Nick Offerman is one of the most in-demand comic actors right now, with a huge following from his portrayal of government-hating, pretty dark-haired-women-and-breakfast-food-loving bureaucrat Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and appearances in countless films (and occasionally reading Tweets from young female celebrities for Conan O’Brien). For comics fans, he’s recently taken on the voice of the title character in Fox’s cartoon of the hit webcomic Axe Cop, full episodes of which you can watch online here.
And as it turns out, he’s also a major comic book fan.
Offerman’s currently promoting his new book
where he shares personal stories and offers life advice. When we found out he was into comics, we called him up at his woodshop to talk Axe Cop, his love of comics and more. Offerman was happy to talk about his love of the blade-wielding law enforcer, his favorite books, and the superhero film role he didn’t get. Read on to find out who…
Newsarama: So Nick, your book’s been out for a little over a month now. What’s the reception been like for you so far?
Nick Offerman: It’s been really friendly. It’s been an entirely surreal experience, because it’s been so much different than a movie or a TV show or something performance-based. One thing that people in the world of comics are probably more familiar with than I am, is doing signings and getting to shake my audience’s hand one reader at a time. That’s been really gratifying.
I never dreamed I’d write a 340-page book. Now that I have, I’m just glad people aren’t burning it, yet.
Nrama: Well, it’s gotten a lot of positive feedback so far – the book is topping several bestseller lists on Amazon, and the audiobook version is heavily featured on Audible.
Offerman: Is it? I’m ignorant of a lot of popular culture channels, so I didn’t know that about Audible. In fact, I didn’t even know it was on Audible. It makes sense, since they’re affiliated with Amazon.
Nrama: They are. It’s a whole online-book mafia. It’s all connected.
Offerman: It is. And as one should, I try to avoid the mafia as much as I can.
Nrama: What made you want to write this book?
Offerman: Well, I was touring around the country with a show called “American Ham,” as a humorist, and the show details my 10 tips for prosperity. It’s a very funny show, but it also has sincere tips for college students, like saying please and thank you, and “carry a handkerchief,” and “go outside and make things with your hands.”
Some friends of mine said, “I really like your show, you have a point of view that has something to say to the young people, and you’re not just going up there and farting for 90 minutes.” Which is certainly a show that I would pay to see, but I don’t know that I have enough wind to pull off an hour and a half of expectoration. Or flatulence, I should say. Expectoration is spitting.
They said, “Your show sounds like you’re reading your book, because you have this sort of considered point of view.” I said, “Huh, that’s interesting, because there’s a bunch of stories from my life that I wasn’t able to fit into my stage show.” So I wrote a book proposal and fished it around, and I got some bites from some very nice publishers in New York City, and here we are!
Nrama: And it’s been quite a busy year for you – Parks & Rec, the book, many, many appearances in movies, and most importantly for Newsarama readers – Axe Cop. I’d like to talk about that for a bit.
The animated series has gotten a real following, and I’m told you were a fan of the comic before it was a cartoon. Is that correct?
Offerman: Yeah, I was. I depend on my much smarter friends – which I think I say in the forward to the new Axe Cop book – who have the wherewithal to be the tastemakers in my life. These guys and ladies hand me my favorite music and books, and I have a select few that are my graphic novel dealers. They say, “Check this out,” and I devour the whole series.
So they handed me Axe Cop, and they said, “Man, you are gonna blow a load at how hilarious this graphic novel is.” And indeed I did; I soiled myself regularly for many months.
It’s so funny; I mean, I love a few different genres of graphic novel, but Axe Cop reminds me of the stuff I read a lot of while I was in college, mainly Flaming Carrot by Bob Burden. That and Milk and Cheese by Evan Dorkin. Books like those have a sense of humor that just kill me.
So I read Axe Cop, and it was super funny, but my friends also said, “You know, you should try and play him if someone ever does something with this.” And I said, “Well, I will. By God, I will.”
Nrama: Did you have a chance to interact with Ethan and Malachai (Nicolle, the series’ creators) before the cartoon series came out?
Offerman: I didn’t get a chance to meet Malachai before we started working on the show. I met Ethan, and we became pals, and expressed a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. After we fired up production of the cartoon, Malachai came to town, and I was a little nervous because he has a tough reputation, he apparently likes to fire people. I tried to keep my sunglasses on and maintain a steely demeanor, lest he think I was not man enough to play his title character.
Nrama: And what have your interactions been like with the brothers since you’ve been working on the series?
Offerman: It’s been pretty fun. Imagine getting to go to lunch with George Lucas and talk about Star Wars, or the creator of any mythos that you love. If I could have lunch with J. R.R. Tolkien and talk about the creation of some of the different strains of Longbottom Leaves that grow down in the Shire, that sounds like a fine lunch indeed.
And so, to get to hang out with Ethan, who is – of course, Malachai is the field of grain. He provides the chaff, which Ethan then harvests and turns into delicious bread. He takes it through a lot of steps. He’s such a brilliant artist as well. He’s such a hilarious writer, you know? His ability to act as editor and arbiter of Malachai’s vision is what makes for such a great collaboration between the two.
So to get to sit there and talk to them – we had a lunch together, the two brothers and myself, and they shared a secret new storyline with me, and it was really funny because a couple of the producers of the cartoon were there, and Malachai, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, was like, “Hey, you two!” – and he pointed with his thumb at the door – “Beat it!” And they said, “Are you kidding?” And he said, “No, this is not for public consumption.”
And then they proceeded to share this brand-new top-secret storyline with me, which I was incredibly thrilled with. So I feel like the kid who’s getting to play Han Solo and learn all the inner workings of the Force from the creator.
Nrama: As long as young Malachai’s not being too corrupted by the inner workings of show business.
Offerman: It’s definitely been a life change for him. He sees something that comes from his imagination turned into…just a graphic novel to begin with, but also a cartoon on Fox. That’s going to have an effect, though I hope it’s a positive one.
Ethan and their family are going a long way towards keeping him protected as much as possible. He hasn’t moved to LA yet, and I don’t think he’s going to be set up in a penthouse in the Standard Hotel any time soon.
Nrama: That’s good – not just for his own welfare and everything, but you gotta keep that mind pure so he can keep coming up with all that good Axe Cop action.
Offerman: That’s right – we have to keep him a kid and maintain that innocence, so he doesn’t get jaded by the world and think that his stories have to be rational in some way.
Nrama: There’s going to be a point, and Ethan has said this, where he’s going to be too old to think of something like a T-Rex with machine-gun arms, and that’s breaking my heart. It’s like the ending of Peter Pan, only a million times sadder.
Nrama: Now, I understand you actually made an Axe Cop axe for Ethan’s fundraiser last year…
Offerman: Yes, I did. I made an axe out of mahogany, and it was so much fun. It made me want to do like a gallery show where I make hand tools, all out of wood. Like, I want to make a big shovel, and an axe, and a humongous crosscut saw. I think that would be a really cool thing to get to do. But I don’t know when exactly I’ll find the time. When I do, I’ll rule that gallery.
Nrama: Just wielding an axe that’s intended to be an Axe Cop axe – has that helped you any in your embodying that character? Like, did you think to yourself, “This is how Axe Cop would feel, wielding this axe?”, and did that affect your performance?
Offerman: It did. You know, when Axe Cop finds that axe that’s the world’s greatest axe, that’s the day he becomes Axe Cop. And I believe that I have crafted the world’s greatest axe, so I do feel it gives me a pretty impressive superpower.
Nrama: I was wondering – given the resources within your woodshop, what useful weapons and/or crime-fighting equipment do you believe you could make?
Offerman: Well, we haven’t gotten into the realm of vehicles yet, except for a couple of canoes. I’m sure there’s a superhero somewhere in the Marvel or DC universe that could use a canoe. I could make a surfboard for the Silver Surfer. I could make a kickass Mjolnir for Thor. And I could probably make some kickass longbows and arrows for Hawkeye and Green Arrow.
That’s what I’d love to do – making an axe was so much fun, because the handle feels right because it’s wood, but the head’s so right, and the mahogany…it made me want to build a sledgehammer, and a two-handed broadsword, Glamdring perhaps, to get back to my ultimate source of nerddom, which is the books of Tolkien.
Nrama: I was also wondering – given that your televised portrayals have veered toward the side of such modern legendary figures as Ron Swanson and now Axe Cop, if you could portray any character within classic mythology or epics, which would it be?
Offerman: Gosh! That’s a difficult question. I hope I get to do something as Teddy Roosevelt; he’s a character I greatly admire. But I’ve always gravitated toward Ben Grimm, The Thing of the Fantastic Four. The most great superheroes I think too highly of to dishonor them by casting myself in their shoes. I tend to prefer the more modern teams of misfits.
You know actually, I auditioned for Wolverine when Bryan Singer made the first X-Men movie. I went on tape reading for that role. I always felt when I was younger, I could have taken a good crack at Wolverine.
These days, I love the lead character of The Boys – I’m blanking on the name – Butcher! That’s it.
Nrama: I always think of Wee Hughie, because he looks like Simon Pegg.
Offerman: Yes, I think that was a clear invitation to Simon Pegg to buy the series and turn it into a film: “Look, I’ve already drawn you as a character who gets a ton of sex with a cheerleader!” Which is not an unwise move. If you can draw like that, and have such a great sense of humor, then by God, more power to you.
Nrama: You mentioned The Boys – what are some other comics you enjoy? You mentioned in another interview that you liked Y: The Last Man and Ed Brubaker’s works…
Offerman: Yeah, I…there’s not a lot of rhyme and reason. Bill Hader, and by default Seth Meyers, who turned Bill onto a bunch of this stuff, and then Bill started giving me stuff. And my friend Jason Mantzoukas, who’s a really funny comic actor and writer who plays Rafi on The League, he also turns me on to stuff.
I love 100 Bullets, Preacher – love Preacher – Powers, I’m a big fan of Bendis and Garth Ennis and Ed Brubaker, as we said. I love Scalped, Warren Ellis – Global Frequency was a really great little pair of books. One of my roommates years ago turned me on to Sandman, and that’s where I really started freaking out about graphic novels. Alan Moore, the really classic stuff. And of course, Axe Cop.
Nrama: That’s a great variety of books. Do you tend to read books on a weekly or month-to-month basis, or do you tend to catch up in trade form?
Offerman: No, I…I hate when I get turned on to a series and it’s not done yet. Though now I know better. My brother also gives me a lot of great books, including Scalped, and I read a couple volumes, and I said, “This is great, I can’t wait to devour the whole thing,” and he said, “Well, it’s not done, it’s only this many books so far,” and I went, “You son of a bitch.”
In this modern age, I don’t have it in me to wait through a serial, so I have to wait until the whole thing is done. I do the same thing with TV series. I don’t believe in waiting five years; I wait until I can get the whole DVD set, and then my wife and I binge.
Nrama: I’m told we have to wrap up, so quick question: Are there other comics’ fans on Parks and Recreation? Because Aziz Ansari is a big fanboy, Chris Pratt’s doing Guardians of the Galaxy…are there are a lot of other comic readers on there?
Offerman: I don’t think are particular comics readers. Everyone’s kind of smart and into culture in their own way, so I bet some of them have some comics they enjoy, but they don’t talk about them that much. I have turned a bunch of them onto Axe Cop.
Rashida Jones, if I could pick one person from the cast who is into comics…she had a comic of her own a few years back called Frenemy of the State, that I was really blown away by. When we first met on the show and she showed this to me, I went, “What the hell do you mean, you have a goddamn comic? What can’t you do?” She is smart as hell. She is an incredible person and I think that her film writing and acting career are probably taking over, but I enjoyed what she did of Frenemy of the State.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
Offerman: Getting to dip my toes into this world and work in a collaborative way on Axe Cop with the brothers Nicolle is a great privilege. I hope that we’re making something commensurate with all the joy that all of these titles have brought me. Fingers crossed, we’ll get to keep up the good work.
Parks and Recreation airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays on NBC. Axe Cop airs Saturdays as part of Animation Domination on Fox, and Paddle Your Own Canoe is in bookstores now.