Axe Cop: Creator Ethan Nicolle Talks About Writing For Television, Becoming Successful, and Working With Nick Offerman
Axe Cop is one of the inaugural shows of FOX Network's new Animation Domination Hi-Def television block, and it has a lot riding on its success. Axe Cop is a strange pick for the network, because it is an absolutely unique and hilarious show. The show features characters such as: Doctor Doo-Doo, Flute Cop, Sock-a-Rang, and Uni-baby, and as such makes more sense when you realize that every episode of the show is written by five-year-old (at the time of the creation of Axe Cop) Malachai Nicolle, and is then drawn by his 29-year-old brother Ethan Nicolle. The concept for Axe Cop first began as a web comic, but has now become a hit on FOX's ADHD. I talked with Ethan about his show, and he had some very interesting things to say about the process.
(Evan Almeida): How did you get into writing comics?
(Ethan Nicolle): I got into drawing as early as I can remember, I love to draw and I guess that the Ninja Turtles were the best gateway into comics. I started reading Ninja Turtles when I was eleven, which snowballed me into reading independent comics and because I loved looking at comics, I began drawing them. I always liked visual storytelling, and things like The Far Side and Garfield, so they really influenced me as I began to draw.
(EA): How did that lend itself to animation?
(EN): I don't usually think of myself as someone that got into animation, but I guess that I am. I started drawing comics, and now they're being animated, so because of that I am consulted on the writing side of things and the design side, but I don't do a lot of animating myself.
(EA): How many shows are you working on currently?
(EN): Currently I am working on Axe Cop and I have a couple of optioned shows, but who knows what will happen with those. I just got a job on another show, which I can't say the name of, that I am writing on.
(EA): How was Axe Cop pitched, and what was the process to get the show from the comic to television?
(EN): So, the way it all worked out in the end was that FOX wanted some Adult Swim style programming and Nick Weidenfeld got the job and the first thing he picked out was Axe Cop. It was the project that he had wanted to make ever since he was at Adult Swim. So, I didn't really have to pitch it. Nick Weidenfeld, the producer over at FOX, knew about it (Axe Cop) and really wanted to make the show. So, they really pitched me on the show that they wanted to make and I liked their idea. They seemed like the right fit for any possible Axe Cop show being made. He wanted it to be a show for late night. Axe Cop is made by a kid, but it's more for adults … or at least it's edgy for kids. So, we all knew that the show had to be on adult programming.
(EA): How does it feel to work with comedy legends like Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Patton Oswalt, Ken Marino, Peter Serafinowicz, and Todd Barry?
(EN): It's awesome! Well, honestly there are different worlds that I'm aware of, and I wasn't really aware of their world until the Axe Cop thing happened. The weird thing was that several of those comedians approached us. For instance, I hadn't been watching much Parks and Recreation, when Nick Offerman started to approach me, but a lot of my friends had told me beforehand that Nick Offerman was Axe Cop.
Comedians just started coming out of the woodwork after Nick Offerman. I met Ken Marino at Comic-Con, he had actually waited in line to meet me. He had wanted to be Flute Cop for a while. All these guys, like Peter Serafinowicz, were all fans of Axe Cop before the show and they all wanted to be Axe Cop when the show was announced. It just so happened that Nick had the mustache for it and was perfect. Ken is equally perfect as Flute Cop, and Peter Serafinowicz knocks it out of the park on every voice that he does.
(EA): The success of FOX'S Animation Domination Hi-Def depends on programs like Axe Cop do you feel that pressure as you make an episode?
(EN): I feel that the pressure is more on them, because it is their show. But I do feel some pressure, because if Axe Cop is going to go anywhere it's going to be because it's a good product. People often perceive that we've had more success with Axe Cop financially, but it's still at a phase where web comics don't generate much money because they're free and print comics have a pretty limited audience. So the show has become the make-or-break. The way TV shows make money is, sort-of, a delayed payment system. So, I can make a living off of Axe Cop but there is still a question of whether it will be that kind of successful thing that people already think that it is. So, there is the pressure there, because you don't "have it made" the moment that you get something on TV.
It's just a new level, or a new playground, and it's exciting just to see the comics being animated and turned into a new format. But there is always a pressure to make a good product and a dreadful feeling that the whole thing will fizzle out. I always felt that dread more when the web comics started in the beginning but Axe Cop has a staying power that I never would have expected from it. I never thought that so many people would get the jokes; I always thought that they were inside jokes, so I'm always being shocked and thrilled by Axe Cop's success.
(EA): What are your plans for the future and does your brother, Malachai, want to follow in your footsteps?
(EN): Malachai has not, very often, said that he would want to do creative things as an adult. He goes through phases, right now he wants to be a video game tester because that sounds like the greatest job ever. I think that he could easily be a video game designer. He's very technically minded, and that's one thing that makes Axe Cop so great. He makes it very logical, in the world of Axe Cop, because Malachai is always trying to figure out a reason for what's happening in the story. I don't know for certain, but I think that it will be fascinating to see. Not a lot of kids get the training, and practice in storytelling that he's had, so I think that that skill would come very naturally to him, so it wouldn't be unthinkable for him to jump to something creative.
He's always the one that thinks up characters and brainstorms ideas; I just ask questions about the stories. All of the ideas for Axe Cop are his, but they come from question that I ask about his story. The only step he would have to take is for him to ask the questions himself, that would be a big step; it also takes willpower to sit down and type out a script, and that kind of commitment would take some drive from him. So, maybe one day he'll want to do that, or maybe I've instilled laziness in him, because I've been doing all of the typing and the "hard" work.
(EA): What can we expect out of Axe Cop in the episodes to come? Can we expect to see fan-favorite characters like: Dinosaur Soldier, Avocado Soldier, or the Moon Warriors?
(EN): I do know that, out of those that you've mentioned; two of them will be making appearances. I know that we have six more episodes being animated right now. However, I don't know if I'm allowed to say anything about that though. I know that FOX usually likes to announce that stuff.
But we're still working, I can say that! Things are looking good right now, ratings are going up, our audience is building, so the TV show is in a good place, and from what I can tell, we'll be making more episodes in the future. I can say that Baby-Man will be coming in the next six episodes, I can say that. The Fruit Stand and Best Fairy Ever will be on there too. The next six episodes are going to be a lot less based on the existing comics, so they are a lot more worked together from elements take from the comics. We'll have to see what people think of them.
(EA): Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and I would like to say that you're Fourth of July episode was brilliant. I love Book Cop even more than Axe Cop.
(EN): Oh that's my favorite one too. I love how epic it is, and Book Cop's great, Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) just nails the voice. Thanks for talking to me, see ya.