Inside Look: Rex Mundi #5

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Surely, you’ve heard of Rex Mundi. It’s the comic that went from Image to Dark Horse to Hollywood. Among the change of publishers—and artists, from Eric J to Juan E. Ferreyra—there’s one constant: writer (and letterer) Arvid Nelson. He guides you through the first five pages of Rex Mundi #5, released this week.

The solicitation for the issue reads:

Rex Mundi is a mystery set in a 1930s Europe where sorcerers stalk the streets at night and the Church never lost its grip on power. Master Physician Julien Saunière must uncover the two-thousand-year-old secret of the Holy Grail before all the world is drenched in blood!

In #5: Julien is pushed to the edge of madness. Paris erupts in flames and violence. And Lorraine’s fragile relationship with his daughter is shattered forever.

Dark Horse Issue Five is the twenty-fourth issue of Rex Mundi to see the light of day. It’s the final chapter of the fourth book. I can honestly say I never expected to get this far when I started Rex Mundi seven--or is it eight?--years ago.

Rex Mundi has come a long, long way since I started it seven years ago. I letter Rex Mundi as well as write it. I taught myself how, at the expense of a lot of sanity and hair follicles on the top of my head. Comicraft’s website has a lot great tutorials, so does Nate Piekos’ blambot.com, God bless ’em both. Lettering has become a really important part of the writing process for me, because it gives me a chance to edit the dialog on the actual page.

I end up throwing a lot of dialog out in the lettering phase. I’ve discovered writing for comics requires a lot more economy with dialog than in just about any other medium. One has to choose one’s words very, very carefully, achieve maximum impact with minimal words. I’m always struck by how wordy television and movies are -- you could never get away with that much dialog in comic books. Why? Words on a page are a lot more formidable to the eye than words from an actor’s mouth. Balloons can overpower the panels if you’re not careful. I’ve learned that the hard way. The drawings really have to be the focus of attention.

Pages 1-3 have what I consider the ideal ratio of balloons to panels for a scene of dialog between two characters. Any more than this and it becomes laborious for the reader.


I break every issue of Rex Mundi into three or four “scenes”. The first scene of Issue Five takes place the day after the events of the previous issue. Aleron, the elderly woman, is a mystic and a sorceress. She helped Julien, the other character in this scene, kill the Man in White at the end of the last issue… but now she is dying.

Aleron’s cottage is supposed to feel like a refuge, a place of safety, sort of like Yoda’s hut from Empire Strikes back. But now she’s dying, so Juan used a lot of gray in this scene to suggest sadness and death. But he balanced the gray with some warmth, so in addition to being sad the scene has a luminous, ethereal quality.

How does Juan do it? We may never know!

I love the checked pattern of light and darkness on Aleron’s bed. Juan excels at suggesting light sources like that.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge


I also love Juan’s ability to compose each panel and page so dynamically. Page three is all about pacing, of course, about expanding a moment of time to suggest Julien’s emotional state rather than clumsily stating his feelings with a caption.

I try to use captions as little as possible, especially when it comes to describing a character’s state of mind.

The scene of Aleron’s death is really important because it sets up Julien’s confrontation with Genevieve later in the issue.


Click to enlargeHere we switch to the second “scene” of this issue: the details of the war and the Duke of Lorraine’s worsening problems. I love using splashy, full-page compositions to tell the story of the war raging across Europe. I try to encapsulate significant developments with a single image.

The scene of the Prussian soldiers storming the French entrenchment to me perfectly illustrates the catastrophe the French have just suffered. Rather than show these war scenes from afar, from a general’s point of view, I like to get close up to the regular soldiers and civilians who are actually dying.


Click to enlargeSo… things are really, really bad for the Duke of Lorraine right  now, and they’re about to get a lot worse. This scene sets up a confrontation with Lorraine’s daughter later on in the issue, so it was really important we capture the sense of gloom and desperation on the part of Lorraine and is general staff.

Juan’s choice of green for this scene is perfect. It’s reminiscent sickly fluorescent light. It imparts a sense of decay and morbidity to the scene. Here and there Juan also picks out highlights with red, for example the left arm Duke of Nevers on panel 1. This is a great touch; it implies the presence of a red emergency light somewhere off panel, and really adds to the gritty, Spartan “military bunker” feeling of this scene.

Rex Mundi #5 is on sale as of this week through Dark Horse Comics.

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