When Ethan Nicolle, then 29, created a crazy and unique web comic with his little brother Malachai (5 years old at the time), He had absolutely know idea what a huge success he had on his hands. Axe Cop went viral and became a hit. The Nicolle brothers formed a partnership with Dark Horse, Who are about to publish the third collected edition of Axe Cop comics. I caught up with Ethan to discuss fame, web comics and the future.
CBNAH: What's it like having something as meaningful to you as Axe Cop become such a hit?
Ethan Nicolle: It's been very surreal because it was so unintentional, and my creative relationship with my little brother, which used to feel like our little secret, became so public, bringing my whole family into my little world of comic books. It was definitely a "when worlds collide" kind of thing, especially when my whole family came to San Diego Comic Con. It's been a lot of fun though, and had given me a lot of time with Malachai I never would have had before, and it's given he and I a deeper bond as brothers because we are in this together.
CBNAH: You and Malachai have been creating comics together for 2 years now. What's it like working with him?
EN: He's hilarious. Our family is, in general, very quirky. Neither my mother nor father ever discouraged silly joking and it seems like one thing my family has that a lot of others don't is a general comfort with being dorks. We were always the poor, tacky, goofy family at church or in the restaurant and we tended to take pride in that. Malachai is not only super silly, but he's pretty intelligent for his age as well. He loves the challenges I give him when I ask him questions and he loves incoporating new things he has learned about in school, or video games and cartoons into Axe Cop.
CBNAH: Does Malachai understand just how popular Axe Cop is? Does he have any crazy fans?
EN: I think he understands now. We did a panel at Comic Con that had hundreds of people present. So far we have not had any real weird fans come up when he is at a convention. No one creepy weird anyway. Generally the Axe Cop fanbase is pretty good people and everyone seems to enjoy the innocence of it. Malachai often says of Axe Cop "everyone in the whole entire world loves it", so that is his understanding of its online success. Though, I don't think he has yet reached the age where he realizes what fame is, so he has the knowledge, but I don't think it effects his writing. Not yet anyway.
CBNAH: What are the challenges you face with such an unusual collaboration?
EN: Well there is the obvious challenge of Malachai growing up, though it has not been an issue yet. I think the stories keep getting better. But the challenge really is on my end, piecing all the madness he gives me together and trying to sort it all out. The biggest job in Axe Cop is the one that is uncredited, and that is playing with Malachai, interviewing Malachai and then sorting out and arranging his stories into coherent (enough) tales to be drawn. It is one of the craziest experiments in creativity I have ever taken part of. It can be a lot of work but I am excited to be working on it.
CBNAH: Talk us through your process.
EN: The process on Axe Cop is very experimental and always evolving. Some of it is done via phone or skype. Some is done in person when I go to visit Malachai. Some is created by role playing, or playing with toys. I generally try to find the narrative in his ideas and then start asking questions and "guiding" the play time so I get more story. I take a lot of notes, or I record the entire session then take notes later. I break everything down and put it in order and try to make sense of it. For longer stories, I start putting everything onto notecards and in outlines. I draw the comic based on outlines rather than scripts. It seems to work well for Axe Cop. Once I have the general thread of the story worked out I can usually tell the story on paper pretty well.
CBNAH: Tell us about your relationship with Dark Horse. Did you guys approach them?
EN: When Axe Cop went viral we were getting contacted by just about every publisher in comics. Dark Horse had two benefits: they made the best offer and they were the company I thought was the best fit for Axe Cop. Imagining Axe Cop next to the Goon, Hellboy and Marv from Sin City was a thrilling idea to me and I thought he fit in well. Dark Horse has been very helpful, there are a lot of very genuine Axe Cop fans working there. They pretty much let us do what we want. There is no heavy story editing that goes on.
CBNAH: Have you gotten any job offers from the bigger publishers because of Axe Cop?
EN: mmmaybe. Haha. If I did, it's not something I can talk about publicly yet haha. How is that for an answer?
CBNAH: Besides Axe Cop, what would be your dream project?
EN: I don't know if my dream project has even entered my imagination yet. I feel like I am still just getting the hang of comics. I'd love to get involved in other mediums like TV or film. I want to see an Axe Cop live action movie, I think it would be amazing.
CBNAH: What can we expect in Axe Cop's future? For how long do you guys intend to continue making Axe comics?
EN: Well, besides Volume 3 hitting shelves on March 28th, in July a new miniseries will be coming out via Dark Horse called Axe Cop: President of the Earth, which is a follow up to Bad Guy Earth. It's crazy fun. I think I will continue to do Axe Cop episodes on the web site as well. I haven't thought that far ahead yet. There are a lot of potential things on the horizon for me, so it is hard to say where all my time will be going once the next Axe Cop miniseries is done. For now, all my time is split between Axe Cop online, Axe Cop in print and my other web comic, Bearmageddon.
CBNAH: In a tough financial climate, what role do web comics play in the ever-increasing digital comics market?
EN: They are hard to monetize. You can make some money if your fans are willing to spend it on merch, but in my experience it is not a livable income. For bigger web comics maybe it is. The books are still the best source of income and I think in general, putting your comics online broadens the amount of people who will buy the book rather than deters them. It seems like a lot of us in the digital entertainment realm are just experimenting with this new way of doing things. I'm as interested as anyone to see where it goes.
CBNAH: What comics are you reading at the moment?
EN: Honestly, I haven't read a comic in months. I usually keep up on Walking Dead pretty well, but that is my only regular read. I definitely like making comics much more than I do reading them.
CBNAH: Complete this sentence: Comic book nerds are hot because…
EN:...they buy my stuff and keep me from having to get a real job, haha.
Thanks again Ethan, for taking the time out to answer my questions!
EN: Thank you!