events in Wakanda in both Season 1 and Season 2 (which I’ve started sketching out.)

I imagine Wakanda as a country with strong natural barriers—impenetrable mountains to the North and West, dense forests, foreboding marshlands to the South, and the lake to the East. (When Prince Namor recently innudated Wakanda, he did so by causing the lake to rise.) There are passable points into Wakanda, but each of these are secured by a garrison which eventually bloomed into cities. One area that is less secure is the border between Niganda and Wakanda. Again, I don’t want to say too much there, but it has meaning.

A few words on continuity and geography here: I stress the “In my imagination” portion of this description. From what I can tell, canon and continuity are things comic book creators try to pay attention to, without becoming beholden to them. I have tried to root my Wakanda, and my Black Panther, in all that came before. But it’s really ultimately impossible to do this—there simply is too much information to read and remember. That said you do try to respect continuity and use it to you it to advance the story.

This is my first serious go at mapping. Eventually we’ll have to get a map that is of enough quality to be reproduced in a comic book. This clearly isn’t it. But I’m learning. And that was the whole reason to take this gig to begin with. To learn.

Shout-out to Jessica Khoury for the tutorial. Time for to cop that sketch-tablet, I guess.