The power of Reddit can be the thing that makes or breaks your chance at internet notoriety. For artist Levi Mills of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Reddit proved the perfect place to debut a pair of maps showing what his state might look like if it were more Middle Earth than Midwest.
Last week, Mills uploaded his paintings of Wisconsin and Minnesota done in the style of classic fantasy maps. Since then, the response has been overwhelming. We chatted with Mills about how he got started with this style of cartography and what's next on his list of maps.
When did you first come up with the idea to turn these states into fantasy fodder?
Just this past Christmas, we did a budgeted Secret Santa thing, and I drew a fantasy map from a fantasy series of books. I want to say Wheel of Time, but I've never read them. The guy I gifted to was a huge fan. I had a lot of fun with it, though.
I enjoy making maps, and we have a wall in our apartment that has a lot of Midwest-themed maps on it, so I decided to make a Wisconsin one. The original one was very bad, I'll say. [Laughs] It was really awful. I didn't have Copic pens, very thin archival pens, so I got those for the second one.
I had enough requests to make prints for the first one that I didn't like very much, but I didn't want to print something I didn't actually like, so I made a better one and posted it on Reddit. It got a pretty good response and I kind of went from there to make the Minnesota one.
A lot of it just sort of came from having more people than I realized proud of Midwest states. I didn't really know that was a whole subculture.
How has the reception for your maps been so far?
Fairly good. This is just through Reddit almost exclusively. I posted the maps in the Minnesota and Wisconsin subreddits, and it just kind of grew from there.
I just recently put a post in the Michigan subreddit asking "Hey, would you guys be interested in me doing one for Michigan?" I was totally blown away by the state pride that Michigan has. It's something that I never thought about or was never exposed to -- probably more so than even Minnesota or Wisconsin. They were really gung-ho about it.
One guy actually wrote me a lengthy post about young people in Michigan right now. For some reason the 20- and 30-year-old demographic is really proud of being from Michigan and is buying Michigan paraphernalia in huge, huge numbers.
How long have you been painting?
Very inconsistently. [Laughs] I had high school art classes, and then in college I didn't paint very frequently at all. About a year or two ago, I started doing a little bit more. It actually picked up when I had to start going to all these weddings.
I'm at the age where every one of my friends is getting married, and you start to want to give them something a little more personalized. So we'd get them whatever they asked for on the registry -- like a bathroom scale or whatever -- and then I would paint a customized portrait of the two of them as cartoon figures for a wedding card.
I kind of learned that I liked painting again and started doing that more in my free time.
And will we see your version of all 50 states in the future?
Just the Midwest at the moment is the plan -- mostly because the thought of doing all 50 is terrifying. If I just start with thinking only the Midwest, and only the interesting states.
I did my home state, and then Minnesota was the next logical one because I know people from there. Michigan seems like the next most-interesting one. Indiana and Ohio don't really excite me for whatever reason. [Laughs] Who knows why that could be? Michigan next, and then who knows after that.