Artist and writer Ethan Nicolle’s career in comics has been, in many ways a life-long pursuit. As a self-taught artist and writer, Nicolle has been self-publishing and working with indie publishers since 1991. In 2008, Nicolle’s series Cumble Spuzz was picked up by Slave Labor Graphics then later received an Eisner nomination for Best Humor Publication in 2009.
With an indie career spanning decades, Nicolle has developed a manic webcomic style that culminated when Nicolle and his eight-year-old brother Malachai Nicolle began working on Axe Cop. After gaining popularity on the Web, Axe Cop was picked up by Dark Horse and is currently on issue #2 of its “President of the World” run.
While at SDCC I caught up with Nicolle at the Axe Cop booth, to talk about why publishing webcomics is the best route for new creators and not being too concerned with “reality.”
Why did you first release Axe Cop as a webcomic?
The whole reason I got into webcomics is because if your comic isn’t very well known there aren’t a lot of people walking into comic shops to buy new stuff. In general with comics, unless you come up with something that a lot of people want to buy you are not going to make money. You’ll make an insignificant amount of money so why not just give it away for free online to build an audience first? If your ultimate goal is to build an audience to make money, then you should work on building an audience first, not to make money first then build an audience. That is why webcomics are an awesome way to cut out the middleman and just put your stuff out there and people will like it if it is good.
Working independently in the past and now for a major publisher, has Dark Horse limited your creative freedom in any way?
No they haven’t limited it in any way. Dark Horse loves Axe Cop the way it is. They have never sent me an edit to say to change anything. It has been great working with them.
Was Dark Horse your first choice when looking for publishers for Axe Cop?
I think Dark Horse was the best choice. If someone were to say ‘you can put Axe Cop out with any publisher’ I probably would have said Dark Horse. I love the idea of him standing next to The Goon and Hellboy; he fits in great with them. They have some manly characters and Dark Horse is probably the best publisher for independent non-superhero comics. But also, a lot of offers were made from different publishers and Dark Horse really made the best offer.
With many modern comics focusing on gritty reality, why did you make Axe Cop less concerned with reality and more about just being crazy and fun?
I think that when you look at the new Batman movies and the reboot of Spider Man where they are trying to show real stuff. Like a real guy could get bit by a radioactive spider and really turn into a superhero and they are trying to ground it in this gritty emotional stuff. The reason we go to see “Spider Man” is not to get evidence that a guy could really do that. We want the fun idea that a guy can just shoot webs out his and swing around and punch guys and knock them across a city. We just want an excuse to have that kind of fun and Axe Cop just cuts through that and says ‘I have a dinosaur, it has guns, it can breathe fire because that is awesome.’ We don’t need a big long explanation why Axe Cop is so emotional he needed a dinosaur or whatever reality in the story they need to create to make it gritty and real. The whole idea of entertainment in comics for me is to have fun and indulge in awesomeness.
Why do you think many creators and readers now are focusing on dark and realistic themes in independent comics?
I think it reflects materialism in a way. It may be people just thinking we are just matter or we are just animals. In a way I think people have a tough time with things being magical or unexplained. People want an explanation, like science explains everything; there is a mathematical formula for everything. I think people are afraid of the idea that life is bigger than them.