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If anyone ever needed proof that Image Comics is more than the superhero comic publisher it was at its inception, one need look no further than “Rex Mundi.” The detective series, launched by writer Arvid Nelson and artist Eric J, followed a Parisian doctor in the early 20th century, who was drawn into a twisted mystery involving the highest levels of the government and the church. Before you ask, “Mundi” came out previous to “Da Vinci Code,” though we’ll touch on that later. Nelson recently announced the book was moving to Dark Horse Comics, with Eric J having left to pursue other opportunities, so CBR News caught up with the scribe to learn about “Rex Mundi’s” new direction.
“It’s actually pretty simple,” smiles Nelson. “We’re changing from a detective story into more a of an adventure thriller. Don’t get me wrong, the overall tone will be the same. And there will still be plenty of detective work for Julien, the main character. There’s just going to be more action. Yes, I’ve always planned on shifting keys midway, it’s been my plan from the very beginning! I’m not just winging it.”
Still, the move to Dark Horse wasn’t always expected, and Nelson says it wasn’t because of a falling out with Image: it was just economics. “I’m really sad to leave Image, they’ve been great to me. But I had to pay up front for all the production myself, that’s the deal with Image. I’ve gone many, many thousands of dollars into debt for ‘Rex Mundi.’ I was way over my head for a long time. I just can’t do that anymore. In comes Dark Horse. They’ve been partners for the ‘Rex Mundi’ film for a few years. Out of the blue they asked if I wanted to go with them. I had a few concerns, which they took care of. Would they handle the production? Yes. Would they commit to finishing the series? Yes. Would I have creative control? Yes. I just couldn’t say no!
“I mean, I don’t think they’re doing me any favors. I hope they’re not! They think ‘Rex Mundi’ can do well at Dark Horse. I’m very gratified. I have a great feeling about it.”
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Even with the change in tone planned all along, it’ll be quite different to see Julien, the series’ lead, as an adventure hero, as opposed to the noir detective he’s been for the past 18 issues. Fans can take solace in the fact that Nelson promises the shift won’t be jariring. “I’ve been trying to work it into the last few issues. Julien’s not going to be fighting psychic female alien ninja assassins with laser blasters. It’ll be the same story, just more action oriented. Some people have told me they think ‘Rex Mundi’ could be faster. Well, buckle up! I’ve always said people should reserve judgment until it’s finished. There’s a lot of surprises in store for everyone!”
“Rex Mundi” has been the target of much acclaim for its intricate storytelling, and while Nelson acknowledges that may turn off some readers, it’s the only way he feels is fair to readers. “I, for one, get tired of stories that end up more or less where they started after 22 pages. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just hope there’s room for more. As for ways to jump on, I’ve been working intensely with Scott Allie at Dark Horse to figure out ways to make #19 a good starting point. Scott came up with some brilliant suggestions. They fit really organically into the story. I think issue #19 is the perfect opportunity for new readers. So, far from regretting it, I’m actually amazed at how easy it can be!”
With Eric J working on other projects, Nelson knew he needed a new artist to carry on the strong artistic reputation of the series and enlisted newcomer Juan Ferreyra. “Juan brings so many wonderful things to the table they’re hard to enumerate. Even though I live in New York and he lives in central Argentina, I feel like we live down the block from each other because he knows exactly what I’m going for in my scripts. He really brings the characters to life, that’s the most important thing for me. His versions of the characters are the closest to how I imagine them in my head. Juan’s an incredible draughtsman, but he also knows when to hold back. That’s what I like most about his art. He doesn’t overload the reader with too much information on a page. It’s true comic book art.”
Fans of the comic book series might make comparisons between “Rex Mundi” and the popular “Da Vinci Code” novel, as both works feature unlikely heroes dealing with religious cover-ups, mystery and adventure. But you might not know how the two have affected each other. “Yeah, ‘Da Vinci Code’ really hurt ‘Rex Mundi’ at first. I mean, we had a lot of interest in Hollywood until ‘Da Vinci Code’ exploded, and then people started canceling meetings on us. Things are a lot better now, for reasons I can’t really get into, but it was grim for a while.
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“I can’t really worry about someone calling ‘Rex Mundi’ a knock-off of ‘Da Vinci Code.’ If anything, it’s the other way around, since ‘Rex Mundi’ came out three years before ‘Da Vinci Code!’
“In some ways ‘Da Vinci Code’ has been good, too. It’s been a sort of guinea pig for ‘Rex Mundi.’ For instance, two of the authors of ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’ tried to sue Random House over ‘Da Vinci Code,’ over similarities between the two books. The ‘Holy Blood’ authors lost. Of course. It’s sort of a sad colophon to a great book and two authors I admire, but I always thought the case was stupid. I don’t think they or anyone else are itching for another fight. I’m glad I didn’t have to waste any time or money defending myself against a ridiculous accusation.”
While “Rex Mundi” is Nelson’s priority, that doesn’t mean he won’t be applying his unique brand of storytelling to other projects, namely more work at Dark Horse. “Yeah! One of the other things Dark Horse agreed to was to publish my next story. I won’t get into details, but just for you, Arune, I’ll give basic premise: it’s set in present-day New York City, but with one slight difference: the United States never used atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. I’ve probably said too much. Look for an official announcement from Dark Horse!”