Before I ever became a parent, I often wondered at the way parents I knew complained about their own kids, and their lives as parents. I usually took these comments at face value, and frankly, they were pretty good birth control. I also remember pledging not to complain if I ever had children myself. However, now that I have kids, I complain about it all the time. In fact, I might have broken my pledge just a few minutes after my first was born. And I can guarantee this: All my complaints are true, and there’s a lot more where those came from. But at the same time, being a parent is way more fun than I ever imagined it would be, and so when facing up to this conundrum I find comfort in the words of that great professional complainer about the woes of parenthood, Bill Cosby , who said that having children was the most “beautifully irrational” thing people do. I’m not sure what led to my own renunciation of reason, but I’m pretty sure two books I read several years ago worked in some mysterious way to push me right off the edge of the high dive and into the deep end of fatherhood.
Axe Cop began as a webcomic in 2010, when 29-year old Ethan Nicolle seized on the idea of turning his 5-year old brother Malachai’s stories into comics. The Nicolles’ protagonist, Axe Cop, was born of a small firefighter action figure who preferred, at Malachai’s direction, to attack bad guys wildly with his axe instead of fighting fires. Axe Cop’s allies Uni-Baby (a baby with a unicorn’s horn whom Axe Cop hurls at enemies), Avocado Soldier (self-explanatory?), and Sock Ar Ang (a good guy with socks for arms that can be used as boomerang-like weapons) are depicted as superheroes conquering a host of even weirder villains in older brother Ethan’s polished style. Between episodes, a Q & A with readers called “Ask Axe Cop” reveals even murkier corners of a little boy’s mind. What kind of dinosaur might Axe Cop like to ride if such a thing were possible? “I already have a T. Rex named Wexter. He breathes fire and has a super-duper-fast bite. I gave him cop glasses and machine gun arms. He has a cop badge shaped like himself. He lives in the parking lot. I feed him bad guys.”
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, regularly featured his own two young sons, Will and Abe, in the bunny-eared world of his long running Life in Hell comic strip, and these strips were compiled and released in 2007 as Will and Abe’s Guide to the Universe. Will and Abe’s strips consist mainly of discussions documented by Groening, and bear such titles as Important Questions about Monsters (“Is Mothra a good moth or a bad moth?”), Will & Abe Discuss Leprechauns (“Why are leprechauns such dorks?”), and Hoogoo, The Nightmare Bird Who Has Spikes (“Once there was a little tiny bird, and he lived in a circus. But then before they started the show, a bunch of mad scientists and karate robbers came to the circus to steal the bird . . . .”)
In hindsight, I’m a little perplexed as to just what exactly about Will (“I ate cat food”), Abe (“Jambooda!”), and Malachai (“Fire slicer became a vampire wizard ninja swordfish, and he had a whole bunch of swordfish throwing star bombs and a sword nose that he could take off and stab people with”) made me want to have children. But I realize now that the magic of these books is their embrace of pure irrationality. And maybe the surreal world-building fun of toddler life is the same as that to be found in the lives of their parents. Chalk it up to sleep deprivation, but there is something almost intoxicating about the denial of rational thought and surrender to pure instinct required to survive as a parent. As reflected in Axe Cop and the Will & Abe comic strips, the delirious state of young kids and their parents is at times almost indistinguishable from another great irrational human pursuit, that which comes after toddlers finally give up the bedtime fight, and our exhausted minds are free at last to dream. At least for a few hours, in my own case, until a sudden and blood curdling request from my 2-year old son’s room for help wiping his nose shatters the night. Oh wait . . . sorry. There was room for a complaint right there, and I just couldn’t resist.