The last time I was at my local comic shop, a new collection titled "Axe Cop" caught my eye.
I didn't know anything about it and had never heard of it, but the person at the counter explained the interesting story behind its creation. That hooked me, but I also have to admit that I'm a sucker for stories which include babies with unicorn horns. Since there's one prominently featured on the cover, what else could I do but buy it?
Suffice it to say, I thought the read was incredibly entertaining. I devoured the entire thing in one sitting and was left wanting more.
As luck would have it, one half of the comic's creative team caught wind of some positive comments I made about the book on Twitter. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, artist/co-creator Ethan Nicolle was graciously granting me this interview.
Thanks very much for speaking with me, Ethan. So, to start, can you briefly describe how Axe Cop came into being?
The Axe Cop saga began on a Christmas visit to see my family. My father, a man with very healthy loins, has managed to produce a variety of children, ranging from me, a 29-year-old comic book artist, to my 5-year-old brother Malachai, a 5-year-old boy genius, with four other siblings in between.
During the visit Malchai was running around with his toy fireman axe and he said he was playing "Axe Cop." He asked me to play with him, and I asked what my weapon was... so he brought me a toy flute (actually a recorder). I told him I would rather be Axe Cop than Flute Cop, and he seemed just fine with being Flute Cop. The story that followed became more and more brilliant, until I couldn't contain myself and I had to draw the whole thing into a one page comic.
From there the saga continued, and over the course of my week-long visit we cranked out the first four episodes of Axe Cop. I posted the comics to my blog and on Facebook and they got great responses. I decided to give Axe Cop a home on the internet here and attempt to continue the saga as often as I have time to draw them, and I can get Malachai to write them.
The writing process is basically just me quizzing Malachai as he develops the saga. I'll just try to pry all the details out of him and write them all down until something like a complete little story has been formed. Everything in Axe Cop started in Malachai's head, all I do is sort it out and draw it.
When was the moment you realized that Axe Cop was more than just something for your own amusement?
When it went viral just over a year ago. I knew my friends found it funny, and I knew my family loved it, but I in no way saw it ever becoming something I would do enough to collect into a graphic novel except maybe way down the road after lots more Christmas visits with Malachai. I assumed what I was making was funny to me because I am partial and I love my brother. When it got the amazing reaction it did, I was sort of shocked. I also didn't think that it could last very long. I thought the joke would wear off quick, but it's been fascinating to watch Axe Cop grow up and change as Malachai does the same, and the character development is unlike anything I have ever seen, because we are really watching Malachai develop through Axe Cop.
I fell into it and I would be just as skeptical of it as anyone who thinks a comic with a story by a 5-year-old can't be that great if I wasn't experiencing it first hand. I also did not think it was a new or original idea, I thought someone must have tried making a comic with a 5-year-old writing it at some point, I figured it just didn't work out. I'm glad I did it, and really glad I posted it online.
In the Axe Cop collection, you make a few references to people that didn't think too highly of the collaboration with your brother. Did that become a big problem, or were those people in the minority? How does your own family feel about it now?
It does seem to be a minority. I don't get much grief for Axe Cop. You have to be a real curmudgeon to sit there and criticize the writing of a five-year-old, and the people who really do it only embarrass themselves.
I don't think Axe Cop is made specifically for people who love comics. It is made for people who love kids. If you hate kids and love comics you probably don't like Axe Cop. There are some people who fit that description, but what is amazing is the people who will read Axe Cop cover to cover who are totally not into comics. Old people, little kids, all sorts of people are fascinated by it, because it's interesting to see where Malachai's brain will take things.
Who is Malachai's favorite character, who's yours, and why?
I am pretty sure Wexter is Malachai's favorite. When he created Axe Cop he didn't even realize he was creating a character. He just wanted to play cops with me, but the nearest toy was a toy axe, so he asked if I wanted to play "Axe Cop". With Wexter he had created a few comics and had gotten the hang of the idea that he was getting to create characters and see them sort of come to life, so he really focused his kid-chi and went all out on Wexter. He really is the coolest pet ever. For me, it's Axe Cop. I love always trying to guess how he will solve a problem or deal with a situation. Sockarang is a close second. He's so hideous and weird, yet lovable.
Axe Cop does some pretty crazy things, but have there ever been some story bits or action sequences you felt were too bizarre or went too far in a weird direction to make it into the strip?
Malachai will be in silly mode where he just kills off all the characters or makes them all poop or fart nonstop. I just let him get it out of his system and go along with it. Usually he takes it back eventually anyway, especially when he realizes that the comic will be read by his parents and those kind of jokes are a no-no. I let him make them because I am his brother, not his Dad, but I'm selective in the ones I actually use.
In general, writing Axe Cop is brainstorming with Malachai, so he often gives me alternate choices to work with when I go through all his ideas and piece them together. One of the funnest challenges in making Axe Cop is taking some of his really bizarre ideas and trying to render them into something coherent.
Is there anyone in comics that you or Malachai would like to collaborate with in the future? Also, does Malachai see a future for himself in comics?
I'd love to see Axe Cop take on Godzilla, team up with The Tick or Batman, or the Ninja Turtles. There are a lot of funny possible team ups. I think the more serious the character, the better. That is one reason I am loving the Bat Warthog man storyline because Bat Warthog man is a sort of Batman parody and I like putting Axe Cop in that world.
Malachai has shown interest in writing comics when he grows up, but in general he does not see himself as a writer, he just likes to play. He never actually writes any of this down. We play or talk on the phone and I take all the notes, organize it into an outline and make it into a comic. Really, he is being a normal 6-year-old. I'm just being a weird 30-year-old.
Axe Cop started when your brother was five. How old is Malachai now, and what does he think of the entire Axe Cop phenomena now that some time has gone by?
He is six, but he will be seven on March 6th. We do kind of get into a routine now, and I think that when he is watching movies and playing video games he will get ideas for Axe Cop and call me up. He was on a How to Train Your Dragon kick and he called me up super excited. That is where the whole Dragony Dragon Witch portion of the Ultimate Battle came from. Malachai is not as interested in the Axe Cop phenomenon as he is just playing. Talking about Axe Cop is basically talking about what it's like to be six. That is a really boring topic for a six-year-old. He likes playing Axe Cop, but talking about it bores him.
So you just put out a collection with Dark Horse comics and the website is going strong. What's next for Axe Cop? Plush toys? A movie? World domination?
Lots of possibilities and a few things I wish I could say but we still have paperwork to sign. There has been a good amount of TV, movie and video game interest. We've got interest in the realm of board games, card games, costumes, toys and other things like that too. The big next thing is the miniseries Dark Horse is releasing starting on March 2. It is a three-part full color miniseries called Bad Guy Earth and it's print-exclusive, so it won't be online. I think it's the best Axe Cop story yet.
Since you mentioned it, what would the ideal Axe Cop videogame be like?
I think a beat'em up like Castle Crashers would be amazing, but the universe of Axe Cop opens itself up to all sorts of possibilities. I think a GTA-type game set in Axe Cop's universe would be amazing. There are also so many characters that some sort of tournament fighter would be fun too. I want to make them all. Malachai says the name of the Axe Cop video game would be "Axe Cop vs. Evil".
[Interviewer's note: World exclusive announcement. You heard it here first, folks.]
Do you plan to do something along these lines for your own children (if and/or when you may have some) for publication or even just privately?
If it works out, I would love to. Axe Cop happened organically, so I wouldn't want to try to force my kid to fill his/her uncle Malachai's shoes, but I do often think I need to hurry up and get a kid so that I have a new writer when Malachai outgrows Axe Cop.
I imagine Malachi is in school, but what's keeping you busy when not working on Axe Cop?
Axe Cop keeps me plenty busy. Just finished the Bad Guy Earth miniseries, and we are planning more books and content. I also am planning on getting another comic rolling soon.
Open mic. Anything you'd like to say to the readers, or any current projects you want to pimp?
The project I was working on before Axe Cop took over my life is a comic called Bearmageddon. It is a comedy/action/horror about bears taking over the world. I plan on releasing it as a web comic series within the next couple months. My plan is to release a couple pages of Bearmageddon and Axe Cop each week. I don't have a set date, but now that I've finished Bad Guy Earth I want to get Bearmageddon rolling, but keep Axe Cop alive as well.
Infinite thanks to Ethan Nicolle for taking the time out to speak with me about Axe Cop.
If you'd like to read it on paper, the recent collected volume is published by Dark Horse Comics and should be available at all finer comic shops near you. If you can't wait until a physical copy is in your hands, you can check out all of the online episodes on the Axe Cop website right now. Tell ‘em I sent you! Also, a special thanks to Stephen McCall for contributing questions.