The Sunday Salon: Dragon*Con 2010 – “The Art of The Way of Kings”

Dragon*Con is, like all good things in life, fulfilling, fun, and exhausting. While I could go on and on about several awesome things that happened last weekend, such as the magnificent “Images of Love” panel which greatly helped my Twilight paper or Sean Astin being one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever met, I thought, as this is my bookish outlet and not my fannish outlet, I would focus on the panel entitled “The Art of The Way of Kings” with Brandon Sanderson, Ben McSweeney, and Isaac Stewart. While it was the only panel that dealt with The Way of Kings (Sanderson spent most of his time on The Wheel of Time track), it looked mainly at the art from the book and its evolution, especially in how it works with the narrative.

Sanderson started off things talking about maps, and made a point similar to the one I made last Sunday about fantastical languages–fantasy novels have maps because Tolkien did it first. Much like fantastical languages, maps have become a fantasy cliché, and Sanderson started thinking about maps as pieces of art from within the novel’s universe. Robert Jordan has had, of course, a large influence on Sanderson’s writing, and Sanderson recounted a panel where a fan asked Jordan about two characters contradicting both each other concerning the geography of their world; the fan was trying to determine which one was correct. Jordan’s answer was simply, “You believed them?” You can see this in The Way of Kings as every map and illustration has some sort of notation telling the reader where it comes from within the world–the pages of Shallan’s sketchbook are the most obvious example.

Building from that, Sanderson started thinking about a fantasy novel with plenty of illustrations. He was actually inspired by Watchmen–the way each comic book installment ended with a text installment of someone’s biography, a news story, or something like that. While he didn’t want it to stray into actual graphic novel territory, he found the interplay between the two to be an interesting and rich experience, an experience he wanted to recreate in his own work. (Interestingly enough, The Unwritten wanted to do the same thing, with text installments of the in world Tommy Taylor books, but they found a happier medium, which is covered in the bonus material in Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity.)

Sanderson then talked about the history of The Way of Kings, which he also talks about in this post at He then turned things over to Ben McSweeney, whose art “plays” Shallan’s art in the book. McSweeney was originally a fan, and his work came to Sanderson’s attention when he posted a piece of Mistborn fanart on The Official Time-Waster’s Guide, which you can see over at his DeviantArt page. He talked about a pitch session he and Sanderson put together to give to Tor, although Tor was more than willing to publish whatever Sanderson wanted at this point (this was after he’d taken over The Wheel of Time), and we were shown several pieces of conceptual art from that session. McSweeney talked about how he initially visualized spren as similar to the forest sprites from Princess Mononoke and Sanderson discussed how the safehand works as they came up in the art. Interestingly, the only piece of art that survived the pitching session was Szeth’s character icon.

Sanderson was inspired by both Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin in that he wanted a visual cue at the beginning of each chapter to both vaguely foreshadow what’s going to happen and who each chapter is about. Isaac Stewart took over from there. Originally, the arches that make up each chapter title were going to be an interlocking coin, but it proved too complicated. Stewart showed us the faces used in the arches and how they evolved over time. Because The Way of Kings came out the week before this panel, they didn’t go into the character icons used below the arches for fear of spoiling people. They did, however, express concern over how the arches are going to look in the paperback edition.

All three delved a little deeper into the worldbuilding, as it comes out in both the novel and the art. Sanderson talked about how the highstorms are the key to working on Roshar; everything is affected by it. In fact, he mentioned that since the highstorms deposit rock onto Roshar (which actually keeps it from eroding), the continent has actually shifted westward, which I found fascinating. He also added that Roshar has a lower gravity than Earth, a detail I would have loved to seen in the book but is pretty nigh impossible to work in. Stewart discussed developing the glyphs that make up the written language men use in The Way of Kings, which pulls a lot from Arabic word art and the holy nature of symmetry within the world.

Then they took some questions–yes, there is a plan for The Art of The Way of Kings as the series progresses. I asked about Sanderson’s incredible knack for making each book satisfying, which fantasy series sometimes forget to do, and he told me it was a very conscientious choice on his part. Most intriguingly, someone asked about any possible crossovers, to which Sanderson responded “Different worlds, same universe” and reminded us of a character who has made an appearance in all of his series so far. After answering all the questions, I was able to have all three of them, Sanderson, McSweeney, and Stewart, to sign my ARC copy of The Way of Kings–they were all so nice! It was a really fascinating panel, and I almost wish I had a hardcover copy of The Way of Kings instead, because the art looks so beautiful. (I was drooling over maps in someone’s copy before the panel.)

Oh, and I would be absolutely remiss for not promoting InkWing Arts, which produces merchandise for fans of Sanderson’s writing. Stewart and his wife run it and he was wearing a pretty sweet The Stormlight Archive t-shirt at the panel.

I’ve managed to catch some sort of con crud from Dragon*Con, which I hope will clear up soon–I despise being sick, because I can’t be active. I finished The Three Musketeers and read Manhood for Amateurs on Friday, and I will start Lynn Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows soon–yesterday I just read for class. I’ve started on Sense and Sensibility, which I’m enjoying so far, but need to finish soon for class. I’m up to my eyeballs in reading for class and for pleasure and I couldn’t be happier about it.

If you’re intrigued by my coverage of this panel, T. J. at Dreams and Speculation is giving away a possibly signed copy of The Way of Kings, as well as a copy of The Adoration of Jenna Fox; both end on September 18. Allie at Hist-Fic Chick is giving away a copy of Wolf Hall; that ends September 21. Swapna at S. Krishna’s Books is giving away two copies of Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay; that ends on Friday. Celia at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia is giving away a copy of Shades of Milk and Honey; that closes September 15.

If you’ve read The Way of Kings, does this make the book make more sense? (I’m still fervently against the Interludes.)

11 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Dragon*Con 2010 – “The Art of The Way of Kings”

  1. Sounds like a fascinating panel! It’s fun when authors are able to say lots of interesting things about their writing process.

    I’m sorry you’re feeling crappy, and hope you are healed soon. 🙂

  2. Inspired by Watchmen! Who would have guessed? However, I do think that Alan Moore pulls it off better than Sanderson. To be honest, after awhile, I only skim Sanderon’s little quote bits. I’m sure they’ll tie into the plot, but…

    Mostly this post just makes me absolutely determined to go to a con. I feel so left out! 😛

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