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Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Miss the Axe Cop Signing!

Posted by Courtney Ferguson on Fri, Dec 17, 2010 at 11:20 AM



Written by six-year-old Malachai and drawn by his brother Ethan Nicolle, 30, this comic is delight incarnate. It's also violent, hysterical, inventive, clever, well plotted, and beautifully drawn. Now it's getting the Dark Horse treatment with a compilation of the first 70 episodes of the web comic, complete with Axe Cop's prickly advice column, a pin-up gallery, commentary by Ethan, and a foreword by Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's not out until Wednesday, December 22, but come to Bridge City Comics tomorrow for a chance to get it early. There will also be cookies and adorable children coloring with crayons.

Axe Cop Vol. 1 by Ethan and Malachai Nicolle
Signing, collaboration demonstration, cookies, coloring
Bridge City Comics, 3725 N Mississippi
Sat Dec 18, 3-5 pm, free, all ages

You can read my piece in this week's paper, but check out the full interview after the jump where Ethan and I talk poop jokes, Die Hard starring a man dressed as a baby, and what the future holds for everyone's favorite baby-hating, dino-riding, axe-wielding cop.

MERCURY: How did Axe Cop come to be?
ETHAN NICOLLE: It happened last Christmas during playtime with my (then) five-year-old brother Malachai. He asked if I wanted to play “Axe Cop.” He had a toy firefighter’s axe but he didn’t want to fight fires, he wanted to fight crime, so he called himself an axe cop. The visual I got of a character named “Axe Cop” stuck in my head as we played together and the story expanded and it became one of those things I couldn’t not draw. At the time I didn’t think it was going to be anything beyond something for my family to enjoy.

Can you describe what a work session looks like between you and your brother? I know that will be part of the signing in Portland, but I was hoping you could give a preview.
We have two ways we work together—phone and in person. For most of the comics on the website we talk on the phone because we live so far apart [Ethan lives in LA and Malachai lives in a small town in Central Washington]. Generally those phone calls happen when Malachai is in the mood to talk and has ideas swirling around. Sometimes he has topics he wants to talk about, sometimes I can throw any question at him and he’ll go off on any subject. Sometimes he wants to talk once a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. We have dry spells, and we have times where he wants to talk so much I have to ask him to give me a break. The other way is playing together in person when I visit. When Dark Horse Comics asked us to do a full three-part miniseries, I decided the best way to do it would be to go spend a month with Malachai and write it with him. The goal was to make as much of it feel like playtime as possible. We played in my car, at the playground, in his room, and the whole time I tried to keep it as on topic as I could, and I took notes the whole time, then I went home and put it all together and made it into a story... it sort of became like Narnia written by Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes and directed by Michael Bay.

So you don't use Skype to work together?
Yeah most of our collaboration happens on the phone. People assume we would use web cam but generally he is too distracted by all the emoticons and camera effects.

How does Malachai feel about being a renowned comic book writer? How do his friends react?
I don’t think he understands what renowned is, and I don’t think his friends know the scale of his success. He lives in a small town and things like Axe Cop don’t make the news there. Unless it’s the latest big franchise movie or TV show I don’t think many people in his area will really know about it. I’m not even sure if they have a comic shop there. For now he seems pretty unaware of how “big” it has gotten, which is probably a good thing.

What’s the biggest challenge when working with a six-year-old?
Working on his schedule and with his attention span. He doesn’t ever sit down and go, “Okay, I have to discipline myself to get this script written because I need to make something of myself!” Luckily he does like to play, but he doesn’t always want to play Axe Cop. Sometimes I call and the whole conversation is about a new Wii game he got. When there is more writing to be done to fill in plot holes, I have to wait for him to feel like talking about it, whereas if I were writing I could just fill in the blanks myself. I have done projects where I did art based on a script by another writer, and working with Malachai is nothing like that. I am his editor and I have to make sure the story works, I order it and I make him fill in the blanks... it becomes a bigger job than if I were writing it myself, though I can always fall back on “well a five-year-old wrote it” if it is bad... but I guess I try to keep him working on it until it is good because I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not a good, entertaining story.

How often do you do episodes of Axe Cop?
For a while we were releasing five pages a week, but for the last couple months I have been working on a print-exclusive three-part miniseries for Dark Horse Comics, so while I have been working on that I release a new episode every Wednesday on the website.

How much input does Malachai have about the artwork? How much input do you have about the story?

Malachai rarely gives input on artwork. Sometimes he gives specific costume details (like the bad guys in our newest story have robotic bow ties), but in general a lot of the visually creative stuff is all on me. I actually think that Malachai is more logical than creative. He is very logical and he loves problem solving, especially when it comes to videogames. I think that what makes Axe Cop so much fun is his kid logic and where he goes with it. For the story, I try to make sure that any plot-related content in Axe Cop is something he came up with, but I ask questions, and though the questions do guide the story, generally I have no control of where it will go. I may ask him, “Wouldn’t the real police get mad at Axe Cop for breaking the rules?” then he starts talking about Axe Cop’s conflict with the “real police.” My job is to point out his plot holes and stuff... because usually what makes Axe Cop so funny is what he comes up with to fill those holes.

Who’s your favorite Axe Cop character?

I’m going to have to go with Axe Cop himself. He’s fascinating and I love trying to figure out what decisions he would make in a given situation and I am always wrong. He is so audacious, logical, and unconventional, but he also has a very soft side. People have said a comic written by a six-year-old can’t have character development, but I’d say over this year the character of Axe Cop has developed and he is complex, and I remain interested to see what he’ll come up with next.

Who writes the character's dialogue and asides? Like when Baby Man says, “Shake what your baby gave ya!”

I try to use as much directly from Malachai as I can. “Shake what your baby gave ya!” is directly from Malachai. The Ask Axe Cop episodes are the closest to verbatim because I am just turning his answer into a comic, though I usually restructure it to make it have a punchline. He usually tells me things out of order so I have to go and reorder them. Also, I take note of things Malachai says and I use them in the comic. He says, “What the heck?!” all the time, so that is a commonly used phrase in the comic. He also says “extroy” instead of “destroy” so I have used that before. When I visit I try to write down things he says to bad guys while he plays videogames, like “Happy die day!” then I go and use that later in a comic when I need a good catchphrase. Like I said, most of the content is from him, I just organize it and give it skin.

I love that Malachai’s characters always sound like B-movies from the ’50s and ’60s, like Vampire Wizard Ninja Brothers from the Moon. Is he a fan?
No, that’s what is so hilarious... he invents these things and so many of them seem like an homage, but they are just pulled out of his limited knowledge of pop culture. He loves the same stuff most kids his age love. Of course when I design them, I design them with homage in mind, so you do get that thrown in, but for him he is just having fun. When he says “alien” he is thinking Ben 10, but I am thinking Alien. I think that Malachai just reminds us that sci-fi/fantasy/comics are playtime for adults. We’re having fun, we’re using our imaginations. When Malachai visited Dark Horse with me he loved it because I think he saw it as a big place where everyone plays with cool alien toys and they all use their imagination all day. As adults we inject all sorts of depth and structure into our stories because it feels rather undignified not to, but Malachai gives us an excuse to just have fun in genres that were created to let the imagination run wild above all else. At the end of the day I like structure and meaning in my stories, but Axe Cop is a fun escape.

The character Uni-Baby sure gets lobbed around a lot. What’s up with that?
Axe Cop seems to have a general disdain for babies. He throws Uni-Baby. He ate babies when he was a kid. He hates music made by babies... I’m not sure why he has so much baby hate, I need to talk to Malachai about that.

In the sequences with Baby Man vs. the duck, your sense of humor really shines. Was that story arc a favorite of yours?
Yes, I had a lot of fun with that one. Basically that story started when Malachai was not giving me any material at all... so one day I decided to start a story called “Baby Man Chases a Duck.” I drew the first few panels of Baby Man chasing a duck, then Malachai called me, so I filed the page and we got back into the story we were working on at the time. Later I told Malachai I drew Baby Man chasing a duck and he loved it so he took it from there, starting with adding that the duck shoots exploding eggs. That story gave me a bit more freedom than other ones because I could take Malachai’s concept “Baby Man chases a duck through a city that is shooting exploding eggs at him” and really flesh it out so it felt like Die Hard in a baby suit.

It took a lot longer than I anticipated for Malachai to explore toilet humor, but then comes Doctor Doo Doo screaming “Poooooop!” Is this Malachai’s storytelling getting more sophisticated?

Yeah I know some people were pretty disappointed when that happened, but I think every boy should get to enjoy a time where he can make poop jokes and laugh nice and hard at them. We experienced Malachai discovering the poop joke and I, as his big brother, think that is pretty special. He has since tried to work in some very naughty jokes then stopped me and told me not to draw it because he’ll get in trouble. He forgets that when he whispers something to me for the story, it is still going to be read by thousands, including his parents... but he is catching on. I’m old enough to be his dad but he still treats me like his big brother.

What’s Axe Cop’s future hold?
My only real goal is to get a good body of work out of the character. I’ll keep the web comic going as long as it works (probably until puberty strikes) and maybe even do another feature-length story like the one we are releasing via Dark Horse in March titled Bad Guy Earth. I loved spending a month with [Malachai] writing that and I would love to do that with him again having learned all that I did at least one more time before he outgrows it. I generally say that as long as Axe Cop is fun for Malachai, the readers, and me then it is worth making, so until that stops being true I want to keep Axe Cop choppin’.


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