The fascinating story of how a first-time cartographer created the definitive map of Gotham City

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Jun 3, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT

Though it’d been through its fair share of designs over the past 75 years, it wasn’t until 1998 that Batman’s Gotham City was finally, officially mapped out.

As DC was getting ready to put together the “No Man’s Land” comic arc in 1998, which found Gotham disconnected from the rest of the world after almost being destroyed by a massive earthquake, they realized it was finally time to put pen to paper and define the city’s design — you know, so they could then destroy it.

So they tapped artist and illustrator Eliot R. Brown, who had a background in architecture and had previously served as a technical artist for Marvel Comics. The Gotham gig marked his first real foray into cartography, so when he got the call from DC he first set up a shop-talk meeting with Batman writers and artists to determine exactly what should be included in Gotham’s new “bible.”

Here’s what Brown told Smithsonian Magazine about the process:

“The DC Comics editors made it clear that Gotham City was an idealized version of Manhattan. Like most comic book constructs, it had to do a lot of things. It needed sophistication and a seamy side. A business district and fine residences. Entertainment, meat packing, garment district, docks and their dockside business. In short all of Manhattan and Brooklyn stuffed into a … well, a nice page layout.”

It took Brown just two weeks to come up with the working draft that would inform the final version, and two tense months to finalize the whole thing. From the different districts of the city, to landmarks, the shoreline, skyline and even bridges and tunnels (plus some lesser-known steam tunnels that have come in handy for Batman and his pals), it's all there.

More than 15 years later, Brown’s design remains the de facto basis for Batman comics, videogames and even Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight trilogy. It was a rare move toward something that could prove limiting, but it turned out Brown’s attention to detail has only worked to enrich the Batman canon.

So next time you’re jet-setting on a fictional vacation, don’t forget your handy map of Gotham.

(Via Smithsonian Magazine)