(From Axe Cop. Click for full-sized cover-maintaining murder.)
Would you believe that we have our first webcomic to be adapted to a broader medium – and it’s not PVP or Least I Could Do, or Girl Genius or Gunnerkrigg Court, or Order of the Stick or Sluggy Freelance?
Would you believe that it is, instead, a comic about an axe-wielding cop joined by his absolutely insane collection of fellow crimefighters that turned into an internet sensation shortly after its debut in 2010?
Would you believe that this comic has been adapted into print comics by Dark Horse, including a print-only miniseries, has crossed over with Dr. McNinja, and has had an RPG set made for it?
Would you believe that this comic has been picked up by the Fox network for six 15-minute episodes for a new late-Saturday-night animation lineup debuting sometime next year?
Now, would you believe that the author of this comic is just seven years old?
I almost feel sorry for the kid, who I doubt can even grasp entirely the way the product of his imagination has been exploited and turned into a money-making machine. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for wondering how much of the comic’s popularity owes itself to the novelty value of a comic made by a kid as opposed to having anything to do with the comic itself. You’ll also forgive me for wondering how much of the comic’s popularity is akin to when your kid wants to tell you a story and you humor him and tell him how great his story is no matter how much it’s really utter crap. Sure enough, Axe Cop is full of the sort of ridiculous silliness that makes you say “this is so cool!” “this is so stupid” you’d expect from a comic written by an overimaginative five-year-old. Almost everyone’s name, especially the major protagonists, is a description, so Axe Cop’s name is literally Axe Cop; he charges into battle yelling “I’ll chop your head off!“; looking for a partner, he picks out a Flute Cop, who promptly turns into a humanoid dinosaur-creature by getting splashed with dinosaur blood; among their other allies is Sockarang, a character with socks for arms who can detach them from his body and throw them as weapons.
It almost sounds redundant at this point to note that I did not make any of that up.
El Santo makes an interesting point, though: even considering all the craziness populating Axe Cop, it’s possible we’re more willing to accept it coming from a six-year-old kid than from an adult, or at least understand it. We see elements like Mega Man-esque absorption of powers from blood and a dude with socks for arms and we think, of course that’s the sort of thing a six-year-old kid would come up with! We excuse the insanity of Axe Cop because we honestly don’t expect a six-year-old kid to do any better. It’s much harder to pull off those sorts of things as an adult without getting laughed out of the place.
As is evidenced by his allies, Axe Cop quickly becomes less of a police officer and more of a superhero, fighting a variety of villains as completely bonkers as the protagonists. Don’t go looking for petty crooks getting their heads chopped off. There are aliens and vampires and robots and mad scientists and any number of other wacky enemies. As such, it’s interesting to see it through the lens of that genre, both for what it says about the definition of a superhero, and in how it reflects the core appeal of the genre. Some parts of the comic display such a self-awareness that I can’t help but wonder if it was in some way goaded into being added by Ethan, but for the most part, at least in the early part of the comic, it is just a barrage of one bizarre development after another, ratcheting up the awesomeness quotient as high as it can go.
(Incidentially, the way the site is set up far better reflects the more-than-a-webcomic philosophy, and possibly the implications of PVP‘s new setup, than anything else I’ve encountered. Axe Cop has so successfully set itself up as at least giving the appearance of a larger franchise that you’d be forgiven for missing that it’s a webcomic at all. If nothing else, Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere should take a good, long look at the Axe Cop site and take copious notes, even if they don’t end up using them.)
I think my opinion of Axe Cop is somewhat opposite from that of the general public. I couldn’t stand the original, memetic comics, constantly facepalming and eventually bailing after the first two or three chapters because I just couldn’t take it anymore. On the other hand, I have to begrudgingly admit that more recent comics are considerably more tolerable – albeit possibly at the expense of the elements that made it popular in the first place. The characters are still as crazy in concept as they’ve ever been, and the events that happen to them are as silly and nonsensical as ever, but the characters now seem to lead relatively more grounded lives, and the comic seems to have settled at its natural level of craziness and found a normalcy within the silliness, if that makes sense. It’s not really that much crazier at this point than Dr. McNinja, or the worse sufferers of PVP/Goats Syndrome (such as Scary Go Round), or even Homestuck, or even Sluggy Freelance or Irregular Webcomic! The problem, of course, is that while it may now have more reason to exist, its reason to exist in the first place was to present the wild and outrageous imaginings of a real-life Calvin, so as it gets more reason to exist, it paradoxically and simultaneously loses its reason to exist.
Perhaps El Santo is right, and perhaps Malachai is losing interest as he gets older and more self-aware, and perhaps Axe Cop doesn’t really have much life left in it. Perhaps it was always a short-lived meme destined to flame out. But if that’s the case, we can only hope the TV show doesn’t end up tainting webcomics as a source for adaptation to broader mediums.