Interview: Ethan Nicolle on AXE COP

Artist Ethan Nicolle was 29 when he began collaborating with his little brother on a web comic called Axe Cop. The younger Nicolle, Malachai, was five. The series launched this past January, quickly gaining the attention of publications like Wired and Entertainment Weekly. We even featured a T-shirt inspired by the series in our own WANT! column. There was a T-rex with gun arms on it. Crazy, right?

After being courted by a number of print publishers, the Nicolles made the move to Dark Horse. Their first Axe Cop trade paperback collection hits shelves this month, and a new, full-color story "Bad Guy Earth" will be released starting in March, just two days before Malachai's seventh birthday. 

I talked to Ethan about the special working relationship he shares with his brother and the impact the series' success has had on both of their lives. And as a special treat, Dark Horse has provided ten pages of preview art from the new print collection.


PM: When did you realize that your brother's imagination was too boundless not to be shared with a wider audience? When did it click that Axe Cop, or some iteration of it, was a viable web comic? 

EN: It all kind of just happened.  I made the first four episodes with him during my Christmas visit mainly just to entertain myself and my family… and to take a break from the project I had been working on all year before that, which was the "real" comic I wanted to put online.  I ended up putting Axe Cop online only because I wanted to do a "practice web comic" before I did my real one, and I had these Axe Cop episodes laying around so I used them.  My friend Anthony and I built thinking it would be a very low-traffic place that mainly my friends and family would visit.

When I made Axe Cop I made it because the idea was hilarious to me.  If someone had said to m at the time "Hey do you think you and your brother could generate a couple hundred pages of that over this next year?" I would think they were insane… but that is exactly what we have done, and it really does happen very naturally.

I didn't see Axe Cop as viable until the internet told me it was.  I did have a good friend who saw it and said "put out a couple of those a week and you have an award winning web comic".  I didn't really believe him but it did nudge me along to post them online.  I just thought most of my enjoyment of the comic came from my partiality toward Malachai.  It amazed me when people from all over the world seemed to find it as hilarious as me.  


PM: You've mentioned in interviews that Malachai doesn't read comics, so his inspiration obviously comes from elsewhere. What kinds of stories does he enjoy? 

EN: Yeah he doesn't read many comics.  We read a ton of Little Lulu when I was up there visiting.  Shawna Gore at Dark Horse gave it to me when I visited the offices.  It's this gigantic phone book sized volume of Little Lulu comics and I didn't think Malachai would be into it at all.  But one day he flipped it open and asked me to read it to him and for that month long visit (when we were working on the Bad Guy Earth miniseries) it became a nightly ritual to read Lulu and we got through the whole book almost twice.

But his main influences are cartoons like Ben 10 and Sonic, and video games.  He LOVES video games and I think that is how Axe Cop is so violent.  Every video game is a massacre.  Even Mario Brothers… you are smashing sentient mushrooms, tearing turtles from their shells and stomping their wings off, smashing their naked bodies.  In games, you don't send bad guys to counseling, you kill them and move on.  Axe Cop is very much based on the world of video games, he doesn't sit their and grapple with the morality of using a gun like Bat Man.  He'd chop the jokers head off and punt it across Gotham and not think twice about it.  People get worried that Malachai has this obsession with killing, but when he says "kill" he means in the same sense as when Mario "kills" King Koopa.  That's one reason there is never a blood bath in Axe Cop, because that's not how Malachai thinks.  When bad guys die in his world, guts don't pop out… points do.


PM: There's a significant age difference, so I have to imagine that you have more perspective on your brother and what kind of kid he is than if you'd been born only two or three years apart. Are you similar people? 

EN: I don't think we are that similar to be honest.  Probably in only in our strange sense of humor… it seems that ever male who has come from my Dad's loins has had a very offbeat sense of humor, and I am sure he wasn't exempt of that.  But Malachai isn't really into drawing.  He is much more technical than I ever was.  He is very logical.  He likes problem solving.  I always liked imagining and coming up with stories and characters as a kid.  It may seem that this is how Malachai is, and to some extent it is, but I think that it is Malachai's love for logic that drives Axe Cop.  I format it into a story, but if Malachai wasn't so logical I don't think he would constantly answer all my questions I ask him to keep adding to it.




PM: It's probably too early to tell if he'd want to continue writing into adulthood. Does he know what he wants to be when he grows up? Does it rotate between policeman and dinosaur? 

EN: It seems like what he wants to be when he grows up changes every month or so.  I remember he told one interviewer that when he grows up he wants to be "a wizard soldier".  When he and I visited Dark Horse together for the first time he told me he wants to be a comic writer when he grows up.  Then the other day on the phone he told me that when he grows up he wants to become "the nicest chemist" and "if someone wanted to know karate they would just drink the chemicals I make."  I'm kind of hoping he sticks with that one because I want those chemicals.


PM: How aware is the rest of your family about this project and its success? Are Malachai's friends or classmates aware of it? Does this kind of thing register for kids his age?

EN: The family is of course very aware.  I think our 12 and 13 year old sisters are aware but they do not understand why it's doing so well… they just see it as the ramblings of their little brother which I think they generally try to avoid and are somewhat annoyed everyone else is egging him on so much.  I would say he is the least aware because of his age.  I don't think his classmates are aware on their own, but only because he has brought pages for show and tell and told them about it.  He doesn't live near any big cities, and the culture that has really taken note of Axe Cop is not really local for him.  I live in Los Angeles and have run into Axe Cop fans at random, but I don't think that happens where he lives.


PM: Have you seen any Axe Cop shirts in the wild? Fans wearing them at cons?

EN: At cons yes, but never out in public.  I have had friends say they have seen them but I have not yet.  I was at a movie talking to this girl about Axe Cop trying to impress her and this guy turns around and tells me he is a big fan.  That was awesome.


PM: How does a writing session work? How often do you get to work together? 

EN: In general it's a phone conversation.  We work together as often as Malachai wants to talk.  Sometimes it's a couple times a week, sometimes once a week, sometimes we go weeks without talking.  I try to keep things he says on backup if we hit dry spells.  For the new miniseries (Bad Guy Earth) which will be coming our starting in March I went up and spent a month with him and we had all sorts of strategic play time based on a plot that developed as we played.  Bad Guy Earth was written differently from the other Axe Cop comics so far and I think it is even more fun because it moves much more naturally and it really is play time on paper.  It is still full of curve balls, but it's a full 3 part miniseries that was written from beginning to end before I started drawing it, which is usually not the case.  Usually when I draw the first page of an Axe Cop story I have no clue where it will go.


PM: You're the series' artist, but you obviously bring much more to this story. What comics or stories influenced or continue to influence you? 

EN: For Axe Cop I think a lot of influence comes from Calvin and Hobbes, the Tick, the Goon, Doug TenNapel's graphic novels, Evan Dorkin's work and everything I draw is influenced by the Ninja Turtles because that's all I drew for most of the first 20 years of my life. 


PM: I'm 26, so I absolutely understand the TMNT thing. Did you do pin-ups? And are you self-taught or did you go to a formal art school? 

EN: I read every TMNT comic I could get my hands on.  I started with the Archie series and moved to the Mirage comics which were my gateway drug to independent comics.  I think that the Mirage TMNT comics were great source material for a young artist because they had so many different artists doing different styles, it gave me this huge amount of inspiration to draw from.  Guys who drew up drawing Spawn tend to draw like Todd MacFarlane clones, but if you grew up drawing TMNT, chances are you were studying all sorts of artists from Kevin Eastman to Simon Bisley to Dan Berger… it makes for much more well rounded inspiration and keeps you from becoming a clone.  As for formal training, I really have none.  I took a small bit of art at the community college in my old home town but I don't really feel I learned much there.  The Ninja Turtles were my art school.




PM: Do you read any other web comics?

EN: I have read a lot of Dr. McNinja since I got the books.  I am good friends with Lars Brown who does North World and have read a lot of that series.  I also love Perry Bible Fellowship (who doesn't?).  Admittedly I have read these all in book form.  I have not been able to become a true web comics fan, I like holding a book.  But I always had a feeling web comics were the way to go, so even though I don't read them much, I believe in them.


PM: What is your goal with Axe Cop or with comic creation in general? 

EN: With Axe Cop my goal is just to create a body of work that celebrates the mind of a young boy.  I figure we have until puberty to keep playing with this character.  I am open to the possibility of continuing it beyond that, but I am very aware of the finite nature of the project and figure I'll just make what I can while it lasts.  I still plan to finish the book I started before Axe Cop which is called Bearmageddon, and I have lots of other ideas in mind too.  I never saw myself as a one-character guy, like Mike Mignola with Hell Boy or Jeff Smith with Bone.  I'm open to it… but I would rather be creating new worlds left and right like my good friend and big inspiration Doug TenNapel.  I'm not ready to be confined to one world quite yet.


PM: Can you tell us anything more about Bearmageddon, (which absolutely has to be a thing now just based on the name alone)?

EN: That's the project I was working on before Axe Cop took over my life.  I plan to make it a 200-250 page graphic novel and it is sort of Shaun of the Dead with bears.  It's horror/comedy/action and I am excited to get it done.  I do plan on dividing my time between it and Axe Cop once Bad Guy Earth is done.  I want to release it as a web comic first then as a book.  I have about 25 pages finished on it with the story basically fully written.  There is some sample images at


PM: A lot of people talk about childhood imagination and how our connection to it simply erodes over time. Is Axe Cop the kind of story that only a kid can tap into? The audience is surely made up of adults who appreciate the uninhibited storytelling, but can an adult write this stuff? 

EN: I don't think an adult can.  Not with the same innocence anyway, and that really is the key.  The adult would be trying to be ironic, shocking or satyrical.  Malachai is trying to be awesome, but he is also trying to use logic based on a world he has only begun to figure out.  His irony and satire all comes by accident.  I think that what we get from Malachai is an important element in all Sci Fi/fantasy/action genre stuff whether it's comics or movies, and that is just unrestrained imagination and fun.  All good sci fi should have that, but it should also have meaning.  As much as I love Axe Cop, I think it is the cotton candy of the genre.. it's pure sugar.  It has its place, but it will never replace stories with real substance.  


PM: What's next for you guys?  

EN: Right now the main thing is Bad Guy Earth, which is a print-exclusive three-part miniseries coming out in March via Dark Horse Comics that will be full color.  We spent a month writing it together and I am 2/3 done drawing it.  It's by far the most epic Axe Cop tale we have told yet and I can't wait for people to see it.  Beyond that, I'm not sure. 


PM: Thanks! 

EN: Thanks for the interview!





From Dark Horse:

Bad guys, beware! Evil aliens, run for your lives! Axe Cop is here, and he's going to chop your head off! We live in a strange world, and our strange problems call for strange heroes. That's why Axe Cop–along with his partner Flute Cop and their pet T. rex Wexter–is holding tryouts to build the greatest team of heroes ever assembled.

Publication Date: December 22, 2010

Format: B&W, 120 pages, 6" x 9" TPB

Price: $14.99

ISBN-10: 1-59582-681-5

ISBN-13: 978-1-59582-681-7


  1. I checked out some of Axe Cop when they had their crossover with Doctor McNinja. It was interesting to say the least.

  2. Great interview, Paul. Axe Cop is just an insane amount of fun, and I agree that this is something unique to the childlike mind — I don’t think an adult could really write like this. But there’s just a pure joy of creation at work here, and I think the brothers make a great team.

    Also, the insight into Malachai’s view of the world as based on video games was incredibly interesting. I hadn’t quite considered it that way.

  3. Axe COP may be my favorite thing in comics at the moment. It fills me with Glee. The webcomics are awesome/

  4. T.U.R.T.L.E POWER!!!!!!

    Ethan and his brother are an inspiration to all those people who think they can’t possibly get into comics creation. It just takes dedication, hard work and sometimes a little help from the old hero’s in the half shells – I still love those guys….COWABUNGA.

  5. Good interview. I’ve sent the axe cop link to many coworkers, and friends that aren’t really comic readers. Something about it just puts a smile on your face.

  6. So fun. It’s kinda funny, a few years ago I had an idea to do something similar with my nephew, who was 6 or 7 at the time, but in reverse. I would write something and let him draw it, to keep his interest in art going as much as anything else.

  7. I thought nothing could ever be as awesome as Axe Cop… Then he mentioned Bearmageddon.

  8. Love me some AXE COP!

  9. I recently finished the trade of this and loved it. It had me laughing in several places, which doesn’t really happen to me very often when I’m reading. The book lets you almost hear the gears turning in Malachai’s head as the story unfolds. Great stuff.

    Nice interview, Paul!