MOSES LAKE - One of the hottest comic books in the country is written by a Moses Lake boy who's far too young to drive.
"Here's the first one, the very first one," says 7-year-old Malachai Nicolle, grasping a copy of the first "Axe Cop" graphic novel published by Dark Horse Comics.
He jumps onto his couch and begins reading aloud excitedly.
"One day at the scene of a fire, the cop found the perfect fireman axe," Malachai reads. "That was the day he became Axe Cop."
That's how the "Axe Cop" saga begins ... on paper, at least. But the comic was first born in Malachai's mind two years ago, when he was five.
Malachai's 31-year-old brother, Ethan Nicolle, is a professional comic book artist. He created the Eisner-award-winning comic series "Chumble Spuzz," and while the comic was critically acclaimed, he struggled to make comic book illustration a full-time career.
A holiday visit to Grant County changed that.
"It was close to Christmas," says Malachai. "I wanted to play with (Ethan). I wanted to play police, but I didn't have a toy gun, but I found my toy hatchet and I decided, I'm Axe Cop, you're Flute Cop ... (Ethan) wanted to be Axe Cop, so we traded places and then it was just first of all a game and then he thought he'd make it into a comic for family and friends. And then it just came out and then people started calling and started liking it and that's kind of how it all started."
To say "people started calling" is a bit of an understatement. Entertainment Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, GQ, and USA Today have all featured "Axe Cop" in their publications or on their websites.
The instant Ethan heard his brother utter the words "Axe Cop," he felt compelled to draw the character, he said.
"When we played it, it all came together into this hilarious little adventure that I just had to draw into a comic and we kept playing and I kept making comics," he says. "I think I made four or five episodes while I was there, so when I got home, I had these comics that I had drawn really sloppily and kind of just thrown them together. I considered them kind of the equivalent of photos of your family in your wallet; they're sentimental for me, and I love them, but I didn't think anybody else would love them as much as I did."
Ethan threw the comics online to practice building a website for a web comic he planned to release.
"Suddenly the website just went viral," he says.
Twitter lit up with tweets about Axe Cop, "just constant updates of all these people all over the world talking about this comic 'Axe Cop,'" he says. "Our site crashed because we did not have the bandwidth to support however many hundreds of thousands of people were visiting our site that night."
The next day, he got an email from Entertainment Weekly, who made "Axe Cop" their website of the day. He began fielding emails from comic book publishers, TV shows and newspapers.
"It was just insane how many tweets, how many emails and phone calls, just for days straight," he says. "It was insane."
"Axe Cop" isn't work for Malachai. It's just fun and games, pretty much the same games he always played with his brother. The only difference is that they get to play together a lot more.
"We'd done a few things together where I'd have my sketchbook out, and I'd just say, well why don't you explain a character to me, and I'll draw them as you explain them," says Ethan. "He'd make up these weird characters, like a snail that's a scientist that shoots lasers and all this stuff. So when he started saying 'Axe Cop,' I had been kind of resisting the idea, because I was going, 'I really need to work on my next big project that's going to get me somewhere, not get distracted goofing off.' And then Malachai, he kept saying 'Axe Cop,' and I go, 'I just have to draw that. I can't not draw that.' 'Axe Cop' created play time for us that we wouldn't have had, because you usually go, 'Well, I'm an adult, I have a job and I need to work. I can't just play with my little brother all the time.' But my job is to play with my little brother as much as possible."
"Axe Cop" wouldn't be what it is today if not for the word-of-mouth power of the Internet, says Ethan. But it's not just the novelty of a 7-year-old author people connect with. The story of two brothers playing together touches people's hearts, says Ethan. And in a time when big screen comic book adaptations stress logic in an effort to make the fantastic believable, Malachai's unencumbered imagination reminds people why they got into comics.
"I think when people go to see a movie or read a book, they aren't looking to be convinced that this could really happen on any given day," he says. "They just want to have a fun time and 'Axe Cop' cuts right to the whole point. It just flat out admits, without being embarrassed about it, the whole point of telling the story is to have a blast. It doesn't apologize and I think that a lot of people really react to that. I've seen a lot of blogs and comments by people online saying that 'Axe Cop' takes them back to why they got into comics in the first place and a lot of these nerdy guys who get all hung up on, you know, 'This guy isn't wearing the right translator when he's talking to this guy,' or, 'He's not breathing the right kind of air on this planet.' ... We love comics and we love all that stuff, because we love using our big crazy imaginations, just getting lost in those worlds."
Yet, for all the emphasis on Malachai's imagination, there's a childlike logic behind "Axe Cop," says Ethan.
"I think one thing that people miss about Malachai isn't so much his imagination, but it's his logic," he says. "He's a very logical kid. He loves connecting the dots and being very specific about things. If we make a character that's a dog, he won't just say it's a dog, he'll say it's an English bulldog. He pays attention to different, specific breeds. ... I think what makes it so funny is that you get to follow the logic of a kid."
Malachai will be at the Moses Lake Hastings at 1 p.m. Saturday signing copies of "Axe Cop" graphic novels.