Axe Cop, The Interview: Talking with the 5 and 29-Year Old Creators, Malachai and Ethan Nicolle
If you haven’t read “Axe Cop,” then you probably haven’t been on the internet recently, because this thing has gone viral. The story of a cop with an axe, and his adventures with dinosaurs, unicorn babies, and bad guys with pretzels for heads, this wonderfully absurd webcomic was created by 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle, and illustrated by his older brother Ethan Nicolle, who also created the Eisner-nominated “Chumble Fuzz.”
ComicsAlliance had a chance to speak with both of the creators in separate interviews. After our quick chat with Malachai, we had a conversation with Ethan about the origin of “Axe Cop,” why he made the switch to from graphic novels to webcomics, and what it’s like to become an overnight phenomenon by accident. But first, a few words from the writer:
ComicsAlliance: Where did you get the idea for “Axe Cop”?
Malachai Nicolle: I thought of it on Christmas.
CA: Do you like policemen?
MN: No, I like dinosaurs.
CA: How do you and your brother make the comic together?
MN: I’m on Skype and and I tell him what to draw and he does it. Did you see some of them?
CA: I saw all of them, and I think they’re great. Are you going to do more “Axe Cop” comics with him?
MN: Yes. Soon. There is going to be a another comic. It’s called “Moon Warriors.” When it’s nighttime the “Moon Warriors” are awake. In the morning, they’re asleep. They’re ninjas.
CA: What is Axe Cop going to do next?
MN: He’s gonna go back for more tryouts.
ComicsAlliance: Congratulations on all the attention you’ve been getting for “Axe Cop”! It seems like things have blown up really fast for you guys.
Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, we’re having problems with our website. Even though we’re on a dedicated server, the company said that they’ve never seen anything like this in terms of traffic, even on their biggest sites. We’ve had 97,000 unique visits over the last two days. It’s crazy; it’s awesome. I’ve never experienced anything at all like this.
CA: So how did you two first come up with the idea?
EN: I visited him for a week during Christmas, and he was playing with a toy axe. He always wants me to play with him, and he usually wants to play dinosaurs, but he comes up to me with the axe and says, “Do you want to play Axe Cop?” And I say, “You have no idea how genius that is.” So I ask if I can be a cop, and he says sure, and comes out with this recorder. So I say, “Flute Cop? I don’t want to be Flute Cop.” So he trades with me, because he doesn’t care. So we’re Axe Cop and Flute Cop, and I say, “What are we going to do?” And he says, “Sign up here, we’re gonna fight dinosaurs.” So I said, let’s go cut their heads off. And I go, “Oh, now I’ve got blood all over me,” because a guy my age thinks it’s funny for blood to squirt everywhere. But then he says, “I got it on me too, and I turned into a dinosaur soldier!”
By the time we got to that point, I realized that if I were to draw this out like an old school comic and take it totally seriously, it would just be so funny. I figured I was just being partial, though — I drew the comic for my family so I never really expected to share it. But I posted it online on my Facebook, and my friends thought it was funny, so I asked [Malachai] what would happen next. He had a friend over that had a telescope, so suddenly we had Telescope Gun Cop. I just started quizzing him on what happens next in the story, and then I translated it onto the page.
CA: What made you decide to turn it from something for family and friends into a larger webcomic project?
EN: Well, I’d been working on a new graphic novel, but in comics, you don’t make any money on books unless you’re Marvel and DC. You work all this time on a book, you get it done, and you have maybe a month of promotion. After that, it’s done. No one’s hearing about it and it’s over. But with a webcomic you’ve constantly updating online; you can constantly be interviewing and doing promotion, and you’re also open to a market that doesn’t necessarily read [print] comics. So I figured, if I’m not going to make any money at all on a comic book, why not try a webcomic and see if I can build my own thing? Also, if you sign with a publisher, they get a big chunk of the money on your merchandise, but I can just sell my own t-shirts online. Ultimately, I’d love to make “Axe Cop” a graphic novel, once we get enough content. I’ve already been approached by literary agents and people outside the comic book industry.
CA: So this kind of viral success was the plan from the beginning?
EN: It was something we planned for way, way in the future. We just did ["Axe Cop"] as a test, because I wanted to do this other webcomic based on my other graphic novel that I’m planning on putting out in a month or two. And I figured, “I’ve got this silly comic, why don’t we just practice with it and build a website for it and try to get into the viral thing?” Originally, I thought a small fraction of people would think this was a cute comic. We just didn’t see it getting this big.
CA: It’s interesting that you mention the wider audience that’s available with webcomics, because “Axe Cop” seems to have struck a nerve with a lot of different demographics.
EN: I mean, that’s what has been amazing about “Axe Cop.” Its audience is much larger than just people who read comic books. And I think that also happened because I made it for my family and not the comic book industry. My family is every demographic.
CA: What’s the other webcomic that you had originally planned to do next?
EN: It’s called “Bearmageddon.” Bears take over the world. It’s kind of like “Zombieland” or “Shaun of the Dead,” but with bears. It’s a group of slackers who end up stuck with this guy who’s this Davey Crockett-meets-Wolverine guy woodsman, and they have save the world from bears. It’s got horror, comedy, action.
CA: Are you both planning to continue making new “Axe Cop” comics on a regular basis?
EN: Yeah, I’m working on #6 right now. And I’m not sure if you’ve seen “Ask Axe Cop,” but those are [comics too]. I want to feel out the process with Malachai, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on the family. I thought it might be hard to get stories out of him, but lately he’s been so excited that they’re just pouring out, but because of his age I don’t want to put too much pressure on him to have to have stories on a schedule.
CA: With the “Ask Axe Cop” segments, are you just asking Malachai the questions people send in and making comics of his answers?
EN: Yeah, and he loves answering them. He gets so excited. He calls me every day now and asks if we’re going to answer more questions. He said, “How many questions are there?” And I told him we’ve received about 175 questions, and to him that’s just the biggest number ever.
CA: Has Malachai always been interested in telling stories and this kind of imaginative play?
EN: I always thought he was hilarious. He’s a fun kid who loves people. He doesn’t hesitate when you ask him a question about the story, he just says the first thing that comes into his head, it just pops right out. At the end of episode 4, I hadn’t asked him about dialogue, and I got to that last panel where they give that dog the power of speech. I had this empty voice balloon, and no idea what to say. So I called Malachai and asked him what the dogs should say. And he says, “I know an important mis
sion.” [laughs] It’s this awesome cliffhanger ending for the comic.
CA: Malachai told me that he’d been thinking about a new comic called “Moon Warriors.” Are you launching that as a separate comic?
EN: We’ve been talking about it, and I’m going to try to tie it into “Axe Cop,” and have Axe Cop either join or fight the Moon Warriors; I don’t know if they’re good guys or bad guys yet. These ninjas — I think they live on the moon. It’s not planned yet. It literally happens as it comes out of his mouth. For the next installment of “Axe Cop,” he gave me this really epic story that I’m probably going to break up into two or three part and it has a lot to do with the Uni-Family and the Uni-Baby: where they come from; how they got their horns; how the baby got lost and how Axe Cop found him.
CA: I like the origin story angle — you did that with episode zero too, and it’s such a comic book thing to do.
EN: Episode zero was something [Malachai] suggested just with his little kid humor, and I go, “Actually, in comics, they do do an episode zero; it’s the origin story that tells about when they were a little kid and how they grew up.” So then he wanted to do that.
CA: Well, it seems like you’ve gotten on top of all the attention pretty fast, launching new content and even t-shirt sales in a very short amount of time.
EN: I actually had to call my work and tell them that I can’t come to work for the next two days. I had to weigh it, because I might lose my job. I mean, I’m doing freelance, but they might drop me. It’s kinda scary, but this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I need to be putting content out and keeping people interested, because what happens now is make or break.
CA: You’ve also done a graphic novel called with Slave Labor Graphics, called “Chumble Spuzz.” How does this experience compare to your work on a traditional graphic novel?
EN: I’d love people to check out “Chumble Spuzz.” It was a book from SLG that was nominated for an Eisner for Best Humor Publication. I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever done. It’s kind of an oddball humor comic, though, and humor comics don’t sell very well. There are some free previews that people can check out if they’re curious. But it’s funny, because ["Axe Cop"] is definitely the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my career, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the progress I’ve made at SLG or any of that stuff.