Arvid Nelson On Science Fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs And Lords Of Mars

Arvid Nelson has been in comics a long time having published his first issue of Rex Mundi with Image Comics over a decade ago. Since then he's worked for Marvel (X-men Unlimited), DC (The Joker Asylum) and Dark Horse (Kull). Now he's switching form Robert E. Howard to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he takes on John Carter in Lords of Mars for Dynamite Entertainment. Nancy Collins did a quick peer-to-peer interview with Nelson to talk about the new project.

LordsofMars04CovRossNANCY COLLINS: How old were you when you first became aware of Edgar Rice Burroughs' work? Was your first exposure Tarzan, John Carter, or one of his other series, like Pellucidar?

ARVID NELSON: Exactly the age when Nick Barrucci first approached me about writing Warlord of Mars! Isn't that pathetic? But it's true. Burroughs is one of those things you're "supposed" to read, I think that's why I never got around to it beforehand. It felt like homework.

But imagine my delight! The Mars novels are surprisingly accessible and fresh. I read the first three in a span of 48 hours, I literally only put them down to urinate and eat. One of the most amazing things about the Mars books is their universal influence. John Carter is, in my opinion, the world's first superhero. Star Wars is heavily based on the Mars novels, too.

I went on to read the Tarzan and Pellucidar novels, of course, but the Mars stories will always have a special place in my heart. They launched Burroughs's career, and they're the bedrock of modern-day Science-Fantasy.

NC: You've cited Robert E. Howard as a literary influence–does the same hold true for Edgar Rice Burroughs?

AN: Absolutely. Burroughs was constantly bursting with ideas and creative energy. Each successive Mars novel is like delving into a new world all over again. But it's more than that – Burroughs is a great storyteller. He knows how to keep you reading, page after page. He ends chapters brilliantly. He lures you into complacency with what you think is going to be a tired, reheated plot cliché… and then he utterly defies your expectations. There are very interesting, satisfying and complete arcs for his secondary characters – Xodar and Phaidor, for instance. Reading the novels a second time was especially educational for me.

NC: Do you see LORDS OF MARS as science fiction, heroic fantasy or heroic adventure?

AN: I try not to worry too much about genre conventions. That's one of the best things about the Mars novels – they were written before conventions existed, so there's a wonderful freeness to them. I mean yes, there are elements of heroic fantasy in Lords of Mars. But it's mostly a world of science, not magic. And there's no shortage of adventure! If I had only one word to describe Lords of Mars, it would be "heroic". John Carter and Tarzan are heroes. They're the good guys, period. Of the two, Tarzan is darker and more conflicted, but neither of them are cynical or self-serving, they're not Han Solo. Any other portrayal just wouldn't do them justice.

LordsofMars04CovIncenRisqueNC: You've worked on films in the past–how does it compare to working in comics?

AN: Hah! My "work" in film culminated with a glorious tenure as a production assistant on a Woody Allen movie my summer after college, and as a special effects intern on a Troma movie – Small Time Crooks and The Toxic Avenger Part IV, respectively. Film, especially independent, East Coast film, is a real meat grinder. It just wasn't for me. It's not like anyone was going to say "Hey, Arvid! You do such a great job fetching coffee and diverting pedestrian traffic, why don't you direct this next scene?" In fact, Woody Allen dropped out of school to start writing, so I followed his example – I dropped out of film to start writing. It was a scary decision, but I haven't looked back.

Comics are much more gratifying than film, for the simple fact that the production costs are several orders of magnitude cheaper. Money just screws everything up. Nobody sets out to create a terrible film that nobody wants to watch, but the obscene amount of money it takes to make a movie means you have to play it safe. You can take more risks with comics, and you can make fewer compromises. Dynamite's goal from the beginning with the Burroughs adaptations was to tell the stories the "right" way, capturing the essence of the originals while maintaining the integrity of what Burroughs "is" and "is not". Whether or not we succeeded is for readers to judge, but I feel great about what we accomplished.

NC: Do you have anything up your sleeve for 2014 that your fans might like to know about?

AN: I've got several things up my sleeve – way, way up my sleeve. Right now I'm in the process of trying to pull them out. It would be premature to say anything else! Suffice it to say I'm really excited about the future.

Click here for more information on Lords of Mars #4.

nancycarnival2Nancy A. Collins is the author of numerous novels, short stories, and comic books, including DC Comics' Swamp Thing. A recipient of the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award, The British Fantasy Society's Icarus Award, as well as a nominee for the International Horror Guild, John W. Campbell, James Tiptree, Eisner & World Fantasy Awards, her works include Sunglasses After Dark, Lynch: A Gothik Western, and  Knuckles And Tales. Legends of Red Sonja #1 marks her return to comics, and her newest novel is Magic And Loss, the 3rd book in the Golgotham series, scheduled to be released November 5th . 

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.