Rex is Back!

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In the summer of 2002, the first issue of Rex Mundi (which was actually numbered #0) hit the shelves and was immediately showered with critical and fan acclaim. Written by Arvid Nelson and drawn by then-artist Eric J, Rex Mundi made itself known as an intelligent and lushly-drawn comic book.

Set within an alternate history in France with elements grounded in the Holy Grail, Rex Mundi has been part mystery, fantasy, historical fiction and action. Nelson has painted a very remarkable and rich tale which has enthralled readers who have been following the book with its imaginative bent and well thought out plot.

As 2005 rolled in, several developments occurred which resulted in a change of artists and a six-month long hiatus. Now back on track, Arvid Nelson and new artist Jim DiBartolo (The Drowned) talks about what happened, what’s going on and is Rex Mundi still worth it.

Broken Frontier: Let’s get to the meat of the discussion, shall we? It’s been an interesting past few months for you and Rex Mundi, hasn’t it? Would you mind telling us what caused the delay between issues #13 and #14?

Arvid Nelson: I’m not trying to pass off responsibility, but one of the hardest things about collaboration is that people don’t always fulfill their obligations. My search for a new artist was time-consuming because I needed to find someone with both skill and dedication. Lots of people have one or the other, but the combination of the two is very, very rare. I had wanted to make the new artist official in January, but I couldn’t until March. I had to take so much time off Rex Mundi to make sure I never encounter these delays ever again.

BF: How has the delay affected sales and interest on the book? Has it hurt the book?

AN: Has it hurt orders for Rex Mundi? Absolutely, and that’s the most painful thing for me, again because so much of it was out of my hands. But there is some good news. The drop in orders was far less than it could have been and far less than I had expected! And most importantly, orders for the second trade paperback were actually up. I’m very encouraged.

BF: Do you feel like this is a make-or-break issue as far as the book’s survival is concerned?

AN: As far as I’m concerned, every issue of Rex Mundi is make-or-break; every issue has to build in intensity, has to give people a reason to look forward to the next one. I feel like I need that kind of pressure to write to my fullest potential.

BF: Do you think all the scheduling problems are behind you now? What’s the regular schedule for the book?

AN: Yes, I certainly think the problems are behind us. The book is going to be bimonthly from now on. I’d like to put it out more often, but that’s not realistic at this point and I’ve learned not to make promises unless I’m sure I can deliver. Anything that would take more than a bimonthly would be a disservice to readers.

BF: Before I ask Jim some questions, could you clarify the situation with regard to the change in artists on the book? People were really into Eric J’s work and he had really contributed a lot to Rex’ overall look.

AN: The parting was completely amicable and we’re still good friends. It’s just that the stress of producing Rex Mundi on a regular basis became very difficult. Eric and I did a lot more than just write and draw, we had to be producers, too. Eric needs time to branch out and expand his career. It was an incredible honor to have worked with him, and I know he’s going to be a great success. I’m just glad I could be there with him in the beginning.

BF: How would you contrast Jim DiBartolo’s work with Eric’s? What can readers expect?

AN: I’d say Jim’s style is more “open” than Eric’s -- that’s not a bad thing or a good thing, just a “different” thing. Less black. Jim also uses a lot of photo reference, mainly for the characters. Jim’s style is closer to painting. But aside from these stylistic differences, Eric and Jim are similar in a lot of ways, and that’s why I think the transition is going to work. Jim shares Eric’s sensitivity to character interaction and setting. That’s more important than style.

BF: Jim, how does it feel to be working on a book like Rex Mundi?

Jim DiBartolo: To begin with, thank you so much for your interest in chatting with me (and Arvid) about this smart and unique tale. As you might surmise from that last sentence, I'm quite excited to be involved in telling Arvid's story. I've been a fan of this book since the beginning and have counted it among my favorite comics of all time for the last couple of years, so it feels great being the artist on it now!

BF: What circumstances led you to taking on the book?

JD: Well, Arvid and I had met on the Image Comics message boards last spring when I was starting to post about my recent Image graphic novel The Drowned (www.thedrowned.net). We chatted on the boards for a while and then met at the San Diego Comic Con this past summer and hit it off in person as well or better than we had online. So, ever since then we'd been e-mailing back & forth. When I learned that Eric was leaving the book I let Arvid know that I was very interested in helping out. A while later he asked me if I'd like the gig and I JUMPED at it!

My only hesitations, if any, were that I know Eric J and Jeromy are big fan favorites to Rex Mundi readers, and that they've left huge shoes to fill. I greatly admire their work and having met Eric last summer and having corresponded with Jeromy since taking over the book, I really like them both, so I only hope I can pick up the torch and continue where they left off.

BF: What elements of the book do you enjoy? What struck you about it?

JD: I enjoy and appreciate the sophistication of the storyline, the use of political intrigue as a major plot point, and the rich detail that Arvid, Eric, and Jeromy gave to the complex cast of characters in terms of personality and appearance. Moreover, the mature themes in this book are things you would normally see on a PBS miniseries or in a novel and I love that Arvid is tackling them and much more in a comic book! I can't leave out the fact that magic is part of the Rex Mundi world--I really like that there's this touch of the supernatural, it definitely adds to the fun and possibilities!

BF: How has the artistic change been received by readers? What has the overall reaction been?

AN: The response to Jim so far has been exclusively and profusely positive. I was actually expecting a lot more resistance, but I don’t think I’ve encountered a single person who hasn’t been extremely excited and about the change.

JD: Well, so far the feedback I've gotten has been almost completely in the online community, and everyone has been very supportive and encouraging. I think fans just really want to see what happens next in the story and as long as I don't try to reinterpret the world Eric created too drastically then I hope they'll accept me as a part of the family and keep buying the book.

BF: Arvid, based on the reactions you’ve received, do you feel a sense of satisfaction or relief on your choice of Jim to take over the artistic reins on the book?

AN: Jim’s art has been better than I thought it would be, and I had very high expectations. I feel totally justified in having chosen Jim, and I know he’s going to be a huge success no matter what he does.

BF: Now that you’ve been working on this book for a few months, how has your relationship been? Is there good rapport between the two of you?

AN: Jim and I get along really well. We’re almost carbon copies of each other, in fact. I feel like we both approach life the same way. We like to gripe about the same things, and I think we both feel like communication is really important. I mean, Jim’s really easy to work with, he understands he’s coming into Rex Mundi midstream and needs to make adjustments. So far it’s working out really well, better than I had any right to expect!

JD: Well, as I said, we'd already been chatting for a while now, and if anything, we get along even better than we did when we were only talking about movies, books, and politics. Plus, we're both big geeks about various things, and us nerds need to stick together so we respect that about one another.

BF: Jim, how long does it take you to do one page?

JD: Well, depending on the scene, I can usually draw a page in a day or less and then it goes to the “flatter,” and once it comes back I can color that page in about half a day.  Now, keep in mind that my use of the term “day” usually means a 12 –15 hour day & not one of those wimpy 8 hour ones! Every now and then there’ll be a page that takes me more than a day to draw, but that’s usually ones where there are multiple characters and detailed backgrounds. Overall, the bi-monthly schedule is working out well time-wise, providing just enough time to do thumbnails for the book, gather my reference, draw it all, do some watercolor washes on different things, and color it all once it’s back from the flatter.

BF: You mentioned that you also do the coloring for your pencils. Does that make the whole thing more tedious for you or is it something you enjoy doing?

JD: I REALLY enjoy the coloring of my artwork. I’ve always wanted to learn digital coloring and this provided me an opportunity to dive right in…

AN: He learned digital coloring in just about two weeks and the results are stunning. If you think #14 looks good, just you wait till you see #15.

BF: Arvid, care to tell the readers what to expect in the next few issues as far as the story is concerned? As the things start to unravel, Julien Sauniere’s role has started to change from a physician to somewhat of a detective. Will this continue?

AN: Up until now Julien has been a classic private eye, hovering, watching and powerless. But very soon he’s going to be forced to take action, forced out of Paris, in fact, and into the French countryside, where the secret of the Grail resides. The change in scenery is going to reflect a change in Julien’s character as he learns to be more decisive and less self-pitying.

BF: I know it may be too early to ask considering you’ve only been on the book for one issue but do you think you’ll be the artist to finish this story, Jim?

JD: Well I don’t like to try to predict that far out. If I say “yes” and then don’t, I’ll either look like a liar or like things fell apart. Suffice it to say that I’m really enjoying working on the book and in the world that Arvid, Eric, Jeromy and the gang created. I really enjoy working with Arvid because we’ve become such good friends, and I want the book to be a success. There are so many fantastic things that will happen in the upcoming story arcs that whether it’s me or someone else on the book, I want the fans and readers to know that they’ve got some amazing twists and revelations to look forward to.

BF: Anything you want to say to readers of Rex Mundi particularly those who are worried about the change in artists?

JD: Well, I think that many comics have had a number of changes in artists, so most fans are used to things like this happening. That said, I only hope that longtime fans of Rex Mundi will stick around to see Arvid's story unfold—when he gave me the synopsis for the series I literally gasped out loud a few times because there are some HUGE surprises coming! And I hope that they will either immediately be okay with the change or that they'll give me a chance to grow on them.

BF: What about you Arvid? Are you still enjoying working on this book considering what the past few months have been like?

AN: When I tell people I write and produce a comic book they usually respond “oh, how fun!” and I feel like strangling them. It’s work. It’s hard work. It’s stressful, too. Rex Mundi stopped being “just for fun” the minute Image decided to publish it. It’s a commitment now, and a responsibility. Writing is probably ten percent of what I do with the other ninety doing dreary clerical and administrative work.

But is it still enjoyable? Yes. The pleasure of seeing Rex Mundi on the shelves of a comic book store is beyond description. The pleasure of writing the story itself is also more than compensation for all the boredom and terror.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: Any message to the loyal readers of Rex Mundi?

AN: I would really like to thank them for hanging in there. I also want readers to know that I’m extremely determined to see this story through. Everything right now is setup, but there’s a huge storm coming. Everything has a purpose, and everything will be revealed when the time is right. I won’t let you down if you stay with me!

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