Comic Book Day: An Axe to Grind with Ethan Nicolle [Full]
We can bear-ly contain our excitement.
Avocado Soldier. Uni-Baby. Bat Warthog Man. At first glance, they sound like nonsense, but once you delve deeper into Ethan and Malachai Nicolle's Axe Cop, you realize that these are but a few of the hilarious characters that populate the increasingly zany world they've created. And once you realize that writer Malachai is only eight years old? Well, that's when your afternoon goes from good to great. We caught up with Nicolle the Elder to talk to him about working with Dark Horse, his post-apocalyptic bear obsession and how fame has affected his brother.
Nerdist News: You’re no stranger to creator-owned print comics, as evidenced by projects like your excellent short humor collection Chumble Spuzz. Was it natural transition from that to doing a webcomic like Axe Cop?
Ethan Nicolle: Thanks, it's nice to talk to people who are familiar with Chumble Spuzz. Yeah, Chumble Spuzz actually inspired me to switch to web comics because I realized that indie print comics really don't have much of a market any more. Most everyone who ever gave Chumble Spuzz a chance loved it, but not a lot of people gave it a chance because a lot less people seem to walk into comic shops and buy totally unheard of, miniature-sized black-and-white comic books any more. I grew up when indie comics were huge, the heyday of SLG, Cerebus, TMNT - that genre is not dead, it has just moved to the internet. I realized that I do make comics that can attract an audience, but it is not the audience that walks into stores to buy new stuff, in general, anyway. So, I went to web comics and it has felt like a very natural transition. I really like the interactive and constant nature of web comics.
NN: How did you realize that your brother Malachai’s vivid imagination would make for such a compelling and hilarious book? Has fame gone to his head?
EN: It didn’t really happen all at once like that. I made the first one-page Axe Cop comic and thought it was hilarious, but I didn’t think other people would like it as much as me; I thought my love for it was familial, not universal. I made the first four comics not intending for them to ever really be published on a large scale. After I made the web site and it went viral, I realized we were on to something and we started making a lot more, and it gave us the opportunity to start making longer stories, which led to us doing a full miniseries (Bad Guy Earth). It has been a lot of fun. I don’t know if the fame has gone to Malachai’s head. I think he gloats about it sometimes to his friends and sisters, but, in general, he does not live amidst the fame. Like most “famous” people in comics (which is one of the lowest rungs of fame out there) your fame is a pretty well-kept secret in general society. Malachai lives in a small town where, for most people, comics are not a big deal. He only experiences the recognition when he visits me and we do events together like conventions, which is only a couple times a year. I don’t think he sees those times as normal. His life has not changed much; we just continue making comics together and it is a lot of fun.
NN: Does Malachai’s age and schooling schedule pose any challenges to the production process?
EN: No, not really. Malachai is pretty advanced for his age, so my Dad has no issue with giving him time out of school to work on Axe Cop. Our usual routine is to have him get out of school an hour early on Mondays, then call me up and we talk for about an hour. This actually helps him focus because he knows that his only other option is school.
NN: Dark Horse just publishing Axe Cop Vol. 3. Which story arcs will that encompass?
Volume 3 basically publishes everything on the site after Volume 1. The largest story in this volume is "Bat Warthog Man Can’t Find His Friend." It also has the holiday specials, the Dr. McNinja Crossover, more Ask Axe Cop episodes, a selection of guest episodes and more. There is a good variety of stuff in this book, including a foreword by Damon Lindelof and some awesome pin-ups, including the only pin-up ever drawn by Mike Nelson of MST3K.
NN: In addition to Axe Cop, you’re also putting out Bearmageddon. What can you tell us about that title? Where did the inspiration come from?
EN: I think the inspiration mainly comes from bears being awesome. I don’t know if it needs much more explanation. I have always really liked monster stories like Attack the Block, Shaun of the Dead, Jurrasic Park, War of the Worlds, Gremlins, etc. I like following a small group trying to survive some giant disastrous attack, and I think the idea of the world being attacked by bears is terrifying. I’ve been excited to release the comic for quite a while and it has been really fun to see people’s reaction to it. I think Bearmageddon is getting more traffic than Axe Cop is right now.
NN: With Bearmageddon, you wear both the artist’s and writer’s cap. Do you prefer one role to another? Which one is more challenging?
EN: I do like doing both together; it's where I feel most in control. I am much more of a natural when it comes to drawing, so it is easier only in the sense that it is not so mentally laborious. Writing is hard work for me, but I love it, and I love bringing my own ideas to life. Drawing is a ton of work, so in the end, I spend much more time drawing. I hope over time [writing] comes more naturally.
NN: Who is your favorite character to appear in Axe Cop so far? What about Malachai’s? Personally, we’re partial to Avocado Soldier.
EN: I’m not sure who I would pick. I really like Bat Warthog Man. I’m proud of his design and I like the animal combo. I have always had a soft spot for cool animal combinations, and Malachai claims that the bat and warthog is the greatest combination of animals possible. I am pretty sure Wexter is Malachai’s favorite.
NN: We’ve got empty desk space, you two have the incredible array of characters. When will we be seeing Axe Cop action figures? The world needs to know!
EN: I think we want to know the same thing. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham there are no Axe Cop toys yet!
NN: Are you familiar with Story Pirates? They’re a children’s theater troupe that takes kids’ stories and turns them into stage plays. Have you and Malachai ever thought about doing a joint-venture with them for a live-action Axe Cop?
EN: Yes I believe we have interacted a bit on Twitter. I have never actually seen one of their shows but it sounds really cool. Sounds like a really cool idea and a great fit for Axe Cop.
NN: Many fans would love to see an animated version of Axe Cop, especially as part of a programming block like Adult Swim which shares many of its sensibilities. Has there been any talk about adapting it for television?
EN: Yep, there definitely has. I wish I could say more than that right now, but all I can really is say is that there has been very serious talk about such things and, with just the right amount of luck, this could happen sooner rather than later.
NN: Does Malachai plan on being a comic book writer for life? Or is this just a side-project until he goes to Axe Medical School or something like that?
EN: The day we visited Dark Horse’s offices together he told me he wanted to write comics when grows up. But he often changes what he wants to be when he grows up. He doesn’t seem to really write or draw or do creative things outside of Axe Cop. He is much more into video games and problem solving. He is a logician; that is why Axe Cop always has such strict logic behind it.
NN: What’s next for Axe Cop and Bearmageddon and do you have any other projects you can tell us about?
EN: Bearmageddon is actually going to take a month break once it hits page 66. It will return May 9th. Axe Cop continues to post online, and besides Volume 3 coming out, we have a new miniseries coming out in July called Axe Cop: President of the World. This will be a follow up to Bad Guy Earth and will not be available online.
NN: Last question - you must be buried in all manner of comics. What titles are you reading and enjoying right now?
EN: I actually have not been reading any comics lately. I usually keep up on the Walking Dead trades but I think I am even behind on that. I need to pick up the new TMNT series on IDW because I did one of the alternate covers. Other than that, I have a bunch of Invincible to catch up on, but, in general, I don’t actually read a lot of comics. I just really like drawing them.
Axe Cop Vol. 3 is available in stores now from Dark Horse. You can keep up with the Brothers Nicolle's Axe Cop adventures and Ethan's Bearmageddon online. What do you think? Who is your favorite member of the Axe Cop universe? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!