Axe Cop began as a webcomic that caught the attention of Entertainment Weekly, GQ, and wide variety of comic blogs, and with good reason. Tthe comic is based on a character dreamed up by the six-year-old Malachai Nicolle and brought to life as a comic by his 30-year-old brother, Ethan and focuses on a cop, his unusual weapon of choice, his shape-shifting partner, aliens, dinosaurs with machine guns and fire breath, bad guys, unicorn magic….
Dark Horse Comics' latest collection of the series, Axe Cop TP Volume 3 (NOV110051, $14.99), is scheduled to hit stores March 2012, and Axe Cop TP Volume 2: Bad Guy Earth (JUN110034, $12.99) is currently in stock. In anticipation of volume three's release, we talked to Ethan Nicolle about his creative process, working with Malachai, and the one-of-a-kind world of Axe Cop.
PREVIEWS: I know you’ve probably had to tell the story hundreds of times by now, but our readers still might not have heard it. How did you come up with Axe Cop?
Ethan Nicolle: My brother asked me if I wanted to play “Axe Cop” with him when I was visiting for Christmas. At the time I was 29, he was 5. I had been tempted to draw some of the crazy things he had said into comics in the past, but when he said “Axe Cop” this character just popped into my head, and as we played together I just couldn’t resist drawing it. At the time it was something I did just for fun to share online with friends. I didn’t think it would appeal to a lot of people outside my family.
PREVIEWS: How do you and Malachai work on the comic? What’s your process?
Nicolle: I have tried many things. Since there is no real precedent for this kind of writing, I experiment a lot. Most of it is some form of conversation or play time. It is never actually writing. Over the phone I will interview him, but often we will speak in first person as if we are the characters, rather than speaking of them in third person. That is why a lot of the characters in Axe Cop come in pairs. When I visit we play with toys, action figures, costumes, crafts and whatever works to put together a story. There is also a lot of bartering with video games involved.
PREVIEWS: Continuing with that, how would say you’ve changed as an artist/storyteller since beginning Axe Cop? What would you identify as some of the influences – in or out of comics – for your work?
Nicolle: It’s helped me to ease up and not try to make everything so painstakingly realistic. The world of fantasy is about fun, not plausibility, and it can be easy to get hung up on that. It has also helped me to become less jaded in my view of art and less afraid to do something that is unabashedly fun, family-friendly and pure imagination. So much of what people make today is some bitter indirect criticism of some part of our culture. We want to be considered deep by our peers. I care less and less about that as I continue to make comics. I could care less if people think I am deep or poignant. I want them to have fun reading my comics.
PREVIEWS: What’s been the biggest challenge in producing Axe Cop comics?Conversely, what’s the most rewarding part of this particular project for you?
Nicolle: I think the same answer goes for both questions, and that is the involvement of Malachai. Having him “write” the story puts a whole other burden on me to piece together what he comes up with and make sure it works well enough to be put to paper. I am basically his editor. It can be a real project trying to make sense of it all, especially with the longer stories like Bad Guy Earth and the new miniseries I am working on now. But at the same time, Axe Cop has provided me tons of hours of time interacting with my brother I never would have had. I have spent an entire month with him twice now working on material, and each time I come home missing having him around. Sure he wears me out, but I freakin’ love the kid so much and I know that his childhood will be gone in no time.
PREVIEWS: When you first posted Axe Cop as a webcomic, did you ever imagine it would become as big as it has?
Nicolle: Not at all. One reason the first 4 or 5 strips are drawn so much sloppier than later Axe Cop work is because I hadn’t intended it to be seen by people outside of immediate friends and family. Once I had done a handful of comics, we put together the website as a test run in the web comics medium. The response was a complete shock. We had set that site up as practice for the real web comic I wanted to release later. Use it to work out kinks. It ended up shoving me into life as a comic artist by profession.
PREVIEWS: What led you to go with Dark Horse as a publishing partner and bring Axe Cop to comic shops?
Nicolle: When Axe Cop went viral a large number of publishers were interested. I actually thought Dark Horse would be a great fit for Axe Cop (imagining Axe Cop alongside the Goon, Flaming Carrot and Hellboy made me giddy), and when they made the best offer it was a no-brainer. Making a comics-exclusive miniseries was their idea, which I resisted at first but the idea grew on me and I am really glad I did it. When they brought it up, we had only done a handful of comics and I had no idea if we could do a full 3-issue miniseries. It seemed insane. But as we continued to make new material I realized that there was no shortage of new ideas and I became intrigued by the idea of trying to make a “feature length” Axe Cop story with Malachai.
PREVIEWS: I know it’s difficult to pick a “favorite child,” but what is your favorite sequence, moment, or even characters in the Axe Cop episodes collected in trade paperback volume three and why?
Nicolle: The largest story in that volume will be “Bat Warthog Man Can’t Find His Friend,” which I love dearly. I think my favorite sequence is when Axe Cop needs a unicorn horn, and the only way to get it is to go into the imagination of a baby and steal it from a unicorn the baby is imagining. But they don’t have a baby anywhere nearby because they are in space, but Wolver-Man’s pet robot “Iron Spider Cannon” is controlled by the brain of a mouse, which is the same as the brain of a baby: both think about unicorns incessantly. So Axe Cop teleports into the mouse brain’s imagination, which is a magical world full of unicorn’s dancing in a field next to large cheese wedges, lops a horn off and goes back to reality with it. No psychedelic drug could induce a vision that crazy and brilliant; it’s just a great example of how the world of Axe Cop has a logic to it that is completely free of the logic we as adults find ourselves chained to.
PREVIEWS: Imagine you’re talking to a comic fan that may have heard about Axe Cop but has yet to pick the Dark Horse trade paperbacks. What’s your best pitch for checking it out? What makes Axe Cop stand out from the other comics or webcomics they’ve read?
Nicolle: Usually all I have to say is “It’s a comic about a cop with an axe written by a five year old” and when they see the art and realize it’s a legitimate project published by Dark Horse they are immediately intrigued. Most people, if they read a page or two will buy it. It is just a project that speaks to everyone on some level. It feels like play time. For women (especially moms) I think they find it fascinating to read a case study on how little boys think. I know a ton of fans who are not normally comic readers who love it, but the comic industry seems to love it the most. It is also the kind of comic people seem to buy multiple times, because they either lend out their copy or want to give it to people as a gift. I constantly hear from male fans whose non-comic reading wives pick up the book curiously and become hooked. They write me to thank me for getting their wives to read comics with them.