What if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City? That’s the log line for a new comic from Action Lab‘s Danger Zone imprint — Spencer & Locke — an upcoming four-part series about a hard-boiled detective, a brutal murder, and a six-foot tall imaginary panther.
Pulling inspiration from those classic comic strips as well as pulpy crime thrillers, Spencer & Locke follows Detective Locke as a new case takes him back to his old neighborhood, dredging up his own traumatic past in the process. The only one he can trust to help him solve the case is his childhood best friend and partner, Spencer — who just so happens to be a stuffed animal toy.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Spencer & Locke‘s writer and co-creator, David Pepose about where the clever idea came from, the themes the comic is exploring, and more. Read on below for our conversation!
I have to ask first if you are a huge Calvin & Hobbes fan or did this idea just strike you as a clever remix (because it is)?
I’m a huge Calvin & Hobbes fan, for sure — I remember reading the Calvin & Hobbes strips my mother always used to have in her office when I was a kid. But the great thing about Bill Watterson is that he works on multiple levels — as a kid, you think his work is bright and energetic and fun and zany, but rereading his strips as an adult, it’s amazing how subversive and iconoclastic his characters are. I think it’s thatkind of quality that really led itself to Spencer & Locke making sense as a concept and as a story, because our characters have those same kinds of voices and distinctive points of view.
And Spencer & Locke definitely takes this concept into more adult territory. There is a harder edge to this story. I’m not sure if the preview is how the first issue begins, but you launch right into the idea of Spencer as escapism from a cruel reality — is that an important theme for you to explore? Kids using their imagination to weather hard times.
Absolutely. Spencer & Locke is very much about childhood trauma and mental illness, and the sorts of lengths the mind will go to protect itself from harm. And the reason for this was twofold — part of it was because I’ve always loved classic Frank Miller, and being able to evoke that pulpy, hard-boiled style was a huge part of what attracted me to this story. But also because I think I always wondered why Calvin would have to imagine his own best friend so vividly — what kind of isolated childhood must he have had to create someone like Hobbes? I remember seeing a remixed Calvin & Hobbes strip that had Calvin go on Ritalin and stop seeing Hobbes, and I remember that made everything click for me. What if the imaginary stuffed animal wasn’t a benign quirk, but a symptom of a deeper pathology? Once we went into that territory, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I’m particularly proud of the way we’ve showed not just the horrors of Locke’s past, but the way he always wrestles with his demons and overcomes his scars.
I had the impression of Spencer as a coping mechanism, and one that he’s now brought into his adult life. But does he also kind of exist as an extension of Locke now that he’s a detective? I’m thinking of the scene where Spencer is examining the crime scene, and it must actually be Locke doing that. So there must be bit of Fight Club-vibe, too, with how this practically works?
I’m glad you saw the Fight Club influence in here because that was a big way of how I figured Spencer could operate in Locke’s world. Spencer might seem real to Locke, but as this almost dissociated independent personality, he represents plenty of things about his partner. Spencer acts as Locke’s intuition, his keen animal instincts that go with Locke being such a great detective — and clearly, Spencer’s tremendous height and heft is all about his role as a protector figure for his scrappy alter ego. But Spencer and Locke are also very much the yin to the other’s yang — even as a six-foot-tall panther, Spencer represents Locke’s very human desire to protect the innocent, while Locke has a savage streak that runs far deeper than that of his feline partner. In certain ways, Spencer has grown up to become a cop because that’s what Locke has done — but on the other hand, I feel like Spencer’s influence couldn’t have resulted in Locke becoming anything else.
On a little lighter side, I cracked up at the diner scene where once the waitress appears it cuts to Locke and the stuffed Spencer, just the childhood toy. That must be a fun part of this concept, creating hilarious scenarios for a grown man and a stuffed panther to be hanging out. Well, perhaps both fun and a little sad, because I’m guessing that isn’t always played for laughs.
Haha, yeah, I really enjoyed writing that scene — honestly, there’s an absurdity of watching a grown man talking to a giant panther that we know is just a raggedy doll. Some of my favorite parts of Spencer & Locke was watching the way the two of them would bicker and banter back and forth — it kind of reminded me of Cohle and Hart from True Detective, just watching the two of them bounce off one another but then have each other’s backs at the drop of a hat. But you’re absolutely right that Spencer & Locke is a bit of a tragicomedy — we go pretty wild using some of the iconography of Calvin & Hobbes, but there’s a deep well of sadness and pain at the heart of all this. I like to think we keep things from getting too oppressive by injecting a sense of humor into things, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t play off Locke’s illness for laughs — that we earned this premise and explored our characters thoroughly.
Okay, so we’re talking about representing this relationship, and while what you’ve written is huge part of realizing Spence & Locke, I’m curious about the other fellows involved and your working relationship with them. Had you worked with artist Jorge Santiago, Jr., colorist Jasen Smith, or letterer Colin Bell before? If not, what drew you to their work? How did you know it was a right fit for Spencer & Locke?
Honestly, I’ve been so fortunate to work with a team as talented as Jorge, Jasen and Colin — not to mention our variant cover artists, Maan House and Joe Mulvey — let alone on my first published work. (And the crazy part is, I only knew Colin and Joe before I wrote this book!) My co-creator and artist on the book, Jorge Santiago, Jr., really sold me just based on his online portfolio — not just because of the quality of the work, which felt really expressive and energetic in the vein of a Becky Cloonan, but because he said he created comics and art with “stupid amounts of passion.” That’s the sort of quality you need in a collaborator, because comics take a long time to put together — it’s often a tough, thankless job, but if you have someone who brings passion and a deep wealth of knowledge to a project like Jorge does, you’re inspired to bring your A-game.
Jasen, meanwhile, was our secret weapon for the book, and ultimately the final piece of the puzzle for our initial pitch. I had gone through a couple of other colorists before someone recommended Jasen to me, and seeing his take on our pitch pages — which are exactly the preview pages the rest of the world is seeing right now, we haven’t changed it from what we sent Action Lab back in 2015 — just blew me out of the water with his choice of colors. Colin, meanwhile, I’ve known for years, having actually recruited him to the Best Shots team at Newsarama. Colin’s since gone on to do loads of writing and lettering gigs over at Titan, BOOM!, Dark Horse and more, and so when I was putting the team together, he was an absolute no-brainer.
That’s daunting, but I’m happy to say it looks like it couldn’t have come together any better. I was wondering about what it feels like to be someone who writes about comics and now be writing your own comic. What of your previous work helped you with developing Spencer & Locke?
You know how sometimes your life feels totally random, but then you wind up somewhere and realize you couldn’t have gotten there by any other route? That’s kind of me and Spencer & Locke. I got my start in the industry as an editorial intern over at DC Comics, which taught me some of the basics of comic book production, but writing reviews at Newsarama was honestly the kind of comic book boot camp/graduate school that made me (barely) ready for the realities of creating a comic. There are plenty of acclaimed comics writers who got their start in comics journalism, people like Matt Fraction, Gail Simone, even Paul Levitz — and I think the idea of examining and analyzing the industry really helped me find my own voice as a writer, and helped me define what I liked and didn’t like in the industry.
Beyond that, honestly, there was just a lot of failure that came from repetition — you can do all the preparation in the world for making your own comic, but nothing will teach you more than writing or drawing and just churning through all the crap. I’ve got tons of scripts that will never see the light of day, but just the act of writing them — and finishing them — is part of the reason why Spencer & Locke exists today.
Thanks to David for chatting about Spencer & Locke! It’s such a clever idea for a comic, but one backed up with purpose. It’s clear that Spencer & Locke isn’t about taking a childhood property and making it “more gritty” just for the sake of it. Do make sure you check it out!
And you can pre-order Spencer & Locke NOW! Visit your local comic shop and tell them to sign you up. For Spencer & Locke #1, the main cover’s pre-order code is FEB171047, and for Maan House and Joe Mulvey’s variant covers the codes are FEB171048 and FEB171049. For Spencer & Locked #2, the pre-order codes are MAR171205 for the main cover and MAR171206 for the variant.
Spencer & Locke #1 will available in both print and digitally in April 2017.
Writer: David Pepose
Artist: Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Colorist: Jasen Smith
Letterer: Colin Bell
Cover Artists: Main Cover by Jorge Santiago, Jr., Variant Covers by Maan House and Joe Mulvey
What if Calvin & Hobbes grew up in Sin City? Find out in SPENCER & LOCKE, a dark four-issue crime thriller from Action Lab Entertainment’s Danger Zone imprint. Written by David Pepose and illustrated by Jorge Santiago, Jr., SPENCER & LOCKE follows Detective Locke, who returns to the scene of his horrific upbringing when his grade-school sweetheart, Sophie Jenkins, is found dead in a lonesome back alley. But when Locke’s investigation dredges up menacing figures from his traumatic past, there’s only one person he can trust to help him close the case — his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. The twisted nostalgia of SPENCER & LOCKE comes to comic shops and digital devices in April 2017!