Monday, 28 February 2011

Axe Cop, Volume 1, by Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle – reviewed

The introduction to Axe Cop is by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Kevin Murphy, which makes perfect sense: the last time I laughed so much was watching their version of Mitchell. (Oh, alright, maybe when I watched The Love Guru, but if I admitted that you wouldn’t take the rest of my review seriously...) I laughed so much reading this book that I frequently had to put it down, my eyes sore from a literal stream of tears.

Axe Cop is the story of a policeman, Axey, who has a life-changing experience: “One day at the scene of a fire, the cop found the perfect fire axe. That was the day he became Axe Cop.” The axe is perfect for chopping off the heads of baddies, and much decapitation ensues. At night he dresses in a catsuit and sneaks into baddies’ houses to kill them while they sleep. (A motivational poster in his kitchen says, “You know what time my job is? ALWAYS.”)

As the strip progresses he accumulates an incredible army of friends, including Flute Cop, Uni-Man, a dinosaur with machine gun arms, Baby-Man, Lobster Man, Dinosaur Soldier, Sockarang and the ninja vampire wolfmen Moon Warriors.

So far, you might think, so Image Comics c.1994!

What gives Axe Cop its wonder and brilliance is that it was written by a five-year-old boy, but drawn by his grown-up brother from another mother, who knows exactly when to play it straight and when to play up the insanity. This is a world where unicorn horns make wishes come true, where there’s an appropriate store for anything a hero might need, and where getting splashed with swordfish blood gives you swordfish powers.

The book also features a series of Ask Axe Cop strips.
As the fascinating notes by the older brother explain, Malachai Nicolle didn't sit down to a typewriter and write a series of scripts. Rather, the stories are the product of roleplay, the younger brother explaining the characters and their motivations as the games played out, a scenario anyone with children will recognise.

The difference here is that the wonderful, weird nonsense the child invented has been brought to life, treated with the respect a child’s ideas deserve, and shared with the world, first as a web comic, now as a book.

And so Axe Cop reminds us of all the joy and freedom of childhood imagination, the disregard for consequences and verisimilitude, the sheer pleasure of play.  Robert Rodriguez draws from the same well in his films for children, the Thumb-Thumbs of Spy Kids having been invented by one of his kids. The one adult author I’ve read who captures that feeling is Rhys Hughes: Twisthorn Bellow and Axe Cop could easily be best friends.

I can’t recommend this hilarious, inspirational book highly enough. And for extra laughs show it to a child: they will enjoy the stories, but they won’t find it funny at all. This is how all storytelling seems to them.

Axe Cop, Volume 1, by Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. Dark Horse, tpb, 144pp. Amazon US. Amazon UK. The Axe Cop web comic can be found here.

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