Arvid Nelson: Rex Mundi Faces Its Final Chapter

A comics interview article by: Nicholas Slayton
Arvid Nelson is a busy man. He's wrapping up his hit series Rex Mundi, and bringing his miniseries Zero Killer back to the stands, all while working on the new Thulsa Doom comic book, and the Rex Mundi movie starring Johnny Depp. However, he took the time to catch up with Nicholas Slayton to discuss the end of Rex Mundi, and his other projects.

Nicholas Slayton: You've been working on Rex Mundi for 10 years now. With the end of the series in sight, how are you feeling about it coming to an end? What do you feel about the series as a whole?

Arvid Nelson: You know, it feels very uneven to me. And that’s despite all the wonderful assistance I’ve had, from EricJ, from Jeromy Cox, from Jim Di Bartolo and, of course, from Juan. I wish Rex Mundi could have had a uniform look, but it wasn’t meant to be. But that’s always been one of the pleasures of comics for me, watching creators evolve as their story evolves. I do feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having finished the thing. There have been a few times when I was on the knife’s edge of walking away, but I kept going until the end. That means something, at least to me.

NS: The series started out as a very noir, urban mystery and now it's become a more sprawling, adventurous tale with many locales. Did the series develop as you intended it too? What brought about this expansion of genre?

AN: Yeah, that was always the plan. I intended it to be the reverse of the Aeneid. I realize that sounds highfalutin and ridiculous, but it’s true. The Aeneid begins with Aeneas wandering around the Mediterranean, and ends with him firmly rooted on the banks of the Tiber. Julien starts out firmly rooted in Paris. Eric and I spent a lot of effort making the city as gloomy, dense and prison-like as possible. But in the second part, Julien unsticks himself and wanders about the countryside of France and northern Spain. Juan’s art is really suited to the second half of the story, actually. The change of art styles, totally by chance, ended up having a positive impact.

NS: I'm sure a lot is very hush-hush at the moment, but what is the extent of your involvement in the Rex Mundi film? How closely do you feel it’s following the series?

AN: My job is to be a good cheerleader and a good Boy Scout. To the extent the producers want me to be involved, I am. Otherwise, I try to stay out of their way and give them the support they need. I mean, they’re investing a lot of time and money into the film. Who the hell am I to tell them what to do? I think it’s safe to say there will be some significant changes from the comic book to the film. And I totally support that. Who wants to watch a panel-by-panel retelling of the comic? The film and the comic will be like looking at a sculpture from different angles, that’s how I think of it.

NS: Both Rex Mundi and Zero Killer feature intense world building and intricately plotted alternate timelines. What all goes into creating these worlds?

AN: It’s a lot of work, but maybe “work” isn’t the right word, because I enjoy the research so much. There’s no secret, though. It’s just a lot of reading and thinking and writing.

NS: Is there a certain idea that spawned these alternative timelines? Did you look at historical events for a turning point?

AN: It’s more like things are just swimming around in my head, and then something happens that makes them drop out of solution. For Rex Mundi, it was being in Paris, specifically, seeing a church called St. Germain-des-Pres. For Zero Killer, it was 9-11. I was living in Queens at the time. I still do. Anyway, it was September 13th of 2001. I was walking home, when I heard jet engines overhead. But the noise was different somehow. Sharper. I looked up, and I saw two F-15 fighter jets crawling across the sky. Zero Killer came to me then.

NS: With Zero Killer returning in August, what can readers expect from this new installment in the series?

AN: The continuation of the story right where it left off! It breaks my heart that so much time elapsed between Issue 3 and Issue 4. It will hurt Zero Killer, but there was nothing I could do about it. The good news is the art in these last three issues is just jaw-dropping. I’m really excited they’re going to see the light of day, at long last.

NS: You've also done a lot with the works of Robert E. Howard with both Kull for Dark Horse and now Thulsa Doom for Dynamite. What was it about these titles and this genre that drew you to them?

AN: I’ve always been a fanatic about sword-and-sorcery. And not just Howard, I really like Clark Ashton Smith, and Lord Dunsany. Even Poe. He wrote some poems I consider borderline fantasies. Who knows what attracts me? I guess their worlds just seem better than the one I come from.

NS: What do you find you prefer writing -- sword and sorcery epics or alternate history mysteries?

AN: Ooo, I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite! I like all kinds of fantastic literature, from science fiction to high fantasy.

NS: One of my favorite parts of Rex Mundi is the newspaper section, “Le Journal de la Liberte”, and it's very period-specific pictures. Where did you find those pictures?

AN: I stumbled onto this book called “Collier’s Photographic History of the Great War”, published in 1915. Note the title: “Great War”. It was before people even knew it would be known as World War I! And it was before the war stagnated in the stereotype of muddy trenches and suicidal charges. I could only borrow the book for a short time, so I spent like $200 at a copy shop making copies of all the best pages one day. This was about eight years ago. I sat on those pictures for a long, long time before I got to use them. It killed me, because the images are so haunting and powerful, but I just had to wait!

NS: How was it adapting your writing to a more journalistic style?

AN: You know, I originally tried to write those articles in a stuffy, 19th Century style, but it came off really phony. So I opted for a sort of neutral, present-day style. I only hope it’s not jarring or off-putting! It definitely works better for “Dawn’s Early Light”, the newspaper at the back of Zero Killer, because of Zero Killer’s setting.

NS: Rex Mundi took a lot of classic myths about the Holy Grail, and even some of the newer, Holy Blood, Holy Grail theories, and turned them on their head. You painted the "Bloodline of Christ" theory as a very fascist idea. What was your process when tackling such a task?

AN: The more Grail-as-the-bloodline-of-Christ conspiracy theory books I read, the more disgusted I became with the whole thing. It’s an inherently fascist idea, the idea that Jesus--or anyone--rules by “right of blood”. I mean, that’s exactly what the Nazis believed. Hitler actually mounted a grail-finding expedition to the south of France. Any story about the whole grail thing has to address that somehow, or it risks becoming a subtle form of fascist propaganda.

NS: How is your writing process affected by each project? Do you approach, say, Thulsa Doom, differently than you approach Zero Killer?

AN: Not very different! With Thulsa Doom, I have a lot of leeway to construct the setting. “World building,” I guess it’s called. I love doing that.

NS: What else can the fans expect to see from Arvid Nelson?

AN: Well, I don’t think I’ll be doing another original comic book anytime soon! Rex Mundi and Zero Killer have been glorious experiences, but they’ve also been grueling and exasperating. I’m working on a novel, actually, based on my interest in heavy metal music, and Scandinavian and Celtic mythology.

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