Arvid Nelson talks "Rex Mundi"

Having just drawn to a close the fifth of six books, Arvid Nelson's revered Dark Horse series "Rex Mundi" returns August 20 with a self-contained issue #13 featuring fan favorite character Brother Matthew, who last appeared in 2001 in a series of web comics drawn by Guy Davis. The series proper will pick up where it left off with regular artist Juan Ferreyra with October's issue #14.

"Rex Mundi" began in 2001 as an Agatha Christie-type murder-mystery set in a alternate-history Paris of 1933, when feudalism still reigned, the Inquisition crushed the Protestant Reformation before it could start, and the Roman-Catholic Church retains political power. The series protagonist, Dr. Julien Sauniere, is awoken from a nightmare about the death of a friend, Father Gerard Marin. As Sauniere follows the mystery of his friend's death, it leads him on a trail to the Holy Grail in the midst of a devastating European war instigated by the Duke of Lorraine, a descendant of Jesus Christ. Throughout the book, Sauniere struggles with personal problems like alcoholism as well as physical threats in the form of Catholic Church Inquisitor Moricant.

Nelson sat down with CBR News to look back at the series as it begins its final chapter, and to look to its future as a feature film starring Johnny Depp.

The title, "Rex Mundi," is often the source of many questions for first-time readers. Latin for "King of the World," the history of this phrase makes it easy for the uninformed to assume Nelson's comic book was inspired by "The DaVinci Code," but that wouldn't be accurate at all. Indeed, Nelson's "Rex Mundi" #1 was released three years before Dan Brown's novel even made it to the printer.

"The only thing I object to is people saying I 'ripped off' 'The DaVinci Code,' " Nelson told CBR News. "I published the first issue of 'Rex Mundi' a good three years before 'DaVinci Code' hit the shelves, so that settles that. Anthony Lane wrote a great review of the film and book in The New Yorker, you can google it. It pretty much sums up my opinion of the whole thing. I don't understand why 'The DaVinci Code' caught on the way it did. But I don't understand why National Socialism or Scientology caught on, either!"

What fans of "Rex Mundi" discuss most about the series is its alternative take on history. "I wasn't even interested in history until I visited France," said Nelson, who said the inspiration for the book came to him whilst filming a documentary on the prose magazine, The Paris Review. "It was only for a few days, but I loved it. All the history suddenly seemed so alive to me. In the United States, something is 'old' if it's lasted ten years. In Europe, it's old if it's lasted that many centuries."

Nelson says he was at fault in letting the fictional history "get in the way" of "Rex Mundi's" ongoing story, though he says that mistake will not be happening in the sixth volume of the story, titled "Gate of God." "In the past, I've let the history get in the way of the story, and I'm trying not to do that in Book Six. I mean, the last two pages of Book Five/issue #12 pretty much say it all. It's clear who Lorraine is, what he represents. So the history will be more distant in Book Six."

Throughout the series Nelson has linked many religions together with Grail Mythology, and "Rex Mundi" is indeed a statement about the writer's own beliefs. "I grew up Episcopalian, actually," Nelson said. "In college, I converted to a religion called Baha'i. 'Rex Mundi' is, at it deepest level, a meditation on the prophecies surrounding the advent of the Baha'i era."

One of the more auspicious developments in the world of "Rex Mundi is the announcement of a film adaptation produced by and starring Johnny Depp. "It's pretty exciting. Sometimes I wonder if it's really happening!" remarked Nelson. "I'm not writing the screenplay, which is actually a relief. Jim Uhls, who wrote the screenplay for 'Fight Club,' is doing it. I've spoken with him a bit through email, and he completely gets 'Rex Mundi.' He's got my undivided support. I'm so excited to see what he does!"

Additionally, Nelson expects big "Rex Mundi" announcements to come from Dark Horse at Comic-Con International in San Diego in regards to "Rex Mundi," but would not divulge them ahead of time. However, the writer did share that he is most excited to be working on a comics adaptation of "Kull: The Conqueror" for Dark Horse. "Kull is an early creation of Robert E. Howard, an ancestor of Conan's both literally and literarily," said Nelson. "The art is looking amazing, and I'm doing everything in my power to make sure the story is worthy of Howard's genius."

Arvid Nelson is also hard at work writing his first in a series of novels that will explore some of his biggest influences for "Rex Mundi," including HP Lovecraft and Scandinavian mythology. "The series is tentatively called 'Endless Knot', but since that's a homonym for 'Endless Snot', I'll have to think of something better," laughed Nelson. "I'm working on a map and on Celtic languages right now. And I'm re-reading 'The Eddas,' but that's a long way off yet."

The sixth and final book of "Rex Mundi" will start with issue #14, on sale in August from Dark Horse Comics.

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