COOS BAY — When Ethan Nicolle, 36, first began drawing comics, they were just a hobby.
That changed when Nicolle’s webcomic, Axe Cop, a crime-driven comedy caper about an axe-wielding police officer, written by Nicolle and his, at the time 5-year-old half brother, Malachai, was picked up by FOX television and made into a series.
The show spanned two seasons, with 22 episodes and starred Nick Offerman (of Parks and Recreation fame) along with fellow comedians Patton Oswalt, Megan Mullally, Ken Marino and Rob Huebel.
Axe Cop also featured its fair share of special guests, including rapper Tyler the Creator, comedian Jordan Peele and actors Sam Elliott and Alison Brie.
Although the TV series was cancelled after just two seasons, Nicolle still writes around two-web comics a week featuring Axe Cop and his cohort of crimefighers.
In February, he held an event at the Egyptian Theatre to showcase his favorite episodes from the FOX show and shared insights with local fans about his creative process.
Nicolle sat down with The World before heading back to Southern California to discuss Axe Cop, his unique creative partnership with his half-brother and how his career has progressed from webcomics to full-length novels.
What brought you back to the Egyptian?
“I’m from the area — I went to North Bend High School — and I really love the Egyptian Theatre. I have a lot of memories there. I think I started seeing movies there when I was 7. So moving out of town, I realize how unique it is. I wish I lived here, I’d go all the time.”
You mentioned earlier that you had never held an event like the one Thursday at the theatre.
“Ya, I just thought it would be a fun, unique event here ... make it something you couldn't experience unless you were from my hometown. My hope was some people would come out of the woodwork I hadn’t seen in long time — and they did, I saw some friends and my old art teacher — besides, people here are just really supportive of my work and I just thought it would be a really fun way to celebrate and be thankful for that and a good fundraiser for the Egyptian. I have a lot of love for this and the people here.”
It’s been around two years since the last episode of Axe Cop premiered on television, do you miss it?
“It was fun, but it was never my outlet. It was interesting but it also came kind of with a certain level of frustration for everything that went into it. It was the first time I ever worked on something I didn’t have a whole lot of say in. I had a say, but nothing near the final say. But I’m not bitter about it at all. I loved it and it was fun but, for me, making books is what I like to do now and nothing will ever really replace that I don’t think, unless I was a show runner and had like carte blanche on a TV show. I still think it’d be very stressful: all your decisions cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Since working with Nick Offerman on Axe Cop, you’ve contributed illustrations for two of his books, “Gumption” and “Good Clean Fun” can you describe that partnership or your relationship with him?
“Nick is one of the few that I’ve remained friends with — he’s very jovial and friendly and he doesn’t act like he’s famous — the way you’d hope he would be, he is exactly like that.”
You mentioned he was instrumental in getting Patton Oswalt to join the show.
“Yea, we had this huge house FOX was renting to record voice overs and animate — I think Jimmy Buffett used to live there — but it was right next door to Patton Oswalt’s house. So we had this big kick-off meeting with Nick (Offerman), Ken (Marino), the writer, Judah Miller, and the creators of ‘Drawn Together’ and Nick goes, ‘hey, do you think Patton Oswalt would be a good fit for this show?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, yeah.’”
“Because he’s right over there,” Offerman said, pointing to Oswalt outside as he emerged from his car. “I could go talk to him if you’d like.”
And Oswalt just came in and said he was onboard?
“Yea, he said he loved the comic. I got to be around when he did his voice recording: he nailed like every line, never had to do a retake, he just blew through his lines.”
Have you collaborated with either Oswalt or Offerman outside the book illustrations?
“I did a comic featuring Nick and Chris Pratt going out into the woods and trying to chop a tree down and falling in love with each other instead.”
So you’ve just finished an 80,000-word novel targeted at young adults and children in the vein of British novelist, Roald Dahl. Can you explain your transition from comics to this form of writing?
“I love making comics but I don’t read ‘em very much and I don’t really know that market very well. And now that I have kids, I read a lot of kid books. Axe Cop kind of brought me over to that world of making things that kids like and their parents can enjoy together. So I have this book that has about 200 illustrations finished and I’ve just completed an outline for another. It’s still new ground for me but I’m trying. My dream is to just be able to make books and put them out at a regular basis and make a living off of that.”
You mentioned a few years back that as Malachai got older, you wanted to move away from your old style of writing Axe Cop with him — where you just ask him questions and he blurts out answers — to where he actually writes episodes or stories himself. Did that ever happen?
“No. He’s never taken to that yet. That’s one reason we haven’t done much more. I want him to kind of find his own way and do his own stuff. The method that we used was great for him as a little kid but it’s almost kind of like a little enabling the older he gets as he becomes his own creative force. He’s great as like a brainstorming partner, I’ve been trying to get him to work on another project for me. I think he has through the Axe Cop experience come up with some crazy brainstorming muscles. He shoots out ideas like crazy, even if they all aren’t good, that’s fine, the key to good writing is brainstorming. He’s good at pumping ideas out and if we change directions he can pump ideas out in that direction. In TV writing, that’s a huge key to being a good writer.
If people want to see more of what you are doing, where can they go?
The Axe Cop website is easy to find on Google and I’m also working on finishing my other, web comic, Bearmageddon, which is the story of a group of slackers and a mountain man caught up in an ursine war on humans. They just need to search ‘Bearmageddon.’