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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Exclusive Map Reveal: Neo Kinoko Map by Adrian M. Gibson


Like many people, I’m a sucker for maps in books. I was the kid who’d spend hours poring through my dad’s worn-out atlas, absorbing all of the continents, borders, capital cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and more. I loved it, and, thinking back, it was a natural extension of my father being a professional cartographer for his day job.

Tracing the trajectory of my relationship with maps, it’s obvious why I was so obsessed with them in fantasy novels. I remember the first time I saw the map of Middle Earth, and how it completely absorbed me. So much so that it took me a good few hours before I even started reading The Hobbit. From The Shire to the Misty Mountains, and the dense foliage of Mirkwood to the slopes of Erebor, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve devoured every fictional map I’ve ever come across, but one thing has always bugged me: Why weren’t there very many maps in sci-fi books, if any?

When I started creating The Fungalverse and what would eventually become Mushroom Blues, I knew I wanted to have a map. Even though it’s sci-fi adjacent and takes place in Neo Kinoko—a secondary world city analogous to our 1990’s—I thought a map would be essential. It’s that extra touch that can bring readers deeper into a fictional world, enhancing their sense of immersion and their understanding of the story’s geographical space.

Obviously, some readers don’t give a shit about maps, and that’s fine. That’s their prerogative. From my perspective, though, they’re missing out. For those who do care, have I got a treat for you. And so, it is my pleasure to share with you the map of Neo Kinoko, as it appears in Mushroom Blues. Not only that, but I’m going to walk you through the stages of how I created this map from scratch (with the help of my old man).

First and foremost, Neo Kinoko is heavily inspired by Tokyo, Japan. Not simply from the layout of its harbor and specific geographical features, but also the culture and religions of Japan, the density of its cityscape, the blending of modern and ancient, and much more. This also applies to how Tokyo was devastated during WWII by American bombing campaigns, leaving whole sections of the city leveled and homes, buildings, and landmarks burnt to the ground. Neo Kinoko is a post-war city, and that shows in ways both obvious and subtle.

For this first stage of the mapmaking process, I worked directly with my dad to conceptualize Neo Kinoko’s layout, the placement of key landmarks (like The Mother Mushroom), as well as the general scale of the city. The digital drawing on the left is the super basic mockup that we made, but that was just the beginning.

The second stage of Neo Kinoko’s map was handled on my iPad in a program called ProCreate. I imported a scan of the drawing that my dad and I made, using that as the foundational framework to lay down the linework of the city and its surroundings. That included rivers and coastlines, dockyards and bridges, as well as key details like bomb craters, The Mother Mushroom and a giant stump-turned-slum called Mold Town.

For this stage, I began incorporating patterns and borders. These were important signifiers for different neighborhoods, gang-controlled territories, irradiated zones, and small towns surrounding Neo Kinoko, as well as to identify what was inside the city (white) versus outside (shades of gray).

Next up were the text and symbols. This is where the map really started to come into focus, with clear distinctions of what was where, and how things were named. Coming up with names for everything was also a ton of fun, as I could conceptualize what a neighborhood had within it and convey that as best as possible through its name. 

This was probably the most relevant stage to Mushroom Blues itself, as the legend lists major locations that appear in the story. Those numbered locations are peppered across the map, as I thought it would be interesting for readers to see exactly where these major events are happening. The legend also gives indications for what the different patterns/symbols mean, along with a scale bar to measure distance.

The landscape details were a late addition, and I have one person to thank for these: K. M.Alexander, a novelist and artist from Seattle. On his website, he offers a ton of mapmaking tools and map brushes, all of which are geared towards creating fantasy maps with historical touches. There are map packs inspired by ancient Japan and China, whereas others draw influence from the maps of European explorers and specific mapmakers. It’s incredibly useful stuff, and very robust in how each tool can be applied to a map.

Specifically for the Neo Kinoko map, I used the Moronobu Gansai brush set, inspired by the watercolor scroll maps 17th-century painted by Hishikawa Moronobu. The set included a ton of beautiful watercolor-style brushes, from mountains and rocky outcrops, to forests and rice paddies. This was one of those final touches that gave the previously 2D space more life, style and dimension, making it pop off the page.

K. M.’s project is called #NoBadMaps, and all of the brushes are released under CC0 License (thismeans they are free for personal and commercial use). Please consider supporting him and his work, or check out his sample maps and reach out to hire him for your next map! His website is

The final product! This was a pretty simple detail, but it made a big difference. I used to adore the ringbound map books made by companies like Frommer’s (this was pre-Internet shit, people!), which were created for countries, as well as specific cities. These books were filled with detailed maps on different scales, showing you both broad geographical areas and zoomed in neighborhoods, towns are cities. They also featured lists of things to do, landmarks and museums. Basically, everything you needed to plan a trip somewhere, before Google Maps, TripAdvisor, etc. took over the game.

Using this inspiration, I imposed the map onto a beat-up paper page—essentially, I wanted it to feel like it was a torn out of one of those ‘90s ringbound map books. I then added some drop shadow to make the page stand out against the background. Also, for reference, the specific in-world guide book is called The Outsider’s Guide to the Mushroom Kingdom (1st Edition), and it even appears briefly as a meta-text in Mushroom Blues.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my walkthrough of how I created the map for Neo Kinoko, and that you’ll journey there with me in Mushroom Blues. Through the magic of maps and stories, we can enter The Fungalverse together!

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OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: TWO YEARS AFTER a devastating defeat in the decade-long Spore War, the island nation of Hōppon and its capital city of Neo Kinoko are occupied by invading Coprinian forces. Its Fungal citizens are in dire straits, wracked by food shortages, poverty and an influx of war refugees. Even worse, the corrupt occupiers exploit their power, hounding the native population.

As a winter storm looms over the metropolis, NKPD Detective Henrietta Hofmann begrudgingly partners up with mushroom-headed patrol officer Koji Nameko to investigate the mysterious murders of Fungal and half-breed children. Their investigation drags them deep into the seedy underbelly of a war-torn city, one brimming with colonizers, criminal gangs, racial division and moral decay.

In order to solve the case and unravel the truth, Hofmann must challenge her past and embrace Fungal ways. What she and Nameko uncover in the midst of this frigid wasteland will chill them to the core, but will they make it through the storm alive?



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