“He’s 7” I said while reading through Axe Cop, marveling at the unbound imagination of a kid distilled and enhanced by his brother, artist Ethan Nicolle. Violence, dinosaurs, robots, far out settings and scenarios define Axe Cop and have helped it rise from a webcomic to something more thanks to a growing army of fans and Dark Horse Comics. I spoke to Ethan days after the release of the collected 3rd volume of Axe Cop and we spoke about his and his young brother Malachai’s creative process, the assumptions people (including me) have about Malachai, and the future of the book.
Can you take me through the creative process, is there a spark that sets Malachai off creatively, is there candy bribery.
Ethan Nicolle: Yeah if I need to get Malachai going I bring up video games. My iPad comes in very handy when I need to bribe him. Also, we have a deal going where for every certain amount of material we create I get him a new video game or something, so he has that work ethic driving his creativity. Some people seem to think creativity is better without anything driving it, but I disagree, I think incentive can really drive creativity.
Also, what with child labor laws, I’m pretty sure the video games are a legal requirement..
Ethan: Yeah, it just works to have something we are both striving for. It gets him to call me up at random and say “hey there is a new game out that I really want, let’s work on some more Axe Cop!”. And it’s not that he doesn’t like working on Axe Cop anyway. Most of us like being creative when we do it, but most of us would rather spend our energy watching TV or playing games. It’s easier.
This is true, this is true. What kind of games does he like?
Ethan: He loves Wii games, even though my brothers and I all chipped in and got him a 360, I think he prefers the Wii. He loves the Kirby and Mario games and has really been into Skylanders. He also loves iPad games. When I visit, he is on that thing all the time. He LOVES Pocket God.
There’s almost, on my end, an expectation that he would be into more violent fare, do you think people look too much into the words and stories in the book?
Ethan: Yeah, people think he would be this super violent kid and he is totally not. He just takes the concepts in Kirby and Mario and applies them to Axe Cop. There is still a lot of killing and maiming in Mario, you just don’t think of it like that. Mario is a bloodbath, he really racks up a bodycount.
Well yeah, it’s [Axe Cop] not really graphically violent, just full of violent actions. I wondered if that was you taking it down, the gore level? Also, how collaborative is the design process?
Ethan: The design process is not very collaborative. I just take what he tells me and draw it as I see it. I think that is why Axe Cop appeals to kids and adults. It has that kid logic, but it is told by an adult. I make the bad guys and characters reminiscent of familiar cliches I grew up with. For instance, Malachai is always using “bad guys” as a generic term. He does not specify what they look like?
So I have to make up a bunch of random, generic bad guys. I get inspiration from the henchmen and random bad guys in 80’s action films.
You began when he was 5, he’s 9 now right? What kind of evolution have you seen in the way he tells a story, is he more expressive and specific? Also, do you worry that he will outgrow Axe Cop, or perhaps worse, the comic will loose the effortless imagination that it has and it will start to feel forced?
Ethan: He was at the tail end of 5 when we started and he just turned 8 this month, so Axe Cop is basically just over two years old. Malachai changes constantly and is always growing up, it is alsmot hard to define the changes and the points of growth because it happens so fast. I think you can even see it happening from the beginning to the end of some of the longer stories.
I try not to worry about what will happen with Axe Cop as he gets older. I wasn’t worried about it before, it just fell into my lap. We have a lot of fun doing it and my whole family has always been the kind of people who didn’t have a tough time spewing out silly creative ideas. I don’t think Malachai will lose that, it will just be a question of if he wants to focus it on Axe Cop forever. It will evolve and mature for sure. I think it could be interesting to see Axe Cop growing up as Malachai does, but I’m just kind of rolling with things as they go.
Last question: Have you and Malachai discussed the end of Axe Cop? Also, what’s next for Axe Cop, for your career, and does Malachai want to be a comic book writer when he grows up or does he want to be something closer to a cop… with an axe?
Ethan: No, we have not discussed the end of Axe Cop. He doesn’t understand that Axe Cop could be finite because, like most kids, I don’t think he is aware his childhood is running out. He is living in the moment. As for what he wants to be when he grows up, it seems to constantly change. He has said he wants to be a comic writer when he grows up, but he has also said he would like to be a chemist and a Wizard Soldier.
But Chemists get sold for $10, you should probably steer him away from that.
Ethan: Yeah, that character, Chemist M, is supposed to be Malachai. He asked me to write him in as that chemist. So he sold himself as a chemist for $10. Ten bucks is good money to a kid.
It all goes back to those pesky child labor laws...
Axe Cop Volume 3 is available from Dark Horse Comics with a foreword by the great Damon Lindelof (Lost) for $14.99, click here for more.