‘Axe Cop’ Coming to Print at Dark Horse Comics [Exclusive]
Printed bad guys are doomed. Starting this December, the brother team of writer Malachai and artist Ethan Nicolle are taking their explosively popular hero Axe Cop beyond the Web with a printed collection of its online material, followed by an all-new, full-color three-issue miniseries due Spring 2011 from Dark Horse Comics.
Created during brotherly playtime this past December, the Nicolle brothers' collaboration achieved almost instant online fame by fusing the imagination of the then-5-year-old Malachai with 29-year-old Ethan's Eisner-nominated cartooning in one intense Webcomic package. Seven months, and loosely 100 online pages of content later, "Axe Cop" continues its kinetic rampage into the hearts of new fans.
Read on as the brothers discuss Axe Cop's future at Dark Horse, the ins-and-outs of their creative process, plus Malachai's idea for what could be the most mind-blowing collected edition of a comic that the world has ever seen (featuring exclusive art by Ethan).
ComicsAlliance: I heard one of your next stories is about time travel. Can you tell us anything about the places Axe Cop will be traveling through time?
Malachai Nicolle: The Land of Dinosaurs, the Land When There's Only Animals (before humans), Viking Land and what's that sword place called?
Ethan Nicolle: The Age of Swords?
MN: Yeah, The Age of Swords. And that's all, right?
EN: That's a bunch of them, yeah. That's most of the time travel places. They also go to other planets too. They have this gun that can take them pretty much anywhere – in time or in space – anywhere.
CA: Are you excited to read "Axe Cop" as a book instead of on the computer?
EN: What kind of book do you think [Dark Horse] should make it?
MN: A comic book that has color.
EN: How many pages do you want it to have in it?
MN: A lot. 1,000!
EN: Do you want it to be softcover or hardcover?
EN: With pop-ups?
MN: Yeah, with pop-ups where people pop up and you can move them. And I want a real "Axe Cop" game, just with Axe Cop. The "Axe Cop" game is on the very back of the book.
EN: Can you play it on the book? Is there a screen on the book? Like the book is a little iPod Touch? Like an iPad?
MN: Yeah, right on the back.
CA: Can the book be turned into a weapon to fight bad guys?
MN: Not really, but it can transform into something awesome!
EN: Like what?
MN: A giant robot. Like a giant robot that you can get in. A giant robot suit with a head.
EN: What's it called?
MN: The AWESOME! Know what? One of it's attacks – it can blast like Iron Man, but gianter. And one different thing, it can put down its own army.
EN: Where does the army come out of?
MN: He's got packs that you get that army guys jump in, then he grabs a bunch and puts them down on the ground and then they fight for him so he can save the people. Do you want to give the first book to me? Because I really like it. I think it's super awesome.
EN: Well, I don't know if Dark Horse will be able to meet all of those demands, but I think they'll try. What did you think of Dark Horse? Remember when we went? What did you think of the stuff they make?
MN: It was awesome. I loved it. They were nice. They gave us some books. And they gave me a stuffed animal – that ninja rabbit.
EN: Oh yeah, the Usagi Yojimbo one. They gave me a "The Goon" lunchbox.
[We say goodbye to Malachai]
EN: You totally just got a glimpse into what it's like writing with Malachai.
CA: I feel like I just sat in on an "Axe Cop" comic being written.
CA: What's it been like to see your early "Axe Cop" stories go from a sort of Internet phenomenon to a merchandised ongoing series with a print component?
EN: It couldn't have been more unexpected. In my experience in the comics industry it's so hard to get anybody to even look at anything you do. And the industry itself is such a niche industry. I didn't know anything about Webcomics, so I didn't know there was much of a community out there. I didn't follow "Penny Arcade" or "Dr. McNinja" or any of the Webcomics that have a following, so I didn't know how many readers there were. So I just kind of threw this out there more as practice than anything, because I was thinking I should try to get into Webcomics. It's been crazy to see how fast it's happened, how many people have read ["Axe Cop"]. It's not something where I thought, "On a really good day it might happen." It was more something I thought couldn't happen. It wasn't on the list of options for what I thought the future of "Axe Cop" would be, so it's been quite an adventure.
CA: Have you found, since you've started "Axe Cop," that you've started reading more webcomics or gotten more involved in that community?
EN: I've read a little bit. I've tried to at least get educated on what the more well-known ones are. I've e-mailed and talked to some of the people who do them. We're actually – hopefully this will happen – we're doing an Axe Cop team-up with Dr. McNinja. I haven't told anybody about this yet. I've been talking to Chris Hastings and he kind of worked out a storyline, so this will actually be written by both him and Malachai and he'll draw it.
And I'm going to have some guest episodes go up while I'm at Comic-Con, so Doug TenNapel ("Earthworm Jim") is going to do another one. I've got some cool stuff happening while I'm gone.
CA: What've you got planned for Comic-Con this year?
EN: This is my first year having my own booth, which I'll actually be sharing with Doug TenNapel. He's been a good friend and he's got a corner booth in the independent area and so we're just splitting it. It's also my first year at Dark Horse, so that's exciting. I'll have some posters, I'll have a new volume of my sketch book with some "Axe Cop" art in it that's never been seen before from my month with Malachai I just spent. With Dark Horse we're going to have the "Axe Can," an ashcan of the favorites of "Axe Cop" as a 16-page minicomic sampler especially for new people who haven't seen it yet. It's something to collect, basically the first-ever printed "Axe Cop" thing.
CA: With everything that's going on, have you made "Axe Cop" your full time gig now?
EN: Yeah, it is my full time gig. It's a modest living at the moment, but there's a lot of stuff on the horizon and I figure it's better to keep putting all I can into it now while it's where it's at. There are a lot of possibilities. There've been some toy companies and game companies and TV and movie interest – nothing solid, but there has been interest from all sorts of people. I figure rather than making "Axe Cop" a hobby that I do after I come home from a 9-5, I'd rather keep it hot.
CA: As you've made the transition form working a day job to doing comics full time, you've kind of become more invested in the site and running the other aspects of a Webcomic. How did you get used to some of the negative things that go along with running a Web site and a Webcomic that a lot of people read? (Trolls, spam, unreasonable readers)
EN: I've been impressed, actually. Most people are really respectful of the idea that it's written by a 5-year-old. I try to keep the language clean and stuff on the site. And most people do. Usually if somebody slips a cuss word, usually they do it just because they aren't paying attention and all the other people who are commenting get on their case before I can even say anything. In general it's been a great community. People are very supportive of keeping things clean and keeping Malachai innocent.
CA: How have you quantified what your core demographic of readers is right now? Who do you think reads "Axe Cop?"
EN: It's mainly guys. My best and easiest way of finding that out is on Facebook. We have our insights [for our "Axe Cop" page] on Facebook. We just went over 12,000 fans today. Our biggest demographic is 18-24. Our second biggest is 25-34. So you know, guys out of high school and in college and I think it's really big with the techie kind of guys. You know [an "Axe Cop" poster] was just on "The IT Crowd." An "Axe Cop" poster is on the set of the living room of the main character.
CA: Was that pretty surreal for you?
EN: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I've experienced so many cool things since "Axe Cop" hit. I knew that [the show] had asked for a poster. Somebody had been asking, but I kept missing the e-mails. In my mind it was just somebody who worked on the set – like somebody who worked on lighting – and they just wanted something to hang in the break room. Then some fans told me that someone from the show was trying to get it for the set so I sent it to them, but I still had my doubts. In the end it was pretty crazy to actually see it framed right there on the wall of the main set. I've been getting e-mails every day from people, "Did you know your poster is on 'The IT Crowd?'"
CA: What are some of the other weirder experiences that have happened to you since the comic's been a hit? What are some of your favorites?
EN: I'm a big "Mystery Science Theater 3000" nerd, I love that show. I'm not a nerd for a lot of things – even though I work in comics, there's not many I collect and I'm not really into superhero comics – but "Mystery Science Theater" I'm kind of a geek for. I noticed somebody buying a shirt one day named Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and I thought "Well it can't be that Kevin Murphy." Then later I saw the same name had bought another shirt. Then I saw on Twitter Kevin Murphy had posted, "Check out the new shirt I bought," and there was a link to an Axe Cop shirt. So then I had to e-mail the address on the order and ask "Is this that Kevin Murphy?" And he said "yes," so we e-mailed back-and-forth and he wants to meet up at Comic-Con. I love Kevin Murphy, so that was exciting.
Also, Simon Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") – I had nothing to do with it – was kind of getting spammed by some followers on Twitter about "Axe Cop" nonstop, so the next morning he was like, "Everybody is telling me to read 'Axe Cop.' Fine, I'll read it." Then he posted later in the day that he loved it and said it was brilliant and then he posted again down the road and said it was awesome or something. It's amazing the surge of readers we get every time he says something about Axe Cop.
CA: You've told us before that you try not to pressure Malachai and just let him do his thing and be creative. What's that process been like for you since you started?
EN: It's a matter of learning to ask the right questions and learning what gets him going and what gets him on the right track. So generally I have to balance and make the most of my time with him. Usually I can get him for anywhere from a half hour on the phone to an hour and a half on the phone. If he really gets going he'll just go and go, but I have to keep him on track and do a lot of planning before I call him and write down as many questions as I can and figure out what I need. Usually it's like I'll get a chunk of answers from him that form a story and then I'll find all the plot holes and call him back the next week. So I kind of have to set the calls up that way. This most recent story, there's actually kind of two plots going back-to-back switching between the Baby Man story and the story of Axe Cop and his team. It gives me two different stories to work on with Malachai so that when he's kind of not into one he can work on the other one. Learning all of these little strategies has been helpful.
CA: Do you feel like this process has given you insights into being a comic book editor at a major publisher?
EN: I never thought about it like that.
CA: It's like chasing down a freelancer and getting them to focus and hit deadlines. That's kind of what this sounds like to me.
EN: *Laughs* I don't guide the story in the sense that I write it, but I guide it in the sense that you wouldn't have these stories if I didn't ask and ask questions and get pretty thorough. So it is almost like I'm a super intense proofreader who finds plot holes and stuff.
CA: Have you gotten any feedback from people who are more involved in Malachai's day-to-day life? Teachers, your dad, people like that?
EN: I don't think it's changed him much. I haven't heard anything bad or good, really. The only thing I've heard is from his sisters. They're a little frustrated that I call all the time and it's always for him. I talk to them about as much as we talked before. I've always made a point to try to visit at least three times a year. This is just a new thing in our family where I'm in a working relationship with Malachai and I have to be on the phone with him often. They're just a different age. So it's affected his sisters more than him, I think, since they're 12 and 13. They have a much more clear understanding of the success he's experiencing than he does. He doesn't get it, still. He'll say that we're famous and that everyone in the world loves us, but I don't think he really knows what he means by that.
CA: As a comic creator, do you ever look at the technology and things that Malachai has at his fingertips to do creative things and think, "I wish I would have had that when I was his age."
EN: Yeah, he's exposed to a lot more because things are so much easier to get to. When I was his age Nintendo wasn't even out – I didn't even have one until I was 7 or 8 – so maybe I was playing Atari at his age? That's crazy. Even just going to the days of Nintendo - That was a big deal having an NES in your room. But now you can play any old game for free online if you download roms. There's all these free Web sites with Flash games you can play. He plays Flash games all the time, so his pool of influences – where he gets all this stuff for "Axe Cop" – he's got so many different outlets. He watches "Ben 10" and he watches all these shows my dad gets on DVD. They don't have cable there. They have a Wii, but they don't have many games on it. Our dad was relatively old when he had me. I think he was 40. So my dad's hitting 70 now and he's pretty old-fashioned and he doesn't really get the need for all these things. When you're a kid and all these things are coming out you've got to have it, but he doesn't get why. So they don't get quite as many luxuries as kids with younger parents.
CA: Do you think that's helped Malachai's creativity at all?
EN: I think it probably has. They're also just a really good family. People on the Internet will say, "All these violent things Malachai are saying – he must be a really troubled child. He must be exposed to horror movies!" He's not at all. His parents are really strict about what he gets to watch and it's probably my fault that he runs into some of the more gory stuff because he plays video games on my iPod Touch. I have some zombie games on there. I take an idea that he says like, "This guy has a fire attack. He shoots the fire and burns them," and I draw the reality of the guy getting burned and turning into a charred skeleton. It's not like he tells me in gruesome detail what the guy's supposed to look like after he dies. He's such a bright-eyed, happy and friendly and warm kid. He wants to make people happy. He wants to be a friend. It's just the kind of guy he is. He's been loved a lot. We all love him. He's the kid, like when you go to a softball game, he's the one kid in the outfield spinning on his head and doing little flips. He's got super energy and he's always trying to make people laugh and he's hilarious.
CA: Have you started working on the Dark Horse miniseries yet?
EN: I was actually just up with Malachai for a month and we worked on that. I was there working specifically on the story for the miniseries, so we came up with a ton of material. We've got tons of sketches and notes. We'd play and have a bunch of toys and draw maps out. We've got this big, crazy story that I'm going to try to break down into a three-part miniseries. So it's mostly written. It will probably change a lot by the time it hits the page, but it's planned. I'm excited for it. I've always been more of a paper comics guy than a Webcomic guy. I'll enjoy the freedom of not always having pressure on every single page to entertain everybody as a single unit. I've been running into that with the Baby Man story, which I think would be read a lot better [released all at once] since it's got a fast-paced, cat-and-mouse chase. It's kind of been rough releasing it a page at a time, because it feels like it gets really slow.
CA: Can you tell us about the "Axe Cop" collection?
EN: It'll be in black and white. It'll basically be a collection of everything up to the end of the current chapter we're on with all the "Ask Axe Cops" and everything that's in the first three chapters of "Axe Cop" will all be in it. It'll be a pretty sizeable book of Axe Cop comics.
CA: Are there any changes that you'd like to make to "Axe Cop" as you get more resources and more attention to the site? (Like Color, a faster release schedule, etc.)
EN: The only way we could do color is if I could hire a colorist. It's so much work for me and I just don't enjoy it enough to do it as much. The more people that buy the comic and the more money that goes into the site the more we can afford to do things like add colorists. For sure the miniseries will be in color, so I'm excited about that.
CA: The second "Axe Cop" motion comic came out not too long ago. Do you have any other plans for multimedia components to the site?
EN: We have another motion comic coming out in August. It'll probably be mid-to-late August and those have been very cool. Other than that, there's been interest, but nothing solid. I would love to see an "Axe Cop" video game. That would be awesome.
CA: Are you looking forward to seeing any Axe Cop cosplay or some of the t-shirts you've sold over the past year at Comic-Con?
EN: Yeah. I know for sure someone's going to have a Baby Man costume they made. It looks really cool. They posted it on our forums, so I'm excited to see that and excited for whoever comes. This is my first year that anyone's dressed up as a character I've created.