In just under a year’s time Ethan Nicolle and his brother, Malachai, have managed to take an obscure, whimsical idea and turn it into an actual internet phenomena. Featuring a bizarre cast of heroes, antiheroes, villains, dinosaurs, robots, ninjas, and generally anything else the duo can dream up; Axe Cop celebrated its one year anniversary yesterday (January, 25th) with the announcement of a live action Axe Cop short!
To celebrate we’ve got an exclusive interview with one half of the mad genius that helped make it possible, Ethan Nicolle!
So, Ethan… there’s something that’s been bothering me all weekend and I figure you’re the man to ask. A rocket-powered rhino with remote controlled laser cannons versus a giant, zombified octopus ninja with swords… who wins?
I think that whether you are looking at that from a theological perspective, or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity… is above my pay grade..
I understand that you were, at one time, also a musician in a band called Lunaractive. Do you still play?
I am no longer in a band. The extent of my musical activity is pretty much yodeling along to Hank Williams in the car nowadays. I do an acoustic song and post it online from time to time on Reverbnation but I think my rock band days are over. I would not mind doing a hobby band of some sort, but I am much more into country and bluegrass these days.
Before we dive into Axe Cop, I wanted to talk a little about your perhaps lesser known work: Chumble Spuzz. You once referred to it a “brain poo splattered on paper.” What does that mean exactly?
Well I think I would be kidding myself if I thought Chumble Spuzz deserved the kind of success Axe Cop has had. Axe Cop was sort of a serendipity thing, it was like lightning striking in the exact spot it needed to at the right time. Chumble Spuzz came after my first (and very bad) graphic novel, The Weevil. I had spent two years on it and when it was finally done, it was awful. The art was over rendered, the story was messy and weak- I had tried to bite off more than I could chew. So for my next project I decided to do what I know best, and that is humor. I have always been very comfortable communicating humor through art so I just sort of went nuts and created Chumble Spuzz which is basically sort of my own version of Ren and Stimpy or Sam and Max. It’s a gross, insane animated cartoon. In fact I orginially did it as a flash animation but the file corrupted after 3 months of work, so I ditched it and went to making a comic. My literal goal was to make that comic, get SLG to publish it, and get noticed by Cartoon Network. I did exactly that, and even got a pilot optioned at Cartoon Network… which didn’t get made, but it was awesome to see that all pan out.
Of course if you want the actual story, each volume of Chumble Spuzz has two stories in it… the first volume a pig that is possessed by Satan, and a chicken who has a cookie addiction. Volume 2 has a man who was raised by Pigeons and another story about the Grim Reaper commiting suicide causing a zombie holocaust because all death is ended. All of the stories feature my characters Gunther and Klem who are a “little jerk and tall idiot” type duo.
I would have loved to seen an Adult Swim type series optioned! Are there any plans to revisit Gunther and Klem anytime soon? Perhaps a re-release as part of your agreement with Dark Horse?
No, no plans. The only way it would happen is if by some wild bit of luck the book got a following and there was a demand for it, or if a network wanted to make a show. To me, Chumble Spuzz needs to be animated, and I just can’t do that on my own the way I want it done.
In early interviews you mentioned being inspired artistically by Ethan Van Sciver’s Cyber Frog and Trent Kaniuga’s Creed. How did they influence the evolution of your style and who are some of your biggest influences now?
I got into them way back when their first issues of those series were released in black and white on the small press publisher Hall of Heroes. I had only really been into Ninja Turtles, mainly the Mirage series. Then in early high school I discovered Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. When I went to my local comic shop in Coos Bay, Oregon I would ask the owner what else to get if I was into the Mirage Ninja Turtle books and JTHM. He introduced me to Tales From the Bog by Marcus Lusk, Cyber Frog, Creed, Snow Man (also on Hall of Heroes)… right now I am blanking out on what else… but basically I have always been a small press, black and white indie comics guy and I attribute that to the Ninja Turtles being my gateway drug.
Who’s your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and why?
Probably Raphael… during my childhood I think I went through a phase where each one was my favorite for a while. But now, looking back, many of my favorite stories were the ones where Raphael storms off alone and kicks butt. Raphael and Casey Jones were an awesome team. I feel like I am talking about old friends right now, man!
You’ve become best known as the co-creator of Axe Cop alongside your younger brother Malachai. In regards to technology (Skype, social media, blogging, etc), do you think the success the comic has garnered would have been possible 10 years ago?
I don’t think Skype has had much to do with it, since that is not what we usually use (we just use the phone usually), but definitely social media, sharing and blogging has been the key to the whole thing. It was through Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg and Metafilter that Axe Cop took off. It just blasted right off last year on January 27th, two nights after the site went live during Obama’s State of the Union speech. I remember it well. I am trying to think of where social media was at 10 years ago. Did MySpace even exist yet? I don’t think so… no I would say Axe Cop would still be hanging on my parents refrigerator and not be on the shelf at Barnes and Noble if it weren’t for the social technology of today.
Does Malachai write all of the dialogue or just the basic plot?
Some of both. He gives me bits of plot and I question him until I get the whole plot. Sometimes lines of dialog come out during that session and I write it down. Other times I will write down things he says often as dialog, like “what the heck?!”. When he plays video games he yells at the bad guys and I take notes. One of my favorites is “Happy Die Day!”.
Thus far Axe Cop has consisted of numerous short comic strips. How does the upcoming book Bad Guy Earth fall into place?
Bad Guy Earth was written over the span of a month and is our first attempt at a “feature length” Axe Cop story that is in 3 Act structure. It is insanely epic. The people who have had a look at it have loved it. It is sort of a whole new level for Axe Cop because so much work went into it. It was not just farted out. It is the product of hours and hours of real play time, and it is the most epic Axe Cop story yet. It is a three part miniseries, all one story titled Bad Guy Earth.
I understand that Malachai is a big fan of video games. Have you schooled him at all in the ways of 8-bit or is he beyond the reach of retro?
He loves 8-bit. Our brother Isaiah put an NES emulator on his computer and he used to play those games all the time. He really liked a Boy and his Blob. Only recently did he get a Nintendo DS and an Xbox, before that he was mainly playing NES roms and flash games on the computer. He loves all video games.
What were some of your favorite video games as a kid?
One of my big favorites was Maniac Mansion for the Nintendo. I don’t know why but I just loved that game. I had all the songs recorded on a tape and listened to them all the time. I would draw the characters. I loved how multiple paths could be taken to beat the game, and I liked the weirdness of it. I was also really into beat’em up games like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Bad Dudes, Battletoads, etc. On that Lunaractive link (my old rock band) there is a song called “The Ballad of Billy Lee” which is a tribute to the first four Double Dragon games, which I loved dearly.
You’re also juggling another project, Bearmageddon, with Bad Guy Earth. Are you still doing freelance work or have you made comics your top priority now?
Technically I am not really juggling it yet. It has been on hold. As soon as I finish Bad Guy Earth I am going to try to juggle it with Axe Cop. I intend to make it a web comic too, so it will be interesting doing multiple web comics at once, but I think I can pull it off. I have not been doing freelance work other than a little character design work and other illustration work here and there. I have basically invested all my time into Axe Cop because I think it is important to seize the moment on this thing. Malachai is not going to be a kid forever.
What’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
I had a crush on the landlord’s daughter when I was 8, and to show her my love a friend and me filled our squirt guns with urine and drenched her and her friends. I remember clearly getting her right in the mouth with it. I really don’t remember the logic of it but it really seemed like a good idea at the time. A close second would be drawing on the walls with my brother’s poop, which I don’t remember, but my Mom says I did.