AXE COP’s Malachai and Ethan Nicolle On Collaborating, And Also Sea Turtles [Interview]

For the past two years, Ethan Nicolle and his now eight year old brother Malachai have been delighting comic book readers on the web with Axe Cop – the story of a cop, his axe, a dinosaur, a lot more dinosaurs, a baby with a unicorn horn… Well, basically, it’s exactly the crazy sort of stories you’d expect from a comic created through two brothers playing together.

This week, Dark Horse is releasing the third volume of Axe Cop comics, including some guest strips, a crossover with fellow web sensation Dr. McNinja, and even an intro from LOST’s Damon Lindelof. To find out more – including how much Malachai actually remembers about writing Axe Cop – we chatted with the duo:

MTV Geek: You’ve been doing Axe Cop for just over two years now… What’s changed for you in your lives since this all started?

Ethan Nicolle: Axe Cop has had a huge effect on the whole family, but only in a good way.  Mainly for me, it pushed me over the edge into doing comics full time and opened up a ton of opportunities for me.  For the family we have been able to spend a lot more time together because we have done some conventions and other events together, and because Malachai and I are now effectively creative partners we have spent a ton of time together that we never would have. This whole situation has really strengthened our bond that was there when we started and given us the opportunity to cultivate the creative chemistry we have in a way we never could have if Axe Cop had not become a full time job.

Geek: So at this point, can you guys just hang out without having to work on Axe Cop?

EN: Yeah we totally can.  Last Christmas when I visited I actually made it a point not to even talk about Axe Cop for the visit.  I think at one point Malachai started to make up a story so I wrote it down, but I wanted to make sure he knew we could spend time together and it could not be about Axe Cop.  Also, sometimes when we talk on the phone he just tells me about new video games he likes and we don’t talk Axe Cop.  I think our relationship has grown, but not changed fundamentally in anyway.  I think this experience has probably enhanced it if nothing else.

Geek: I thought it was interesting how deeply you got into the process of making Axe Cop in Vol. 3… How has it grown since you started? What’s different in how you collaborate?

EN: I’ve had the chance to experiment a lot more with the process and try different things.  I’ve spent two entire months with Malachai now in person, along with countless phone calls and Skype conversations.  I’ve tried incorporating crafts, toys, role playing, Q&A, outlines, notecards… whatever I can think of to drive the story and get Malachai’s mind working in the right direction so I have material for more comics.  It’s really fun, because the only way for any of it to work is for Malachai to be having fun while he is doing it, I can not force it at all, so I have to be creative.  I do think that, as we have progressed, we have began to develop an understanding of what kind of elements a story needs to be good.  Malachai is much better at writing bad guys then he used to be because he did not understand why a bad guy needs to be powerful to make a good story.  Things like that have evolved.

Geek: Malachai, you tried your hand at doing some art in this volume – is that something you’d want to do again? Or should Ethan just take care of that stuff?

Malachai Nicolle:  I think if I wanted to draw I’d do a little doodle, like have a little funny picture. But only if i want to make something funny.  If it’s serious or a real episode I want Ethan to draw it.  If it’s just a little funny doodle then I’ll draw it.

Geek: You also collaborated with Chris Hastings on the Dr. McNinja crossover in this volume, right? What was that experience like?

EN:  Actually Malachai didn’t really collaborate directly with Chris on that crossover.  Chris sent me a rough outline for the story, then I went over it with Malachai, and Malachai completely renovated it.  Malachai and I actually had breakfast with Chris in San Diego during Comic Con to discuss another crossover, but Malachai doesn’t seem to remember that.  

Geek: For Malachai… Do you think it’s something you’d like to do again? If you could work with anyone – not just from comic books, but also TV, movies, whatever – who would you do an Axe Cop crossover with?

MN: I think it’d be two people.  The Incredible Hulk and Super Man.  Or they all mix together and become the INCREDIBLE AXE MAN.  He has the powers of Axe Cop, he knows how to use an axe.  And he has a new move:  AXERRANG.  (he makes two Axe’s into an “X” and throws them and they come back).  Hulk part can make them on fire and blow them SO STRONG.  They can break through the world.  He does Hulk clap and a half circle of axes spray out and hits everyone in the world.  

Geek: Sounds like how collaboration works to me. There’s also a number of guest strips in the book… Do you ever see a time when someone else could take over Axe Cop, the way a lot of people write, say, Spider-Man? Or is your thing?

EN: I’d be interested to see it tried.  It does feel very personal, but I don’t see why not.  There have been some guest episodes I have really liked, especially when a kid is involved.  The question arises a lot when we talk about doing Axe Cop for TV.  For a TV show, the writing room can not just be Malachai sitting there with me taking notes and coaxing him, it needs to be a group of writers.  So how do you do that?  I’m open to the possibility that you could create Axe Cop content based on/inspired by the foundation Malachai and I have laid out.  I would not mind seeing how it worked.  But I do think that the Axe Cop comics made by the two of us will aways feel more “real” whether or not anyone else ever takes over or does their own version.

Geek: The story where Unibaby eats his own poop and gets left in a room alone for days is one of the darkest, funniest stories I’ve ever read… For both of you, what was it like coming up with this story? What was the reaction like?

MN: I never said that, Ethan made that up.  I don’t remember doing that.  Or I must have forgot because it was a long time ago.  It was a part of one I didn’t notice.  I never got in trouble.

EN: The day we wrote that Malachai was in this silly mood and every time I asked him what happened next he would say “they ate their own poop”.  So I used it once and edited out the rest.  He was kind of bonkers that day I am not surprised he doesn’t remember.  Chances are his mom has not read that one yet so he hasn’t been talked to about it yet haha.

Geek: For Ethan, I’ve been reading Bearmageddon and loving it, but how do you balance the time to do that, and Axe Cop? What’s a typical work week like for you?

EN: It can be hard, especially since I am actually doing two Axe Cop projects right now (the web series and a new print series for Dark Horse).  I just try to meter out my pages on each project and do it in chunks.  Bearmageddon is all written and all the characters are designed, it is just a matter of finishing pages and keeping ahead of schedule.  I try to get at least one page done every day on whatever project I am focused on, six days a week.  Some days I get more done, some days the page is too complex, as you will see in some of the upcoming pages on Bearmageddon.

Geek: Malachai, have you secretly been working on some Bearmageddon ideas for Ethan?

EN: No, I wrote Bearmageddon before Axe Cop was created, but I bet you wouldn’t mind writing Bearmageddon would you Malachai?  Malachai is mad because Bearmageddon is inappropriate for him to read.

MN: If I wrote Bearmageddon, I would make there be lots of bears that have different abilities and they took over the world.  Every thing in the world fights the bears, except for bears.  The grizzly bears betrayed the humans and they know technology so they make themselves all better and upgraded and all the other animals started fighting them.  Even the fleas and beetles started fighting them.  I don’t know how the turtles would help but I think they would get in their shell then tell a guy with a golf club to bang them into the grizzly bears.Wait… how come they call a box turtle a box turtle?  My dad thinks it’s because they are good boxers.  The sea turtles couldn’t really help, but the snapping turtles could snap at them like weapons. (trails off into talking about every kind of turtle…)

EN: I’m thinking about incorporating some of that.  That was pretty amazing.

Geek: I know you guys are in the midst of the next Axe Cop mini-series, what can you tell us about it, if anything?

EN: Yeah I have illustrated the first issue of it.  We actually wrote it almost a year ago now.  It picks up right where Bad Guy Earth left off and is titled Axe Cop: President of the World.  I am loving it and everyone I have shown it to has loved it as well.  Totally unintentionally this series will be coming out during the elections so it really worked out.  Axe Cop 2012.

Geek: Malachai, do you have any advice to kids your age who might want to also write a comic book? What tips would you give them, and what lessons have you learned?

MN: If you have a brother that likes comics.  Go up, make an interesting idea like I did, then all of a sudden he might put it in a comic and he might show it to his friends and then you just keep making a bunch more characters and stuff.

That’s my advice for kids that want to be like me.

And then you get to go to fun places like San Diego and California and Seattle and stuff like that. (starts singing “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” by Johnny Cash…)

Geek: Why pick up Axe Cop Volume 3, if you know nothing about Axe Cop? What makes it a must buy?

MN: Because there is a lot of fighting and a guy gets changed by a magical bat and warhog, and there’s Army Chihuahua!

EN: Yeah I think Army Chihuahua is a good enough reason.  It also has one of my favorite sequences where Axe Cop enters the imagination of a rat so that he can get a unicorn horn.  Damon Lindelof wrote the foreword and there are some amazing pin ups in there as well.  There is a great mix of stuff in this book and I put lots of commentary and extra information in to read on your second time through.

Axe Cop: Volume 3 is in comic book stores everywhere on Wednesday, March 21st from Dark Horse Comics!

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