‘Rex’-N-Effect: An Interview with Arvid Nelson

A comics interview article by: Robert Murray

With all of the great titles Dark Horse is producing right now, Rex Mundi has to be the best conceived in their library. The mastermind behind this book is Arvid Nelson, a man whose personal beliefs and convictions are the driving force for a series that is unique in so many ways. I had the opportunity to talk with Arvid recently, during which we discussed varied topics including alternate history, Juan Ferreyra, and the final showdown with Dan Brown.

Robert Murray: How did you come up with the concept for Rex Mundi?

Arvid Nelson: It was in 1999. I was in Paris my first summer after college. Technically, I was a production assistant working on a documentary film. Really, it meant standing outside all of these beautiful monuments and buildings, laden down with three or four camera bags. Like a schmuck. I stood outside the Louvre, but I didn’t get to see it. I stood outside Notre Dame, but I didn’t get to see it. But I guess that’s what got my brain churning. I was forced to use my imagination about Paris, and Rex Mundi is the result!

RM: I read that you are affiliated with a religion called Baha'i. Tell us a little about this religion. How does it aid you in your plots for Rex Mundi?

AN: I’m more than affiliated, I’m a believer! Bahá’í’s believe in the unity of all the major world religions, in the unity and equality of all people. Bahá’í’s also believe the fulfillment of the prophecies of all the major world religions are at hand--we’re about to enter into a golden age of universal peace, justice and prosperity. At its deepest level, Rex Mundi is an allegory of the advent of the Bahá’í faith.

RM: For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief description of Rex Mundi?

AN: It’s a quest for the Holy Grail told as a murder mystery, set in an alternate time-line 1933 where the Catholic Church never lost power and magic is real. How ’bout that?

RM: That’ll work! What kind of background do you have in grail lore or any of the other concepts that are featured in Rex Mundi?

AN: Well, I’ve read just about every whacked-out conspiracy theory on the subject that there is! I’ve also done a pretty deep exploration of the formative age of the Christian faith. I grew up Christian, so it’s a subject that naturally interests me.

RM: By my count, there are only nine issues left of Rex Mundi. What can readers expect in the issues leading up to the climax?

AN: A lot of dangling threads are going to be tied up in the next few issues! More than that, I cannot say. It would ruin some of the surprises.

RM: Okay, I’m a little pushy. You have mentioned previously that the series will end in Muslim Spain. Can you tell us more about this?

AN: Well, suffice it to say that in reality the Muslims never were in Spain for 700 years. It was really an enlightened era, a minor golden age of civilization. In the world of Rex Mundi, they never left! Part of my purpose in exposing Julien, the main character, to Islam, is for allegorical reasons, connected Bahá’í. I also want to show the reader another side of Islam. I feel like it’s completely misunderstood in Europe and in America.

RM: What do you think of Juan Ferreyra’s realistic look for Rex Mundi?

AN: I wake up and go to sleep every morning thanking my lucky stars for Juan! He puts so much time and effort into Rex Mundi, researching the time period. Sometimes I feel like we have a psychic link. He always knows exactly the right thing to do on every page.

RM: Between you and Juan Ferreyra, there are a lot of nods toward your influences in this series. What do you think are the biggest influences on your scripting?

AN: I really like old detective movies. When I write Rex Mundi, I just try to do it like a really good, classic Hollywood movie. Great, punchy dialog, the kind of lines James Cagney or Barbara Stanwyck would deliver like firecrackers.

RM: The scenes of war that are depicted in Rex Mundi are, in fitting with the overall tone, very realistic. Did you read any books or watch any programs concerned with World War II or battle strategy to assist in your scripting?

AN: Whenever I can, I watch war documentaries. I actually had to cancel my cable subscription, because I was watching the History (Hitler) channel all the time. I wasn’t getting any work done! I love war games, too. I mean all those GMT Games with thousands of counters and bible-thick rulebooks. I guess you could say its second nature to me now!

RM: Since we are in a presidential election year, there are some marked similarities between the Duke of Lorraine and our current president, George W. Bush. Was this an intentional ploy on your part, considering the wicked way in which Lorraine is perceived in Rex Mundi?

AN: It never ceases to amaze me how much reality echoes Rex Mundi. I mean, it’s eerie. Bill Clinton was still in the White House when Rex Mundi made its debut. The idea of a “new crusade” in the Middle East was still a crackpot idea by a an obscure group of lunatic fringe right-wingers called the “neo-conservatives”. So no, none of it was intentional. But it would be a mistake to say Lorraine is just a simulacrum of Bush. I mean, the story works on that level, but I really hope Rex Mundi is more than a political statement.

RM: What was your inspiration for creating Julian Saurniere?

AN: Julien is sort of an idealized version of me. How I’d like to be, if I were a lot cooler. We have a lot of things in common, actually, minus the cool part.

RM: That’s cool! How about Moricant?

AN: Moricant was primarily inspired by Darth Vader, actually. Specifically Darth Vader as he appears in A New Hope. I loved how Vader was just a hatchet man in that movie. Peter Cushing’s character had all the power, and above him, the mysterious Emperor. That’s Moricant: scary, imposing, but a hatchet man beholden to the Archbishop and to the Pope.

RM: Setting this series in an alternate history timeline has allowed you to forge a realistic connection between our world history and this fictional search for the Grail. Are you a fan of alternate history fiction, such as Harry Turtledove?

AN: Oh, absolutely. It’s one of my favorite genres!

RM: Let’s get right to it, shall we? Rumor has it that you are going to write a Kull the Conqueror series for Dark Horse. Any truth to this?

AN: Yes!

RM: Okay, you can be coy! Anyway, I'm sure you're asked about the Da Vinci Code in just about every interview you participate in. If you had a chat with Dan Brown, what would you say?

AN: I’d probably say, “Sorry for being such a dick”. I’ve made some snarky comments about him, about the quality of his writing, in the past. But, it was probably just sour grapes. I’m glad he had so much success with The Da Vinci Code, regardless of its literary merit. It just validates my weird little idea about a murder mystery involving Jesus.

RM: What comics do you read in your spare time?

AN: Just read the first issue of Overman, from Image. It blew me away. And I’m reading Hellboy and BPRD from Dark Horse. I’ll read anything Mike Mignola or Guy Davis is involved in! I also love The Goon. Berserk, a Japanese comic from Dark Horse, is also fantastic.

RM: Is Dark Horse a marked improvement over Rex Mundi's last publisher, Image Comics?

AN: Not an improvement, no, just different. Image was very supportive, and so is Dark Horse. Both companies are willing to take a risk and publish something a little bit outside the mainstream. I’m grateful to both!

RM: In one word, what best describes your feelings about comic books?

AN: Comics have been an intensely personal struggle for me. It hasn’t always been easy, and there have been many times when I nearly walked away. I feel a deep communion with everyone who reads Rex Mundi, who “gets” what I’m trying to do. So I guess what I love most about comics it that it’s a way to make a $100 million movie and have the story be very intimate and personal at the same time.

RM: Hey, I said one word! Seriously, thanks for the time, Arvid.

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