Rex Mundi. Better than your favorite comic. Yes, that one too.
Image’s critically acclaimed hit series Rex Mundi launches its first trade paperback collection (Guardian of the Temple) this Wednesday, and I highly recommend that any and all interested parties give it a look. Considering the possibility that my continual praise of the mystery thriller proves inadequate impetus to seek out the handsome edition collecting issues #0-5, I’ve conducted a small Q & A with creators Arvid Nelson and Eric J. The two rising stars were anxious to discuss a variety of topics, applicable to both their own efforts, and the industry at large. Enjoy with my compliments.
Rex Mundi: Guardian of the Temple is in your stores February 4th.
Brandon Thomas: How does it feel to finally get a Rex Mundi trade on the stands?
Arvid Nelson: Extremely gratifying. Rex Mundi has been a struggle for us ever since we were taken on board by Image. We started off as a one-shot with no guarantee there’d be a follow-up. Once we proved ourselves worthy of “ongoing series” status, we had to prove we were worth collecting into a trade paperback. After we got done with the third issue there was a panic (at least on my part), because before Image took a chance on us we had basically been working on the first three issues for over a year and a half.
It’s really easy to let things slide when you’re not on a schedule. So, we feel gratified in part because we made it past the rookie year having accomplished all the goals we set for ourselves.
Eric J: I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about it, because I had just gotten my copies, and he was saying that it’s kind of like hitting another plateau, or maybe better, a mile marker. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but he kind of made me look a little deeper into it. Up to that point I had just been so wrapped up in getting it and the regular issues out that I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of, “How cool is THIS?”
But while we were talking about it and looking at the book, it really kind of hit me. If you’ve ever put out a CD or a comic I think you’ll relate, because since I got my books, I think I’ve flipped through them a million times and I’ve already got so many more ideas for the next trade. I’m really proud of this one, I think it came out awesome, and I really think our readers are going to be stoked about it. I don’t think I could be more proud right now. [smiles]
Thomas: What do you think has contributed to the success of the book?
Nelson: I think making a comic book like Rex Mundi, in which there are three people intimately involved in the process, is a lot like being in a band. Both Eric and I have experiences with bands, and we know all too well the petty politics that can tear a small group of creative people apart. It’s about communication, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Eric and I have our disagreements, but at the end of the day we know we’ll reach consensus. Rex Mundi is hard on us; we’ve endured a lot of privation to get this far, so I think we also have a bond similar to that of war veterans who served in the same unit. It’s beyond friendship, and it’s a powerful thing.
Thomas: Do you think there’s a large contingent of fans that have been “waiting for the trade?” What do you think of this tendency, and how does it affect an independent project like yours?
Nelson: Yes, I do! I mean, by anyone’s standards, Rex Mundi is a weird comic book. There are no licensed characters, no capes ‘n tights, and most importantly, no one has ever heard of Eric or me. So on the most basic level, I think people are waiting to see if the story is good–if it’s even readable–and to see if Eric and I have the staying power to last more than a few issues. I believe this graphic novel goes a long way towards convincing potential readers we’ve got the endurance and the skills to finish a story that people want to read.
I also think that, for whatever reason, people just want to read stories in larger chunks. I mean, I’m guilty of this too, and I think it’s one of the hidden reasons Japanese comics are so popular. Eric and I put a huge effort into making each and every issue of
Rex Mundi as much fun as possible, and as much of a stand-alone piece as possible, but Rex Mundi doesn’t start anew with each issue. I think this is one of our biggest strengths, but heretofore it’s also been our albatross. With the graphic novel, I feel like the long-term nature of the story will be a strong asset for us. While the book reads well in single issue format, I know it’s also going to read extremely well in graphic novel format. Since that seems to be what people are looking for these days, I think we’re in a good position.
J: On the one hand, I don’t begrudge people the prerogative to wait for collected editions. I prefer trades myself, and if you’re talking about a Vertigo book, just to use the example that gets bandied about the most, it’s fine, because most of those books sell in numbers above the 20,000 range, and then the trades supplement and support the monthlies even more. For a book like ours, though, that’s not selling in those kinds of numbers on a monthly basis, the people waiting for the trade are potential readers that may never see the book. It’s a fluid thing though, and now we’re just really hoping that all of the people that have been waiting for the book go ahead and pick it up, dig it, start following the book in the singles, and maybe, just maybe, become more of the hard-core readers that we’ve had the good fortune of enjoying, that talk the book up everywhere.
That’s probably the coolest thing about all of this so far, is just that there have been a fairly good number of readers that have seen something in the book that really speaks to them, and they’ve taken it upon themselves to get out and tell other people about it.
I mean, really, when you see readers and reviewers in some cases using phrases like “the best book out right now” or “the most important book on the stands today” that just blows your mind, you know? I mean, I don’t know that it’s necessarily true, but just the fact that we’ve been able to affect someone deeply enough for them to go to that place is incredibly gratifying, and hopefully the trade will just open up our world to an ever-increasing readership. That’s the real big hope, because Arvid, Jeromy, and I put so much into every one of the books, and ultimately, as a storyteller, you want as many people as possible to hear the story you’re trying to tell.
I do think that there’s a little bit of a disconnect between the fans, retailers, and creators/publishers right now though. I’ve talked a lot about it in various places, but ultimately, with regard to trades, everyone’s going to have to get on the same page.
It sucks because at this point, publishing with anyone but the big two becomes a war of attrition, and those books that have the backing to maintain really, really tough times have the potential to stay around, while a number of really good books fall by the wayside.
But, Rex Mundi is one of the books that got through and we DO have a trade coming now, and like I said, it’s a fluid thing and now we’re moving into new concerns.
Thomas: Having recently shifted to a monthly schedule, how difficult is it to produce the same high quality work in a shorter amount of time?
Nelson: It’s just a matter of working harder and longer. Lots of Red Bull. Sometimes it’s a trial of the will, but I believe overall we expended more energy per-issue on our bimonthly schedule than we do now, just because of the inherent lethargy that creeps up on you when there’s such a long gap between issues. Now we have momentum working in our favor.
J: Issue #9, the issue we just finished, is in our opinion the best issue yet overall, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t keep it up. The one thing that I think is happening with us though is that we’re just increasingly more aware of the schedule. It’s all still so much of a learning experience for us, and the farther we get along, the easier it becomes.
Thomas: Artistically, how do you approach every issue of the title? Is there a technique, or ritual you’ve found that helps you create work you’re exceptionally proud of, especially within a shortened time frame?
J: I don’t really have a ritual. Most of my days are spent sitting at my drawing board and only leaving it for food and sleep. My TV sits behind me, so that’s on a lot of the time as background noise, or I’ll fire up iTunes and listen to music while I work. In terms of a ritual, probably the closest I get is that when I do listen to music, I can’t listen to really hard and fast stuff because it makes me antsy and, instead of giving my art energy, it makes me want to go out, so it’s really distracting. I usually listen to ambient, electronic, and alternative stuff, because it lets me chill and it’s moody.
Honestly, though, my best stuff is the stuff that I have the time to just melt into, if that makes sense. I’m also going back to school soon, because I want to push my art in different directions, and I want to gain some more tools to make it as good as it possibly can be.
Thomas: You’ve mentioned that you see Mundi lasting about a total of 36 issues. Is the overall story becoming longer or shorter as you tell it, or is everything progressing on schedule?
Nelson: You know what? That’s a great question, and one I ask myself every day. I jumped right into comics with only a vague appreciation of the medium and the selfless help of some experienced friends. Now I’m producing, writing, lettering and doing the pre-press for a comic book that hits the shelves every month. This isn’t to brag, in fact, just the opposite. It’s all a little bit terrifying sometimes.
What I’m trying to say is, I think I have a clear idea about how long Rex Mundi‘s going to be, and I know exactly where the story’s going to go. But I have no frame of reference beyond measuring up the amount of story I want to tell to other comics and making a judgment call. 36 issues sounds about right to me, but I’m sometimes surprised at how an issue can expand into two issues or two issues can shrink into one.
Thomas: When’s the last time this happened?
Nelson: Let’s see, there was #8. I had a little extra space, so I added the exegesis on the origins of magic. And then there’s issue #12; again, I had a little more space than expected, so I included a scene between Lorraine and his daughter I had been wanting to do for a long time. I have a lot of “character development” scenes floating around in my head that really can go anywhere. In fact, I think they help to break up the relentless pace of the plot. Generally, when I’ve got extra space, I’ll find a way to insert one of these scenes. It actually happens quite often, and it helps loosen up the story.
Thomas: Is there ever any fear that one of the mainstream publishers are going to swoop in with some incredible offer that’ll take one or both of you away from Rex Mundi?
Nelson: Ha! I still can’t get people to return my phone calls. I’d be very gratified to get a job writing a comic more people have heard of. Hypothetically, if it did happen, I don’t think it would affect Rex Mundi at all. It’d just be trading a day job I hate for one I love.
It would also be nice to just write a comic and have someone else take care of everything else: the production, the lettering, the layout, the pre-press… writing is the least of what I do, time-wise. I sometimes feel like I’m the lead singer of the band, but I’m also a roadie. To write a script and see it magically appear as a comic book in a month or so! Being able to write–and only write–would be like discovering I had super-powers.
As for Eric, I don’t know why the scenario you mentioned hasn’t already happened to him. If it did, it would probably mean we’d be back to a bimonthly schedule, maybe even a quarterly schedule, and that would be a shame. At the same time, I’d be totally ecstatic, for Eric and for Rex Mundi. Firstly, I want more people to recognize Eric’s brilliance as an artist and an illustrator. It would also be an enormous release of pressure for both of us. Rex Mundi is a labor of love, but right now Eric and I are hoping it will succeed financially, and it has yet to do so. We’ll keep at it until the bitter end, but it makes our personal lives arduous at times. Whatever happens, Eric and I are totally committed to this book. We’re not cynical about it, it’s an end and not a means. That, in the end, is why I know we’ll stay committed no matter how many golden apples get rolled our way.
J: I have no idea why Arvid isn’t writing more books than Rex right now. I mean, it’s great to have him all to myself, but come on, in my humble (or not so much) opinion, he’s one of the best writers in the business right now and, since writers do have the ability to write multiple books at one time, I hope that in the coming months more editors start to realize that. Honestly, if the next bunch of issues of Rex, which are really where the story starts to go nuts in terms of, well, everything, don’t start to make people sit up and take notice, I’m going to start checking pulses. [smiles]
As for myself, I’d love the opportunity to do some back-ups or short arcs for other people, but as far as taking either of us away from Rex it’d have to be ONE HELL of an offer because this is our baby, you know? I mean, we’ve put SO much into this for the last four plus years to leave it hanging a third of the way through would just feel wrong on so many different levels. Still, If DC came to me offering up Batman and a wheelbarrow of money we might have to talk about moving Rex Mundi back to bi-monthly. [smiles]
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Arvid and Eric for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions, and once again recommend you good folks to take a good, hard look at Rex Mundi: Guardian of the Temple this Wednesday.
My next Joe Quesada interview hits in seven…