Axe Cop is currently in its second season on FXX and co-creator Ethan Nicolle is gearing up to release his insane action packed webcomic Bearmageddon in print form. The latter of which centers around a group of survivors in a world gone to hell after bears revolt and begin to attack and subsequently devour the human race.
Axe Cop season 2 stars Nick Offerman in the title role and is based on the acclaimed comic series of the same name which is illustrated by Ethan Nicolle and written by his then 5-year-old little brother Malachai Nicolle. If you were confused by the Axe Cop premise, realize that it was spawned from the mind of a child with a sprawling imagination. Ethan Nicolle has confirmed that after the release of the latest Axe Cop series American Choppers on Darkhorse, that the brothers are taking a long break from writing new Axe Cop material. In the meantime Ethan wants to unleash his animal apocalypse Bearmageddon in print form after it recently wrapped its first chapter in what appears to be an epic saga loaded with mutant bears and tons of action.
Keven: Axe Cop Season 2 is upon us – I was frightened for a while when it seemed like the new episodes wouldn’t air because of the delay even though they had animated them. Were you ever concerned that we wouldn’t get a second season? I know you’ve spoken before about the limbo but what was running through your head and did Malachai ever think that the show might have been over with during that lull?
Ethan: I think in a lull like that, everyone is prepared for things to fizzle. It doesn’t exactly communicate glowing enthusiasm for your show when it takes things go into limbo like that. So I was actually pretty shocked when everything started to pick up again, and really the whole lull was more about FOX deciding what to do with the ADHD block more than it was about any single show in that block. We had worked on half of season two when everything came to a halt with ADHD. Those 6 episodes (the ones airing now) were some of my favorites and I was really bummed no one was seeing them. So I’m pretty thrilled to see them finally airing. Overall I think the writers really got a better handle on the show. It really works.
Keven: Nick Offerman has been a tremendous supporter and now of course the voice of Axe Cop himself, is he the series’ saviour? Because the show is absolutely the craziest cartoon ever made in concept alone.
Ethan: Honestly, there are two Nicks behind the Axe Cop becoming a show. Nick Weidenfeld and Nick Offerman. Both really invested a lot of confidence in Axe Cop. We didn’t even do a pilot, it just became a show right off the comic book page. Weidenfeld was given the opportunity to create programming for ADHD and Axe Cop was already on his mind and he jumped on it. Offerman had already been sweetening me up with beer pints and delicious meat lunches. Which he actually didn’t have to do because he was pretty much Axe Cop the moment he said he wanted to be Axe Cop. But the beer and meats were a nice bonus.
Keven: Sam Elliot voices Axe Cop’s dad? Are you kidding me? Your guest list of voice talent this season is the most stacked of any animated show ever it seems, how is that happening?
Ethan: I don’t know the story behind every celebrity we are getting. It is pretty amazing. Part of it has to be the casting people at ADHD, they are killing it. I know that, also I think actors have fun trying to dramatically act out scenes created in the mind of a child. So I think there is an appeal there that is unique to the show. I heard that when Michael Madsen came in, he thought he was on a hidden camera show. He thought he was doing a kids cartoon. He had no idea what Axe Cop was. Others were Axe Cop fans from the start, before the show even got going. People like Peter Serafinowicz, Ken Marino, Deborah Ann Woll and Patton Oswalt had heard of and were up for it as soon as they found out it was happening. Now, Sam Elliot though… that’s another level of awesome. Hearing his voice saying lines you wrote is surreal for sure.
Keven: The Hell Chicken episode was nuts – how’d the idea come about to honor Mike Mignola’s Hellboy as the main villain?
Ethan: It all started when Malachai and I visited Dark Horse comics when they picked up Axe Cop as publisher. We visited the greatest employee they have ever had, Shawna Gore, and she gave us a box of goodies. In that box was a Hell Boy action figure. Malachai had never heard of Hell Boy, so I told him the basic story. Later, when we were playing, the Hell Boy action figure became part of the fun. But, as often happens when he tries to insert trademarked characters into our stories, I had to make him tweak the character so that it was not blatant copyright infringement. Malachai is not your typical artist who gets his feathers all ruffled about artistic integrity. His response “Ok, Hell Chicken. Who cares, whatever. Hell whatever.” The Hell Chicken in the show is a bad guy though, whereas the one in the comic is a good guy who ends up really just being this demon chicken whose secret is that he peed his pants.
Keven: We’re halfway through season 2 at this point – what has been your favourite moment of the show’s run so far? My personal fav is when Axe Cop sings Chicken Little – whose idea was it for that sequence?
Ethan: I don’t remember specifically who thought of bringing his band into that episode. That was the Best Fairy Ever episode and it went through a lot of rewrites and variations. They actually had me record Malachai singing Chicken Little as he imagined it being sung and they kept it pretty close. I know there was excitement to get Offerman singing since we knew he could carry a tune. As for my favorite sequence, man that is really hard. I haven’t even gotten to see the final version yet, but I got to personally write one episode in the latter half of the season that has yet to air.
It’s about a worldwide war between baboons and bears and how they become microscopic and fight inside our bodies for control of our immune systems. I’m selfishly excited about that one. But when it comes to things that have already aired… probably Book Cop, voiced by Jonathan Banks. His delivery of the lines to Book Cop’s wife “I have to go, America is fighting a war. I need to win the war. I’ll be back. I love you. I know you love me too. Goodbye.” Those were amazing. And the funny part is we never intended those lines to all be run together like that. They were a bunch of alts because we weren’t sure which one would sound funniest being said to a blank staring mute woman. Banks just read them all off and it really worked.
Keven: From the little bits I know of your personal life, you’re a religious guy – what’s the biggest misconception about spiritual dudes writing and drawing what can come across as fairly violent material to the audience?
Ethan: Probably that drawing and writing violent material is evil and irreligious. It’s more a cliche than a truth. Tolkien was religious, he told violent stories. The Bible is packed with violent stories, and Jesus even told violent stories to teach lessons. Where I think people get confused with Axe Cop is he gets confused with gore porn, where the point is to revel in the brutality and the suffering. No, with Axe Cop we are reveling in how a kid perceives things. It brings back a sense of wonder at thinking like a child. At least for me anyway, that is what Axe Cop is. It is looking at a simple fireman’s axe and seeing the hammer of God. It’s seeing the world through a microscope instead of a telescope (to steal a line from G.K. Chesterton).
I know there are Christians who think I’m insane for saying this, but I think there is a connection to having faith like a child, and reading the stories of a child. The Bible both tells us to have faith like a child and to put away childish things, so we are not to see things in a simplistic way. But we are to humble ourselves before them, before this world, before others, and even before our little brothers, and see things for how amazing they really are. To me, that is Axe Cop. It sees a cop as a Greek God and an axe as Thor’s Hammer. It is not reveling in gore. It is reveling in cops and axes.
Keven: You’ve hit some pretty cool milestones since I last interviewed you – getting hired as a writer for the award nominated Veggie Tales on Netflix, you got married, to releasing even more amazing Axe Cop comics and now the TV show – are you having a hard time keeping up with everything while maintaining the family situation?
Ethan: Honestly I think I am just as productive as ever. I have a drive to work harder now because I have a family to support. It definitely does not sap creativity. It inspires it. To me, it’s how man was meant to create. That’s probably a controversial thing to say. It wouldn’t be controversial to say people were meant to be creative. But to say they were meant to be in families is. It reflects more on what our culture holds as important than on me or any of my views. Witnessing life shared with your wife is another dimension of reality. Witnessing it through the new eyes of your child is another dimension of reality. Life is inevitably made more robust by all those things. I have more inspiration in my life in these last few years than I have ever had. And I am creating at a much more organic place. Rather than trying to imitate pop culture I consumed as a teen, my inspiration is coming from bigger and deeper things. I find it amazing. I wouldn’t go back to being a single guy drawing comics if you threatened my life. Comics, even success in comics, is not replacement for having a family.
Keven: Malachai is even older now – you mentioned that Axe Cop may have a shelf life depending what happened as your little brother got older – have you been concerned yet that time may be running out? If not – how do you think his storytelling has evolved and in what way?
Ethan: We pretty much agreed on taking a break after we finished The American Choppers series. We had been pumping stuff out pretty regularly and 6 volumes is a good body of work. I wanted to reach my goal of 100 Ask Axe Cops and we did that. We have talked about taking on another Axe Cop story, and we probably will at some point, but right now I don’t sense any urgency from Malachai to write more. I’ve said before, I’m open to all possibilities with the characters, as long as its fun to make and people enjoy reading it, whether that is continuing to write Axe Cop as Malachai grows and watching that growth in the character, or finding a kid to pass the torch to, which Malachai has mentioned unprovoked as well. He is open to the idea of retiring and passing the torch. I think the greatest lesson any artist can take from Malachai is how disconnected from his own ideas he is. He is not afraid to change them, to throw them out, to make things up on the fly and he is not possessive of them. Axe Cop is fun. Fun is to be shared, you don’t hog it you don’t own it. I think that attitude would serve a lot of creators well.
Keven: Bearmageddon has been your ongoing weekly comic series but it recently wrapped it’s first with the end of book one. The plan I would assume is to shop this sucker as a graphic novel to a publisher correct?
Ethan: Yes, that is what I am doing currently. The goal was always to make that into a book, even before Axe Cop existed. I thought it was going to be a 200-250 page book, but now that I am at page 149, and I know I am only 1/3 into the story, that it will work better as a trilogy. And I just think it is time for it to get out there onto paper and into hands as opposed to being only on the web. So I’m excited to get it there and looking for the right publisher, and considering the possibilities of self-publishing as well.
Keven: For those who know you strictly from Axe Cop, Bearmageddon is a tad more violent, showing some pretty brutal stuff, like for example using a lawnmower to kill a mutant bear. What inspired you to go that route? It was fairly awesome by the way.
Ethan: Ha, thanks. I think that is my favorite scene in the story so far, and it really is just getting started. That moment actually wasn’t in the script. In fact, the original script is pretty only a loose outline of what the comic has become because I’ve sort of just been letting the characters go and do what I think they would do in the situations they are finding themselves in. I have never had a story do that before and I really like it. Bearmageddon is really a war story dressed as a horror comedy. It’s about young soldiers becoming men if you really look at it. What’s the most manly thing you can do? Punch a grizzly bear in the face of course. So Bearmageddon is my attempt to ask the question, what happens when the most primal, ferocious creature, red in tooth and claw takes over the earth and wants to wipe out mankind, and mankind is largely guys like me… who grew up with single moms, having no idea what a man is or how he is even supposed to fit into the grand scheme of things.
Being told mostly that anything masculine is bad and oppressive. Taking on causes and battles that you could only take on in the comfort of a peaceful country like America. We all talk a big talk, this generation, acting like we stand for things… but what? It’s so unclear. Bearmageddon is my examination of manliness. Yes it’s comedy, it’s action, it’s horror… but that is what is at the heart of it. The bad version of what a man is… it’s really a hairless Grizzly bear. So what is the good version of what a man can be? That’s my question, and it’s one I’ve asked all my life being raised in this culture who doesn’t honor the concept of being male. It’s not meant to be sexist, it’s just that my question isn’t about females. Let someone else write that story. That question was never my struggle. Manliness always was. And I want to find out what a great man is and I want to find out what it takes to become one. Because if bears take over the earth, I want to be ready.
Keven: Bearmageddon can get violent at times – would you ever consider an offer to work under a publisher like Avatar Comics who are renowned for their extremely violent and uncensored atmosphere but on the positive side they do support creator-owned work from huge names in the business — or would you be opposed to that idea?
Ethan: Honestly, my interest in a publisher has a lot more to do with how much they want to take if your comic ever becomes a movie or a TV show. Many of them want 50%, which is more than I get when it is all said and done after I’ve paid my own management, attorney, etc. To me it’s insane to give up that much of something you poured so much into. So I am looking for a publisher who wants to publish books and that’s that. With the internet and book sales falling I think that is getting harder to find. That is one reason I am considering self publishing and selling the book online using something like print on demand. Still thinking about it. The whole market and how things work is changing right now, so it’s really hard to decide what to do with what you’ve got.
Keven: Even though Bearmageddon is entering a lengthy hiatus after you suffered for years to get this monster completed, do you have any other bear hybrids that you can tease for the fans?
Ethan: Yes, we are very close to seeing the bear elk (also known as a Beer which is a Bear/Deer). And the octo-bear will be making a bigger splash soon. Book 2 is like… 80% mutant bear battles. We really have reached the point where things get much bigger and much more insane. That is both exciting and daunting because Bearmageddon basically contains everything I suck at drawing, but want to draw, including bears. My comfort zone is zany cartoons (see my old SLG bools, Chumble Spuzz). So Bearmageddon is a serious work out for me artistically. But I have to draw it the way I see it in my head, and that is big, epic and cinematic.
Keven: You’ve said that although book one is completed, that this is truly just the beginning – what will the theme be for the second chapter and how many of these ‘chapters’ or books do you have planned? You had mentioned a long time ago that there was a definitive ending in mind for this story – is that still the case or have you changed your mind a bit and plan to extend the Bearmageddon saga?
Ethan: Book 2 really looks at what has happened in the city. What happened to Joel’s family. What happened to Andrea’s family. The team walks into battle a lot more, planning it, utilizing what they can find in places like WOW Mart. It’s the next step for them. They are beginning to face the bears rather than run from them. However, the bears haven’t even really begun their war. As we will see, the “normal bears” are just the cannon fodder first wave of attacks. The bears have been working on a massive plan that involves wave after wave to take down everything we could use to stop them including our military and our atomic bombs.
So yes there has been an ending in sight, but I also have a sequel in my head. Bearmageddon could very well become a series that is ongoing. It works, as proven by Walking Dead, as a great paradigm to tell stories. And it is damn fun. I think book 2 will help me make that decision, as will the reception of book 1. It would be awesome if I could get to a place where Bearmageddon paid the bills enough that I could focus on it and just get it done, but as things are now, it really is my side passion project that I do whenever I can fit it in.
Check out the official Bearmageddon website HERE and read the entire first book online!