In December of last year, brothers Ethan and Malachai Nicolle concocted Axe Cop and posted the first five episodes as webcomics in January 2010. A mixture of factors–including being declared Entertainment Weekly‘s Site of the Day as well asa deluge of Tweets (as well as getting praised by Robot 6’s Sean T. Collins of course)–allowed the buzz to build on the webcomic fairly quickly. The stories (aptly described by Dark Horse as “We live in a strange world, and our strange problems call for strange heroes. That’s why Axe Cop–along with his partner Flute Cop and their pet T. rex Wexter–is holding tryouts to build the greatest team of heroes ever assembled.”) were collected and released by Dark Horse in Axe Cop Volume 1 last week. For those who have not heard about Axe Cop before, I kind of buried my lead regarding Ethan’s co-creator and brother: Malachai is six years old. I recently email interviewed Ethan about the collected edition and the creative process to date as well as going forward, including the three-issue Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth miniseries that launches in March 2011.
Tim O’Shea: It’s clear that you are careful to make sure your co-creator/six-year-old brother Malachai enjoys the creative experience and does not get burned out. How hard is it to involve him in the process while at the same time not burdening him?
Ethan Nicolle: I simply have to work at his pace. If he is burdened he simply will not write… he is not like writers in comics or in Hollywood who are writing to try to put food on the table. In fact thing he is kind of weirded out that I am still asking him “so then what happens?” a year later. He is just playing, and if it doesn’t feel like play, his short attention span will switch him to something else in an instant. Since most of our writing is done on the phone, I have to wait until he has some inspiration (usually after he has seen a movie or cartoon or has not noticed an update on the site recently). For the Bad Guy Earth series I actually went and spent an entire month with him writing it in person, and it was all based on a month of actual play time together doing fake car chases in my car, in his room playing with toy dinosaurs and going to the playground. I just kept bringing our narrative back into the playtime. He will say “we need to work, Ethan” but that’s him saying “let’s play”. The word work means play to Malachai. He is learning early why so many people want to be writers and comic artists.
O’Shea: How much does he fathom the level of success the book has achieved? And how has your family reacted to the fact you were able to unintentionally turn what was more of an inside the family entertainment into something with mass appeal?
Nicolle: My family gets it to the extent that any normal person would, but Malachai only gets it in the way a 6 year old gets anything… he has very little to compare it to and he takes it at face value. People tell him it’s a special circumstance, but he is still learning exactly what special is. My guess is that for the most part he thinks this is what happens when you play with your brother and he is a comic artist. He doesn’t realize he is probably the youngest published writer in the industry, and even if he did I don’t think he would get why that is significant. My family is with me in that we are both cautious and joyous. We take each moment as it comes but all of us adore this kid way more than any opportunity the comic could bring and we are watching closely at every turn trying to make sure we don’t steal his innocence in some way or make him feel he is only loved for the crazy stuff he says.
O’Shea: You had a number of folks (some outside of comics) interested in the Axe cop concept. Why did you decide to team with Dark Horse?
Nicolle: Well, as far as the book was concerned I will have to admit Dark Horse probably would have been my top choice. I think Axe Cop fits nicely into their line of properties. He is an off-kilter hero, not a perfect one like the heroes of Marvel and DC. He is a hero, but he is a little nuts, like Hellboy, Marv, and the Goon. When Dark Horse made the best deal that just sealed it. They have been awesome to work with and most of the people I have met at Dark Horse genuinely love Axe Cop so it is in very good hands.
O’Shea: In transitioning the story from wecomic to printed collection how much did you have to revise or modify the story or layout?
Nicolle: Not much. I did reorder some of the pages in the Ultimate Battle story line because on the web the alternating stories (Baby Man and Lobster Man) were switching every day because I was using the two story lines to keep Malachai’s interest when he got bored with one he could do the other. I clumped the pages up a little more naturally in the book.
O’Shea: For folks following along from the start, will the collection have any extras that will be of interest to them?
Nicolle: The collection is sort of a director’s cut. There is not extra comic material, but there is tons of commentary and insight into the process from me, as well as a great Foreword by Kevin Murphy of MST3K and some beautiful pin ups by the likes of Doug TenNapel, Jhonen Vasquez, Dustin Weaver and Dave DeVries of the Monster Engine.
O’Shea: I noticed on your art blog you are dabbling with some sketches and characters inspired by recent visits to the zoo. Is this stuff you will use in Axe Cop or do you have plans for other webcomics?
Nicolle: That is just practice. But Bad Guy Earth has a TON of animals in it. I had Malachai going through books of animals. His favorites were the Daily Zoo books by Chris Ayers (which are amazing!). I would have him put sticky notes on animals he thought were cool then he would tell me their weapons and powers. That’s where we got the idea to combine a bat and a warthog to make the ultimate two animal combo.
O’Shea: Has your collaborative process with your brother made you eager to collaborate with others in the future or do you think you’ll work solo in future non-AC projects?
Nicolle: It has actually made me more eager to work alone (haha). I love working with my brother and want to create as much with him as we can in the time we have, but it is nothing like the process of creating with a normal comic book writer which I have done before. Malachai leaves so much up to me. Every idea is his, but many of them are so bare. He will say something like “alien planet” and I have to create what that looks like on that description. It becomes a crazy exercise in concepting which especially comes out in the Bad Guy Earth series.
O’Shea: Care to discuss plans for the Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth miniseries? Are you working with an editor for that mini? And if so how does that change/benefit the AC creative process is at all?
Nicolle: My editor doesn’t edit much other than misspellings and grammar. She loves Axe Cop just the way he is. What I love about the upcoming series is that we wrote the whole thing before I ever drew it. I played with Malachai for a month and took tons of notes, did a bunch of art and then I went home and sorted it all out into one big story. Everyone who has seen it has loved it so far and I think it is probably the best Axe Cop material yet. It is definitely the most ambitious Axe Cop story to date… it is my best art, it is all in color and it the story is so epic. It’s about the entire world turning bad and Axe Cop having to stop it.
O’Shea: What’s been your favorite moment (in terms of seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of your brother) in the whole Axe Cop experience?
Nicolle: I don’t know if I can pick a moment, but just overall I feel very blessed that it has gives us something very special and we love visiting with each other and it has made being brothers a real adventure. We adore each other. We already did before Axe Cop, and adore all of our family members, but Axe Cop opened the gates for me to really indulge in that adoration and it has been so cool.
O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you? Any questions you’d like to ask Axe Cop readers?
Nicolle: I just want to thank every one who has been supportive. Especially those who have bought something from the store or pre-ordered the book. You’ve made it my job to be an awesome big brother so I thank you. I am eager to hold a printed Axe Cop book in my hands and I can’t wait to release the Bad Guy Earth miniseries which I think will be an exciting moment in Axe Cop’s growing mythology.