Thanks to the power of ichat, I talked with Arvid Nelson in New York. He is the clever writer of the original comic book miniseries Rex Mundi, published by Dark Horse Comics.
ARVID: Hullo, Suzanne
HIH: Hello! I know you must be busy, so I’ll break right into some Rex Mundi questions for you.
ARVID: Let’s do it!
HIH: Do you call Rex Mundi a graphic novel or a comic? I’m not an avid comics reader but I see a distinction between the two. Is there one?
ARVID: Actually, no, there isn’t any difference! Not in my mind, anyway. “Graphic novel” sort of implies something longer, something “serious” with more literary merit.
I have no idea what the hell Rex Mundi is. I’m happy to call it either.
Comics are in a weird, transitional state right now.
HIH: When I think of comics I think more of an X-Men or Batman but I think it is the literary merit of Rex Mundi that stands out, for me anyway.
ARVID: Fewer and fewer people are reading single issues. It’s becoming more common for people to “wait for the trade”, that is, to wait for the collected, perfect-bound edition of the single issues.
I really try my best with Rex Mundi, to make it meaningful and relevant. I hope it’s a little bit above-average, in terms of its thematic content. But I try to make it fun to read, too.
HIH: Are you working on the last book now or is that finished already?
ARVID: I’m right in the middle of writing the last few issues–but I’ve had it all pretty clear in my mind for a long, long time now. It’s more like executing a computer program than anything else at this point!
HIH: Did you always want to write comics/graphic novels or was this something that evolved through another form of writing?
ARVID: Oh, it evolved, to be sure!
I wanted to make films at first. I still do. I even worked on a Woody Allen movie my summer after college.
It was a great experience, but it occurred to me I wasn’t doing anything creative. I was locking down sets, getting coffee, wrangling extras, that sort of thing.
It’s not like anyone says “hey, that guy is so good at getting coffee–let’s let him direct the next movie we’re gonna make!”
At least, I don’t think so. So, I dropped out and started writing.
Comics (or graphic novels) were just an inexpensive way of telling a story that would be very expensive to film!
HIH: Speaking of film, there are rumors all over the internet about Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil doing a movie of Rex Mundi. Some say he might be starring in the film. I can see him playing the role of Julien, in fact the character looks a lot like Johnny, especially after seeing him work on the movie Public Enemies, also set in the 30’s. Will you be involved in taking your series from the page to the screen?
ARVID: The rumors are true!
HIH: Congratulations! That must be exciting!
ARVID: Yeah, it’s great… and totally surreal, too. I mean, I don’t have any frame of reference for this. There’s not really anyone I can go to for advice or… whatever.
I mean, I actually like Johnny Depp. I think he’s absolutely one of the best actors alive right now. So creative and different, not afraid to be a weirdo.
It’s just such an honor when someone you respect that much is interested in your own little story.
HIH: I wouldn’t call Rex Mundi a little story.
ARVID: hah! Well, thank you.
HIH: You pretty much re-wrote history in such a creative way.
ARVID: I guess what I mean to say is that it’s so personal to me.
I had the idea for Rex Mundi while visiting Paris–the first and only time I’ve been there.
I was looking at a church, St. Germain des Pres (I’m sure I’m butchering the name), and someone told me it was over a thousand years old.
A thousand years!
I had an idea about an other-worldly Paris. A Paris that looked very Art Deco and modern on the outside, but at its core was dark and medieval.
HIH: I love that about the books, the noir style.
ARVID: Yeah, French movies from the 1930s were a big inspiration for me.
ARVID: Totally! Movies like Quai des Orfevres, Quai des Brumes, and La Bete Humaine.
HIH: I take it you speak French?
ARVID: I speak comme un Neanderthal, but my accent is very good.
I’m able to fool native French speakers for about ten seconds or so.
HIH: That’s 10 seconds more than most Americans.
You obviously did a lot of historical research to be able to re-write it the way you did, was this a daunting task?
ARVID: You know, not really. I mean, if I’d stopped to think about it, I might have gotten intimidated, but I was always so focused on the particular book I was reading, sucking it dry of anything of use, that it never even occurred to me to feel daunted.
Doing all the research and background for Rex Mundi was a very happy time.
HIH: Sounds like you have a thirst for knowledge just like Julien.
ARVID: I’d definitely say so. Julien is an idealized version of myself, in a lot of ways.
I find writers tend to do that–make their main characters simulacrums of themselves.
HIH: Going back to making Rex Mundi into a film, it seems to be hit or miss with comics being made into movies. Sometimes they water it down so that the mainstream public will go see it. Do you have concerns about them staying true to the storyline and characters?
ARVID: If it were anyone but Johnny Depp, I might be worried.
But he and the producers have such a good handle on it.
I feel very positive about it. I’m quite lucky!
It’s been a long, weird quest.
HIH: Did being in France and seeing the thousand year old church spark your interest in Secret Societies or were you already interested in them?
It seems that with the Da Vinci Code, and movies like National Treasure and many others out there it’s on people’s minds lately.
ARVID: I went to an Ivy League school, Dartmouth, and there are secret societies there. Plus my dad teaches at Yale. Skull and Bones and all that.
It’s such a wonderful idea, isn’t it? That if you only knew the right code, the right handshake, all the secrets of the world would open themselves up to you…
HIH: Johnny Depp wears a skull and bones ring.
It’s all the fashion now, even Hello Kitty wears skull and bones I think.
ARVID: Ah ha! The skull and bones… my understanding is that it was a symbol of the Knights Templar, and of the Masons. I believe it’s a symbol of enlightenment, of symbolic death and rebirth.
HIH: In your historical research did you feel there was any truth to the idea of magic in high places?
ARVID: You know, I recall something Jesus said–you don’t hide a light underneath a bushel.
To be sure, secret societies have affected the course of history in the past–but the truth–the magic–is available to everyone and everyone. It’s always within reach, if you just know how to look for it.
HIH: I need to know! LOL
ARVID: My mother practices shamanism; she goes down to Ecuador a lot to learn from the native healers there. I guess she and my dad instilled a pretty holistic understanding of religion.
I believe the truth can be found in any one of the texts of the great religions of the world–Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Bahá’í–it’s all there for the taking.
HIH: Yes, I believe religion is a bit like food.
ARVID: Me too! But I’d be interested to hear your version of the metaphor.
HIH: Food comes from all over the world, we can all share the same types of food or we can not like some so much, it doesn’t always appeal to everyone but it all nourishes us the same way.
Food for the soul so to speak
ARVID: Yes! And–I would say that all food has an expiration date. I mean, Buddha himself said that his teachings would become corrupted and worthless after 500 years.
HIH: Never thought of that, but I can see what you mean.
ARVID: That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of profound wisdom to be gleaned from the Tripitaka or the Gospel or what have you…
But those things were written a long, long time ago. The world is very different today. Some things are enduring and transcendental, but some things, the social teachings or specific dogmas, just seem a little silly in view of the modern world. :0
HIH: What is next for you after the last book of Rex Mundi is out on bookstore shelves?
ARVID: Good question! I’m working on a few things right now.
One is Zero Killer, another comic book. That’s being published right now.
I’m also working on a fantasy novel based on my love of Celtic and Scandinavian folklore and mythology.
That, and a story called “Quickwater”. Quickwater’s a little hard to explain…
HIH: I’m interested in all of those, especially the Scandinavian mythology novel.
ARVID: Thanks! It’s equally inspired by my love of heavy metal.
It’s probably the only form of popular music that’s stayed consistently interesting since it began!
There are a lot of great bands out there today. The novel I’m working on was formulated, at least in part, by all the church burnings in Norway in the 90s.
HIH: Ahh I see the connection now.
ARVID: Yeah, have you seen those old stave churches in Sweden and Norway? Literally the most beautiful things ever created by the hands of humans.
The idea of someone burning them down is just too awful. But it got my mind going…
HIH: I have some old photos of churches from my Swedish Great Grandfather’s collection.
I wish my mind would get going like yours does. Of course many people have great ideas but a true writer knows how to rewrite. Did you have to do a lot of rewriting for Rex Mundi?
ARVID: In the beginning, not nearly enough!
I didn’t really have an editor to speak of. There are so many mis-steps in those first few issues, it makes me cringe.
I’ve learned the value of having an editor! Scott Allie, my editor at Dark Horse, is great. He doesn’t let me get away with anything.
HIH: Will you be at the next Comic Con in San Diego?
ARVID: Alas, no! I’ve gone every year for eight years, but at this point in my career, my time is better spent writing.
HIH: I think we’d rather have you writing. I look forward to seeing the next Rex Mundi book and your upcoming projects.
ARVID: Thanks, Suzanne! I’ll be busy writing, I promise!
HIH: I need to get going, the Hollywood part of my life is fading away and the housewife part is taking over. Thanks so much for chatting with me.
ARVID: Sure thing! And I’ve got to get up early tomorrow for my day job. Reality rears its ugly head!
Peace out, Suzanne!
HIH: Ahh that reality thing! Luckily we can rewrite it sometimes or at least read what great writers like you write for us. Thank you and have a good night!
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