Arguably best known as the co-creator of “Axe Cop” with his seven-year old brother, Ethan Nicolle was actually nominated for an Eisner Award for his work on the Slave Labor Graphics-published “Chumble Spuzz” in 2009, before the web-turned-multimedia sensation was released.
His latest endeavor is the webcomic “Bearmageddon,” and it’s exactly what you would expect it to be: An all-out war on mankind by grizzly bears. (Oh, and at least one has been crossbred with an octopus.)
Facing off against a cast of twenty-something environmentalists and slackers, the militant bears may or may not be the result of mutant hybrid experimentation by Dr. Wilson Medved, but Nicolle told CBR News that it doesn’t really matter because his plans don’t include delving too deep into what led to the forthcoming onslaught; the important thing is that it’s coming, and humanity had better be ready.
Released twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays, the January 11 page (#44) is expected to be a real game-changer as the previous installment (#43) led many fans of the series to believe a character from the fictional video game within the series, “Lord of Beasts,” is about to join the war against the bears.
CBR News: Here’s a classic chicken or the egg question to kick things off, Ethan. What came first: the concept for “Bearmageddon,” or the name?
Ethan Nicolle: Actually, I had a character that was sort of an insane version of Davy Crockett and I wanted him to be the hero in a story, so I started coming up with ideas for stories for him. I came up with the idea where bears attack civilization and he is the only guy who can stop them.
The title “Bearmageddon” came to me sort of in a flash of light, and almost instantly spawned a whole new idea for a story, which is what the comic now is.
“Bearmageddon” launched August 2011, and I admittedly came late to the game having jumped on board more recently. It doesn’t take long for new readers to get up to speed, but for those wondering about the awesomely-named webcomic, what’s it all about?
It’s about a group of slackers who ditch society and responsibility right at the moment bears form an alliance to destroy humanity, which they then must survive. There is more too it, but that’s it in a nutshell.
Have you always had a fascination with bears?
I’ve always had a fascination with the animal kingdom. I think I could do an apocalypse story for every species and never get bored. I really want to do gorillas next, but bears are fascinating because I think they are the closest thing we have to actual, real-life monsters. They are just horrifying, and if they knew how amazing they were, we would all be screwed.
There is also something comedic in the idea of bears which, I don’t even know if I can put my finger on it. You know how a movie like “Punisher: Warzone” has violence that’s just so over the top, it would never happen in real life? I see bears as the “Punisher: Warzone” of animals. It’s just ridiculous. How did it ever get made?
I read that Oregon is home to about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears, North America’s most common bear species. Have you ever come face-to-face with one?
I saw a black bear cub once, running into the woods. I was on a dirt road in the country near Coos Bay, where I’m from. That’s cool, but I have a cooler story: One night, I was driving on a back road in Oregon and I hit a mountain lion with my car. I tell the story in one of the “Bearmageddon” blog posts.
So far, we’ve seen what I believe to be grizzlies and an octobear. Will we see other bear species in “Bearmageddon” like the bear-bat in your title banner? Fingers crossed for a polar bear mutation.
Yeah, for sure. The “normal bears” are only the first wave. They are sort of the stormtroopers of the bear army. The bears have been building up a lot of surprises for mankind, and the variations will be many. I planned to make all the bears in the comic variations of grizzlies, because they really are the ultimate bear, but I may work in some other species. I won’t say for sure
Do you know your leading man, Joel Morely? Not literally, but does he represent anyone in your life?
I don’t actually know anyone named Joel Morely. I actually designed the character while I was on the train to San Diego Comic-Con with my brother Isaiah. I find my brother to be a very sympathetic character that people generally root for, so I wanted try to capture his demeanor in a sketch. I wasn’t actually trying to make the character look like him so much as act like him. I drew a character I liked and I named him Joel, simply because he looked like a guy who would be named Joel.
Later, I realized that the character I had drawn was actually my friend Brandon, who I used to be in a rock band with. I actually based a character on him in my first graphic novel, “The Weevil.” Looking at Joel, he is way more Brandon than he is my brother, but I consider him inspired by both — one consciously, and one subconsciously. Other characters are definitely based on real people in my life, like Burton, who is based on an old roommate and very good friend of mine, who was a born again ex-stoner.
I have to think Joel’s dad Mark will find his way back into the story too, even though Joel’s left home. As an ex-Marine, he’ll have a good chance at defending himself against the upcoming onslaught. Will we see him again?
Yeah, definitely. The underlying story really is about Joel’s relationship with his family, and his dad is a key character.
Andrea isn’t listed on the character page. Should we be reading anything into that?
The only thing you should read into it is that I need to get on the ball and update the characters page!
Will we be learning more about Dr. Wilson Medved?
Yeah, though I am intentionally only giving bits and pieces of the history. I don’t want the story to become an intricate explanation of how bears really could, in real life, mutate and declare war on humanity, and here is all the science to back it up. That’s not what I am going for. I like how in movies, like “Shaun of the Dead,” “District 9” and “Attack the Block,” you don’t get a detailed explanation of the monsters. You just deal with the fact that they are there.
You’ve shared that there is a big reveal coming this week. Care to share anymore with CBR’s readers?
A key character will be introduced, and it is a moment in the comic I have been pretty excited to reach.
Do you know how “Bearmageddon” ends? And, how many pages do you anticipate it will take to arrive at the ending?
Yes — at least, I think I do. I have a script written for the whole thing, but my comics really don’t come alive until I start drawing them. A lot can change and I may find something that works better. So, yes, there is an end in sight, but I’m open to changing it if something else hits be between now and then.
As for length, my guess is in the realm of 200-250 pages. There is a ton of action in it, and action requires a lot more artwork.
What’s the online engagement/enthusiasm been like so far? Did you consider releasing the project in print instead of as a webcomic?
I think it has attracted a pretty awesome audience, and we are just hitting the action in the comic, so that is really cool. Some people had declared it their favorite webcomic before a bear even killed anyone, which is encouraging, to see that kind of excitement early on. There has been some real loyalty and people are really getting into it. It’s exciting to see all the reactions and interact with readers as the story progresses.
I planned to release “Bearmageddon” as a webcomic originally, two years ago, before “Axe Cop” even existed. I had a theory that, as an unknown comic creator who made no money drawing comics, I was stupid to not be releasing them online and building an audience.
My previous comic series, “Chumble Spuzz,” has always gotten enthusiastic support, and people who read it genuinely think it is funny, but so few people were willing to buy it. “Axe Cop” was something I did on the side with my brother for fun, and I created the website as a sort of “warm up” to test the waters of webcomics. I never anticipated “Axe Cop” becoming the most successful thing I ever did. I embraced “Axe Cop,” but I really wanted to get “Bearmageddon” going, too, because I didn’t want to fully depend on working with my little brother to make comics. I felt that, even with the success of “Axe Cop,” I still needed to prove myself because I really want to be an artist/writer, and though I do a lot more than simply draw “Axe Cop,” I wanted to do something that was my own.
After the success of “Axe Cop,” I actually probably could have gotten away with not releasing “Bearmageddon” as a webcomic and just releasing it as a book, but I had become a believer in the medium. I wanted the online interaction to spur me on to actually get it done. I have a ton on my plate right now, and if I did not have set a requirement and audience expectation for me to post two pages a week of this comic, it would have gone back on the shelf.
Are there plans to eventually release it as a graphic novel?
Definitely. I have always preferred my comics on paper. A comic doesn’t really feel finished until you can smell the ink on the pages. I am excited to hold the book in my hands and, as much as I love releasing the book on the web, the book release is what I am most excited about.
I know Malachai isn’t involved in this project, but do you bounce any “Bearmageddon” ideas off your seven-year old brother/”Axe Cop” co-creator?
Nah — I actually wrote the script before “Axe Cop” was even invented. I had started working on it when Malachai was barely learning to construct sentences. “Bearmageddon” is mine, though I owe a lot of credit to Noah Maas who decided to jump on board as lead colorist, and Johnathan and Matt who help with color flatting.
Malachai is actually pretty upset I’m drawing a comic he is not allowed to read. If I hadn’t already started “Bearmageddon” before “Axe Cop,” I probably never would have done it, simply for the fact that “Axe Cop” has inspired me to do more family-friendly stuff and I like being able to laugh and enjoy the comics I make with my actual family and families in general. There is something really special about meeting a family who enjoys your work together. I love it. I still love “Bearmageddon,” for sure, but it is definitely a pre-“Axe Cop” creation.
What else are you working on right now?
I am releasing a page per week of “Axe Cop” online, and simultaneously working on a new print-exclusive follow-up to “Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth” called “Axe Cop: President of the World.” So I am working on two “Axe Cop” comics at once, as well as “Bearmageddon.”
I also have a couple other projects in other mediums that are at stages too early to even talk about, but needless to say I have plenty to work on right now.