Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle, writers
Ethan Nicolle, artist
Ongoing webcomic, December 2009-January 2010 and counting
This comic was inevitable. In retrospect, it’s where we were headed all along. The New Action. The Art of Enthusiasm. Attempts to recapture the childhood joy of drawing, the ability of action to form its own narrative logic through sheer visual cohesion, the incorporation of the almost surrealist conventions and tropes of video games and action-figure lines and kung fu films, all of that–Axe Cop does it by having a five-year-old kid come up with characters and storylines and dialogue for a 29-year-old Eisner nominee to lay out and draw. From Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim to Benjamin Marra’s Night Business to Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern to C.F.’s Powr Mastrs to Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist to Brian Chippendale’s Ninja to Kazimir Strzepek’s The Mourning Star to Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #2 to BJ and Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat to Malachai and Ethan Nicolle’s Axe Cop. There was no other way.
Now, let’s not get crazy here: the elder Nicolle is not inventing new ways of conveying action and physicality and space on a page, or constructing elaborate metaphors for the fate of the artist in a rapaciously capitalist society, or drawing on previously ignored methods of pop-culture storytelling. He’s “merely” an accomplished illustrator, drawing his kid brother’s delightfully crazy ideas for a super-cop with an axe and his partner, who wields a flute as a weapon, then transforms into a dinosaur, then transforms into an avocado. His swanky line is employed to milk humor out of mirrored sunglasses and mustaches, or superheroes made out of socks that fly around like boomerangs, or babies with unicorn horns who you can throw around like a grenade. Ethan uses his older fanboy’s experience to wring specificity and hilarity out of the super-action conventions with which young Malachai is already entertainingly familiar: opposite-number characters (Bad Santa and his newfound enemy Good Bad Santa), secret origins (Axe Cop and Avocado Soldier are secretly brothers whose parents were killed by their time-traveling nemesis, but they bumped heads while walking backwards and have had amnesia about their true relationship and origin ever since), enemy archetypes (rejected heroes, giant robots, elementals) and so on.
I’m not going to say the storytelling style is inimitable, because lots of people imitate it, but there’s no faking the “and then…and then…and then” rhythms of a really excited first grader. The comic’s web interface enhances the flow: Instead of clicking from page to static page, you drag your cursor to scroll around one gigantic mega-page per episode, catching the craziness as it comes. My guess is that this is as much of a reason that this comic went from total obscurity yesterday morning to Internet fame by yesterday afternoon as the don’t-that-beat-all backstory, impressive and accessible cartooning, and overall Looney Tunes “Duck Amok” zaniness level. On every level it’s a pleasure of a sort you haven’t experienced elsewhere. Hernandez, Buscema, Kubert, Nicolle–if you’re going to be online for the next few months, make room in your brother-act pantheon.