DOUGLAS: I gather from Ethan Nicolle’s notes that he basically plays with his little brother, collects ideas that Malachai comes up with, and then works them all into a story, or something like a story. And yeah, it’s absolutely true that Axe Cop can’t go on forever; six-year-olds aren’t six for long, and part of the delight of the initial stories was their total novelty.
That said, yes, this is a very good time, Ethan’s artwork is inspired absurdity with just the faintest patina of dignity holding it together, and I’m not going to complain about anything that includes the line “That looks like the machine we stole from those bad guys using the ‘Free Poison Soda’ secret attack!” I love how every panel connects narratively to the ones before and after it, but not necessarily much beyond that. It really does feel like Ethan doing justice to his brother’s hyper-inventive play. Pieces of it are very funny, too: “Real cops don’t have dinosaurs!” I’m glad it exists, and I bet fifteen years from now I’ll get to blow somebody’s mind a little bit with it.
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EVAN: Man, just call me a wet blanket, then, because something about this didn’t click for me.
I think what’s happening with Axe Cop is that a flight of fancy is being played for laughs, what with the meta-premise of this springing from a six-year-old’s mind. But the problem is that it’s not funny enough to be flat-out absurd, but not well-crafted enough to be appealingly innocent.
It feels harsh to be passing judgment on an elementary school kid’s creativity but, to my mind, the fault lies with the adults in the equation. Part of me very clearly hears young Malachai blurting out the story in breathless fashion, giggling at his own crazy ideas and pausing to answer questions that explain where things come from. Kids’ minds are fascinating with how they create, destroy and re-forge rules for play and understanding the world. However, what Bad Guy Earth doesn’t do is capture and translate that manic energy of reckless imagination. It might be moving from oral to printed matter that trips things up. Whatever it is, the “and then, and then, and then” rhythm of this issue gets tiresome by the end. It’s like the jokes–which aren’t jokes, at all–come too fast and the reader starts to feel kind of lost and then stops caring. A six-year-old has a rapt audience when this bit of storytelling happens with friends or family. But draw it up and put in a comic, and the thing has to operate on a different level.
There’s a ton of funny, interesting ideas in this comic, but I think they’re presented all wrong. The approach is super-flat, and you can’t tell if you’re supposed to laugh at the meta-text or the text itself. I mean, it’s a six-year-old providing the raw material, but professional adults who are shaping it. I feel like someone should have decompressed it, so that the weirdness and unexpectedness of the ideas have room to breathe. Or go the opposite way and speed everything up that we don’t have a chance to see where insertions and interpretations are made. Bad Guy Earth #1 winds up falling in this weird place between grown-up and kiddie. If Malachai were telling me this same exact story while sitting on a couch before his bedtime, I’d be really entertained. But the comic doesn’t–and maybe can’t–duplicate that energy. It was funny, but then stopped being funny.
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I keep on coming back to this comic and trying to figure out why it rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, I see all the things that you guys do: it’s funny, it’s cute and well-drawn, and it’s freaking crazy. But, still, it feels like there’s some kind of filter mucking it up for me. Sigh.