There will never be a comic quite like Calvin and Hobbes. For ten years Bill Watterson worked on an extraordinary ode to the trials and tribulations and joy that comes with being an imaginative 6 year old. It was arguably the greatest newspaper comic strip this side of the twentieth century. In part that’s because its main character was allowed to be as selfish and destructive as he was sweet and imaginative, in other words, he was allowed to feel like an actual 6 year old.
Then one day the strip was gone and comics have been trying to fill that void ever since. Other artists and storytellers have tackled friendship and growing pains, but one comic, Axe Cop, has emerged that really captures the sense of play that kids have. The make-the-story-up-as-you-go-along sensibility where dinosaurs, robots, and aliens are casually thrown into a plot. And unlike Watterson who would usually pull back to his real world in the last panel, Axe Cop digs deeper and deeper into its world of make-believe.
Quickly, for those who’ve never heard of the series: In December of 2009, 29-year-old Ethan Nicolle was inspired by an absurd story his 5-year-old brother Malachai Nicolle plucked from his head. It was about a cop with an axe and his adventures fighting bad guys. Ethan drew it, put it up online, and before you can say ‘viral’ it quickly became an internet sensation. A website was quickly set up and the comic has been going non-stop ever since over there.
So, here we are at Axe Cop Vol. 3 trade paperback edition. The strongest story for me came at the beginning; Axe Cop is patrolling the city (in a full body catsuit for some reason that I’m sure is awesome) when his friend Bat Warthog Man enlists him to help find his missing friends. They concoct a plan that requires helicopters, dinosaurs, and a chemist. Any Chemist. It’s a smorgasbord of memorable characters and bizarre plot twists.
There’s other stories, including a Christmas and Halloween special, and a large ‘Ask Axe Cop’ section, but the big attraction features Axe Cop teaming up with fellow web-comic sensation, Dr. Mc Ninja. From the beginning to the end the story (“Entitled Stolen Pizzas, Stolen Lives”) is filled with the non-sequitur circumstances that always make for a great Axe Cop story, though it does leave the doctor out of the spotlight a bit.
Dr. McNinja‘s Chris Hastings also gets to take over on art for half of the story, which is in addition to a guest strip section and a pin-up gallery. Pin-ups aren’t usually my cup of tea but Scuds Rob Schrab kills it in one great page, and Bridgit Scheide and Kris Straub each deliver such awesome images I don’t know if I’d rather get blown up prints or tattoos of them.
But while it’s refreshing watching other artists put their own twist on this funny and weird world, the best part of reading an Axe Cop volume is Ethan’s own illustrations. Like Watterson, he has a spot-on sense of pacing, he’s consistently pushing himself to draw new and challenging things, and somehow he can manage to draw hilarious stories with a dead serious straight face. While there’s obviously an end game to doing comics the way the Nicholle brothers do Axe Cop (Malachai just had an 8th birthday!), I really hope Ethan is doing comics far into the future.