Stan Lee might have created multiple comic book characters, but most people would agree he was a terrible stand-up comedian. That’s not the case for Dallas native Thomas Nichols, a touring comedian who just saw the second issue of his comic book, Just Us Cops, hit store shelves.
Just Us Cops introduces readers to a world where all the famous cartoons — from Saturday morning stars to movie legends — live in a world alongside humans. In the world Nichols created, animated and flesh co-exist to take part in the daily grind, ensuring the rent check doesn’t bounce at the end of the month. Each issue follows two humans, beat cops Marcus White and Jason Brown, as they try to keep the peace in a city where the outlandish is just another shift of work.
“The idea came together, but it just went away for a while,” Nichols says. “Like I remember not even thinking about it. I was doing stand-up at the time; I got writer’s block. That’s what happened. I got writer’s block really bad, and I was like, ‘I need to figure out how to get out of this writer’s block.’ And I remember thinking I wanted to do something like a cartoon or just a comic book or comic strip, and I just started writing.”
Nichols has been performing stand-up comedy for roughly a decade now. His comedy is a mixture of sharpness and self-aware observations of himself without ever delving into the showy narcissism that can trap the less talented. Nichols started his comedy career in Dallas, working the stages at clubs like Hyena’s and the Improv before making his way to Seattle, where he resides. In many ways, Just Us Cops is a reflection of Nichols' voice onstage and his understated presence onstage lowering an audience’s defenses before he spins absurdity from the ordinary.
The inspiration for the series came from a mixture of cartoons and comedic styles, ranging from the broad satire of Mad TV and the subversive oddity of Adult Swim offerings like Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, where titular lawyer Birdman defends classic cartoon characters in court.
“I remember specifically thinking, What happened to the other characters that we know nothing about?” Nichols says. “Like there were certain cartoons that people didn’t care about, it was just there. Like I remember the drunken stork. Nobody knows about what happened to that guy, he just disappeared. So I was trying to figure out what could I do with something like him.”
Turning the idea into a finished physical book required Nichols to find an artist to collaborate with, and his connection to the art community was limited. Left with few alternatives, Nichols joined every Facebook group he could find, to put out a notice for any interested artists ready to put their spin on his story. A packed inbox of replies later, Nichols settled on a solution that would guarantee each issue looked fresh and different: use everyone.
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“This is a book. I didn’t want it to look the same,” Nichols says. “I want the idea to be good, and I want the cops to be good, but everybody has their own vision on how cops should look. I made a point to try to get different artists every time.”
The second issue has reached Seattle comic book stores, and Nichols plans to expand shipments to interested stores around the country as his budget can provide. At the moment, he pays for the printing of each run, and the cost is prohibitive to even come close to the large print jobs the powerhouses at Marvel and DC can maintain week to week. For those not able to get their hands on a physical copy, Nichols does make each issue available to purchase at his website.
There might come a day when Nichols is so busy writing Just Us Cops comics that he’s forced to slow down his touring schedule, but that moment hasn’t arrived yet. Until then, Nichols says he will continue to perform with the same drive of relentless perfectionism he puts into everything he does.
“I don’t want to overload myself and then be super tired and produce something not worth it,” Nichols says. “Because I feel like if it’s not good, I wouldn’t want to put it out. The thing about it is I definitely want to write the third script and look back at the second script and be like, That book isn’t good now. I want to be able to do that.”