CALVIN & HOBBES Meets SIN CITY in SPENCER & LOCKE

Action Lab Entertainment May 2017 cover
Credit: Action Lab Entertainment
Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

What if one of the most beloved characters in children’s comic grew up…and became a cop?

This Wednesday, readers will find out in Spencer & Locke, the new Action Lab Entertainment miniseries which asks, “What if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City?” The dark, surreal take on the classic comic characters comes from a new name to comic book creation that Newsarama readers know well – David Pepose, head of Newsarama's Best Shots review team.

Pepose talked with Newsarama about his and Jorge Santiago's new creator-owned series, and how it came to be.

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

Newsarama: So, David - who is Spencer, and who is Locke?

David Pepose: They’re a pair of hard-boiled detectives with a twist - one’s a tough-as-nails cop, the other’s an imaginary talking panther. But as Locke would tell you, don’t judge - you probably got weirder friends.

Spencer and Locke are the kind of partners with a chemistry that comes from being lifelong best friends - it’s very much a yin and yang sort of dynamic. Detective Locke is a hard man with a harder past, a scrappy gumshoe whose bite is much worse than his bark - he’s the kind of guy who can (and does) tackle perps twice his size, just to prove he can.

Meanwhile, even though he’s not real, Spencer acts as Locke’s conscience, his intuition - sometimes even his very humanity. And as we’ll discover over the course of this dark detective story, their friendship was forged through some truly harrowing experiences, and that there’s a good reason why Locke has carried Spencer well past his childhood.

Nrama: What happens in this story?

Pepose: Years after escaping the old neighborhood, Locke returns to home to investigate the murder of his childhood sweetheart, Sophie Jenkins - but unfortunately, he and Spencer’s investigation stirs up more than just the ghosts of his past. With a vicious crime syndicate hot on their tails, Spencer and Locke are going to have to come face-to-face with their own inner demons if they’re going to find Sophie’s killer.

Of course, that might sound like a straightforward way to describe a story that’s anything but - with a high concept like “what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City,” there’s going to be plenty of twists and turns to this high-stakes buddy-cop drama, thanks in part to the types of mythology we’re evoking and subverting here. We’ve got car chases, shootouts, bar fights… and dinosaurs and monsters. And just wait till you meet Rocketman Reynolds!

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment
Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

But ultimately, Spencer & Locke is a crime story, an action story, but also a story about imagination and heartache, about depression and mental illness, about friendship and the lengths the mind will go to protect itself from harm. It’s certainly a dark and subversive story, but one that I think ultimately has a redemptive arc. It’s about whether or not we’re imprisoned by our scars - whether we can transcend our pasts, or always be defined by them.

Nrama: How did the idea for it come about?

Pepose: I’ve been operating on the periphery of the comics industry for the better part of 10 years now, having started my career as an intern at DC Comics, and then writing about comics for years after that - so I think after living and breathing comics for so long, it was a natural part of that evolution to take the plunge and start creating comics of my own. People say “write what you know,” and one of the things I know best is comics - so I had always gravitated toward the idea of doing something a little meta with my first book.

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

While I had toyed around with aging up a children’s property with a more adult twist, the thing that sparked Spencer & Locke was recognizing that we needed to have an actual story, not just shock value. I think it clicked for me when I saw a remixed Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin went on Ritalin and stopped seeing Hobbes - that really flipped the script on me, and made me think about what Calvin’s home life must have been like to have so vividly imagined Hobbes. What if this omnipresent tiger friend wasn’t a benign quirk, but a symptom of a much deeper pathology? And what would this child look like if he became an adult?

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

I’m also a tremendous fan of classic Frank Miller - his work on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear was the first comic that made me realize as a kid that real people wrote and drew these books - and some of my favorite films are noir movies like Memento, Chinatown, and Brick. The idea of transplanting this broken character into a Sin City-like noir world just felt right to me - it’s not just a black comedy or a parody or the skewering of a sacred comics cow, but it’s also a love letter to Frank, Bill Watterson, and the dozens of other revolutionary comics creators over the years who have inspired us to get to this point.

Nrama: What brought this idea to Action Lab, and what's it like working with them?

Pepose: I had heard great things about Action Lab, having followed books like Vito Delsante and Sean Izaake’s Stray, Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless, and Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger - and honestly, our creative director, Dave Dwonch, really sold us on the company just based on his sheer enthusiasm for our pitch. Having a publisher that really believed in us as much as Action Lab has been tremendously inspiring, and the fact that they really gave us the latitude to tell our story the way we needed to tell it has been truly empowering for us as creators. We’re just incredibly grateful for their trust in us, and for giving us this amazing opportunity.

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

Nrama: What is your collaborative process with your artist like?

Pepose: My artist and co-creator on this book, Jorge Santiago, Jr., is just the complete package - he’s incredibly talented, immensely expressive, and never shied away from some of the more ambitious action sequences I threw at him for this series. When I pitched Jorge on this book, I told him I wanted Spencer & Locke to be an artist’s book just as much as a writer’s, and he absolutely delivered and then some. I’m just tremendously fortunate to have Jorge as a partner on this book, and I’m so grateful for him being the first one to believe in this project.

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

The thing about Jorge is he not only brings such a cohesive comics education to the table as an alumni from the Savannah College of Art & Design, but he’s just so damn passionate and thoughtful with every single page - which is great for me, because I bring a really critical eye to the table, too. Jorge and I would go back and forth over dozens of emails just to figure out the best way for a page to be laid out, andI think that communication - along with plenty of late-night IM conversations I had with our exceptional secret weapon, colorist Jasen Smith - really helped us hash out a sensational-looking project. It really brought together the best of both worlds.

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

Nrama: Do you see this series as self-contained, or do you have long-term plans for it? If it's the latter, what are some themes and ideas you'd like to explore?

Pepose: I like to write modularly, so I’m able to expand if I want or to leave as is. Right now, we’ve got four issues on the docket, but I know where this book could go if there was a demand for it. I certainly think there’s a much wider universe for Spencer & Locke to explore, and I think we could definitely do another two or three arcs if fans come out for this run. Without giving too much away, if our first arc is about scars, our second arc would be about consequences. I already have the perfect bad guy in mind… but I’ll worry about this first arc selling first!

Nrama: What's the biggest difference between reviewing comic books and writing comic books? Does it give you more insight into the process, and what do you feel the line is between trying to create something vs. criticizing what someone else has created?

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

Pepose: For me, comics is always an ongoing education, and as the child of an educator, I think that’s part of what’s attracted me to the field to begin with - you can always learn something new, and I see reviewing and creating as two sides of the same coin in that regard. Reviewing comics, at least for me, feels like studying for a big test - and in this case with Spencer & Locke, I got to take everything I’ve learned over the years and put it into practice. I think any angle you look at comics with will give you more insight, and I think being able to break down a comic and articulate what you do and don’t like was crucial to helping me find my voice.

I think as far as a line is concerned with reviewing, you just always have to remember that there’s a human face on the other side of your critique - while I’m certainly not perfect, I feel like there’s a major difference between analyzing execution and content versus making a personal attack on a creator. Snark is easy, and chances are, what you might consider to be the most wrong-headed or phoned-in comic probably required a ton of work from somebody. So if nothing else, this process makes me respect the rest of the industry even more!

Nrama: Did you have any imaginary friends as a child, and if so, what are you willing to share about them? Keep in mind at least some minuscule portion of our audience might be mental health professionals.

Pepose: This might be a cheat, but I used to pretend I would speak for my two dogs as a kid. Maude used to have a deeper voice, while her daughter Mindy used to have a squeaky voice. Strangely enough, they always seemed to agree with whatever I was saying at the time… I definitely used them as tiebreakers when my friends and I couldn’t agree on a vote for something. Sorry, democracy!

Nrama: So why do you think people should buy Spencer & Locke?

Credit: Action Lab Entertainment

Pepose: This is a book created by comics fans, for comics fans - if you like books like Criminal, like Moon Knight, like Parker or Blacksad or Southern Bastards, you’ll love Spencer & Locke. If you like Afterlife with Archie or Riverdale, or even books like Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore’s Ghost Rider or Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson’s Batman: Gotham Knights, you’ll love Spencer & Locke. If you’ve ever enjoyed Sin City, or Calvin and Hobbes, or have a taste for any other subversive comics - and make no mistake, Bill Watterson and Frank Miller have reigned in part because of their uniquely subversive voices - I think you’ll find lots to love about Spencer & Locke.

Nrama: What's next for you?

Pepose: You mean after the post-book release coma? I’m hard at work on my next pitch, developing a few other irons in the fire, and just doing whatever I can to make Spencer & Locke’s launch a success. I’m working with such a top-shelf creative team with Jorge, Jasen, letterer Colin Bell, and our exceptional variant artists Maan House and Joe Mulvey, and I think we’ve really pushed each other to bring our A-game to every page of this book. I feel like they’ve really gone above and beyond to make this crazy figment of my imagination into something tangible, real, and terrific. Isn’t that every comic reader’s dream?

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