In April 2017, comic fans were treated to one of the most interesting and entertaining new comic books in years. SPENCER & LOCKE, by David Pepose (writer), Jorge Santiago Jr. (artist), Jasen Smith (colorist) and Colin Bell (letterer), was dark, action packed and at times funny. More importantly it was unexpectedly one of my favorite new titles immediately.
Mashing up CALVIN AND HOBBES with a SIN CITY vibe, was genius. On the surface you may think, "How could this work?". Well not only did it work, it was a critical success. The book and it's creators were nominated for several awards, which in turn has led to a sequel.
With SPENCER & LOCKE 2 set to hit the stands soon, I got a chance to talk with David and Jorge about the book and what the future entails for our favorite detectives.
COMIC LOUNGE: You are about to return to the world of Spencer & Locke in the next couple of months The first book was such a fresh and interesting idea. Where did the idea for the story stem from?
DAVID PEPOSE: Yeah, the way it came together, was that I had never really given myself permission to have the idea of writing a comic book. But back in the summer of 2014, I wasn't really connecting with a lot of things that I was reading. So that's kind of when that forbidden thought, clicked in the back of my mind, which was "If you don't like these books, why don't you write something that you would like".
So I was, and continue to be, a big fan of mashup music. Very unlikely choices. Like, Nine Inch Nails meets "Call Me Baby", things you wouldn't expect to go together but really do sound kind of cool.
I thought, "What would a mashup comic look like?".
I'm a big fan of classic Frank Miller. DARDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR was kind of the first book I read as kid that made me realize, "real" writers write these things. So I wanted to write something in that vein. I thought, "What would be the weirdest thing that we could throw against old-school Frank Miller?". Most of the ideas I would come up with, they felt very shock for shock value sake. It's an ok way to get a hook in, for maybe one issue, but I don't think it's a sustainable way to build a readership.
It was only when I thought about Calvin and Hobbes, that the whole story clicked in my head. I thought about a beat up cop in the rain, grinning wildly and holding a stuffed animal. Suddenly, a lot of questions started coming to my mind. Like, "What was this guys home life like?" "What was his childhood like, that he still has to carry a stuffed animal with him?" "What kind of trauma, must he have gone through, to keep having an imaginary friend well in to adulthood?".
It also kind of made sense from a theoretical standpoint as well. Frank Miller, in my mind, was very innovative with his panel layouts and the way he used his voice, he has that Eisner influence. But Bill Watterson was also a pioneer and a trailblazer. Just the way he would use different art styles and influences on, which could have just been a gag a day strip. Putting these two, once in a generation talents together, and seeing where they overlap and what sparks would fly, was a really intriguing idea. It was one that I just couldn't stop writing, even if you told me to.
COMIC LOUNGE: Did you hand pick Jorge to draw the story? How did you guys hook up for the book?
PEPOSE: When I had the idea of maybe putting a comic together, I looked to a lot of other creators. In the sense of their "breakout" book. I thought " Well what did they do to get their foot in the door?"
The creator I looked at the most was Justin Jordan, with THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE. Justin's a smart guy and did a lot of smart things on that book. I think the smartest thing he did, was work with an artist like Tradd Moore. Tradd's style was such a revelation, you couldn't ignore it.
So I thought to myself, "Who's the next Tradd Moore gonna be?, Where would they come from?". So I looked through a lot of the art schools. Tradd was a graduate of Savannah College of Art & Design, so I looked there. I looked at other schools like Kubert School as well. I found Jorge's portfolio and was immediately struck by, not just the way he portrayed action, although I thought it was dynamic and fluid the way he would draw. It was the expressiveness and the emotion that he gave his characters. I've always likened Jorge to a young Becky Cloonan or Rafael Albuquerque. His style was so versatile. Given the ideas I had for the script, that versatility was exactly what we needed.
It was to my surprise that Jorge went so far above and beyond what I would have expected, any one artist would have been able to do. He was able to really switch gears seamlessly, between this sort of Bill Watterson influence homage, for the flashback, to our more dramatic heartbreaking scene. From pulse pounding action scenes, all the way to crazy sci-fi and horror, he's the full package. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with him.
COMIC LOUNGE: So Jorge, when you first heard the idea for the book, what was your initial reaction to working on the title?
JORGE SANTIAGO: When David first emailed me, I was just about to graduate from SCAD. At that point, I didn't feel like I had to many prospects. I had gotten so many portfolio reviews, from so many different companies, like Marvel and Aftershock. All awesome companies, but I hadn't really gotten a "bite" yet, I had a lot of interest, but I hadn't really landed any work yet. I worked on some of own stuff, like THE EEL, which was sort of a mashup of horror and high school drama, because I though that was fun.
So when David emailed me, it sort of answered both of those callings. It made me feel like "Oh, cool people wanna work with me". It sort of pulled me out of this existential thread that I was starting to feel, since I was getting ready to leave school, but it also sounded like a fun project. I had been reading CRIMINAL and LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME, watching "The Godfather", I was really into this notion of a crime story. I had been looking for a few ways to jump into it. Right off the bat I was like, "Ok, These are a few of my favorite things, this sounds like fun".
COMIC LOUNGE: The reaction to Vol.1 of SPENCER & LOCKE, was phenomenal. You guys got nominated for a few Ringo Awards. What went through your head, when you guys saw how people were reacting to the book?
PEPOSE: It was sort of a gradual thing. We took it review by review, reader by reader. It was very exciting to be riding that wave of positive reaction. But as far as the Ringo Awards, that was very much a "pinch me" kind of moment. The Ringo Awards are based on fan votes and reader votes, in addition to industry voting. I remember telling every customer that we had, at various cons, "Hey, if you like the book, vote for us in the Ringo Awards". I remember thinking "We're not gonna beat MISTER MIRACLE, but it would be great to be on the ballot with him".
So the day the Ringo nominations came in, I remember seeing it pop up on my Twitter feed and immediately jumped on it. I think the first category might have been for "Best Series", and showed my girlfriend and we were like "No way". I kept scrolling down and I saw I was on "Best Writer", I saw Jorge on "Best Cover", our colorist Jason Smith on "Bets Colorist and letterer Collin Bell on "Best Letter". It was wild. It was very much a "pinch me" kind of thing, I thought the simulation was glitching a little bit.
It just shows, that's our readership. They're really passionate and they really stood by us. I couldn't be more grateful, especially for my first book. I feel that this book is very much a "high wire act" of a comic book, that could have blown up in our faces in a big way, if we didn't treat it the right way. It was just very heartening to see that kind of reaction. It felt very vindicating to show that people really seemed to get what we were going for with this book.
SANTIAGO: On my end, the reaction was pretty much disbelief, in a lot of ways. I think we put as much as we could into the book. I know that for a lot of people, nostalgia is a touchy subject. Like, if there was a movie I loved as a kid, I like to re-watch it now to see if I feel the same way. So, I figured crime fans would like it and fans with a sense of humor would like it, but I didn't expect this outpouring of a positive response. We have gotten the few people who are like, "Oh no, we don't like it". But even getting that response out of people, who hate it, that's better than having a book that just doesn't do anything.
There's so many books on the stands, they can't all garner everybody's attention, and our book did really well. When David sent me the email that we were nominated for Ringo Awards, I was at my day job at the time. My intial real reaction was "Noooo, you gotta be joking". I went and checked it out, sure enough it was true. Disbelief was my feeling, not so much that their was no way we could have done it, it was just wonder at the fact that the people who read it and enjoyed it really supported us. That was an immense feeling.
COMIC LOUNGE: You guys are launching Vol.2 soon. Can you talk a little about what we can expect?
PEPOSE: Yeah, SPENCER & LOCKE 2 is in Previews now. So anyone can call their local comic shop and preorder it. Our first series was "What if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in the city?", now we're expanding that universe exponentially. We're taking the FABLES approach with it. Essentially, we're doing a hardboiled Calvin & Hobbes versus hardcore Beetle Bailey, for a sequel. No comic strip is safe anymore. Spencer and Locke go head-to-head with the murderous Roach Riley. It's our riff on Mort Walker's classic strip, Beetle Bailey.
The thing is, Spencer and Locke are very much a product of a traumatic and abusive childhood, but they've had a lifetime to develop coping mechanisms for their scars. Roach is kind of the dark mirror opposite of Locke. He has sustained just as much pain, horror, and suffering in a much more accelerated time frame. He's come out the other side with a very twisted view on the futility of pain and suffering. He's just as much an apostle as he is a terrorist, he's found religion, it just happens to be pain and suffering. He is looking to spread the "good word" to as many people as possible. Very much like the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
It's a lot of fun seeing the sparks that come off of Spencer and Locke trying fight this guy off.
COMIC LOUNGE: You said you're taking the "Fables" approach, so do you have plans to do analogues of other classic comic strip characters?
PEPOSE: Absolutely! There's gonna be so many in the second arc. We've got analogues of Brenda Starr, The Family Circus, Marmaduke, Hagar the Horrible, Nancy and Sluggo. That's just the tip of the iceberg. We're really throwing as many characters as we can fit in here.
When I was reading the comic pages as a kid, all of these strips existed on the same page. So, it felt like a really organic escalation of our series, to have all of these characters in the same universe. In a lot of ways, it was very freeing, it offered up a lot of different and cool avenues of storytelling for us.
SANTIAGO: To add on to what David was saying about the newspaper strips. It just occurred to me recently, in the newspaper, comic strips tend to be about people, families. Even if it was down to THE FAMILY CIRCUS or CALVIN AND HOBBES, even FUNKY WINKERBEAN, which really dramatic at times. When you compare it to what's on comic book newsstands at the time, "slice of life" kind of stories did not exist in comic book shops.
So, for essentially what we're doing, it's like what David was saying, these families all live in the same neighborhood. You can actually imagine that down the street from the Family Circus lives the family from Foxtrot. I feel like it may be a sort of tenuous connection, but there's a connection there that we're hoping to explore. What if they all grew up and there was a problem down the street, how would they react to it? Thinking about those kind of questions, especially when it come to thinking about classic characters and "How would this character deal with this?", you can come up with some really fun ways to explore the characters beyond the stuff that they're know for.
I think that our version stands enough on their own, that you don't need to go back and read the original strips to enjoy it. I think that's another secret to our books power. This story is about people, and they're struggle, they're daily lives. Which is sort of in keeping what the newspaper strips we're kind of like. Even though a lot of them were comedic.
COMIC LOUNGE: So Jorge, when designing the characters, how much of the source material do you try to incorporate in to the design?
SANTIAGO: I spent a lot of time studying Bill Watterson's art and also Mort Walker's. It was a lot easier to find books with Calvin and Hobbes as opposed to Beetle Bailey. What I always try to do, when I'm designing what these worlds would look like, I try to make sure that they don't look like those comics but that they could exist naturally in the world of Spencer & Locke. It would do nobody any good if I just did a perfect recreation of Bill Watterson's CALVIN AND HOBBES art style. It would just feel separate, like "these two things don't belong together". It would feel like there was two artists working on the same book.
What I was aiming for, with those particular sequences, was incorporating the style and feeling of these stories in to my own style and hybridize them. I think that if you compare how I draw the flashbacks of Spencer and Locke, they don't really look like Bill Watterson's art style. Which is a good thing because, there's no way I can beat Bill Watterson, haha. He's an amazing artist and there's so much talent there, that even if I did my 200% I couldn't match up at all. I think that when you look at those things, you can definitely feel the inspiration. You can almost imagine that the reasons for the art style changes, isn't so much that we wanted to emulate a style but more this is how a child would remember their childhood.
Or for people like Beetle Bailey, this is how somebody who grew up with a lackadaisical life, this is what his life looked like. When you think back to your childhood, a lot of times you don't have perfect memories like, "Oh yeah I can tell exactly how many bricks were on the face of the home I grew up in". But we have sort of stylized memories. So I think with the styles, part of my approach was making that feel like it wasn't just a style change. It was how Locke remembers his childhood. There was an innocence there, but it was also bloody and burnt and destroyed at the time.
COMIC LOUNGE: I'm sure many Spencer & Locke fans are wondering, myself included, are there are any plans for a Vol.3 ?
PEPOSE: If there's enough demand for Vol.2, anything can happen. I have plans for these characters. I've had plans in mind for a very long time. A lot of people have asked us, with this second volume, "Was this always in the cards?". The answer was yes. I had this idea for Vol.2 before I even approached Jorge. I do have an idea for Vol.3 and Action Lab has told us, that as long as our sales are not in the toilet that they would be happy to do so.
So that's the thing, any preorder for SPENCER & LOCKE 2 is basically a preorder for Vol.3. So yes, there is an idea in play and it's very exciting. I hope everybody gets to see it.
COMIC LOUNGE: So one last thing I wanted to ask you guys. Are there any other projects you're working on, either together or individually, that you guys can talk about?
PEPOSE: Sure! I have another book that I will be announcing in the next couple months, which will be coming out after SPENCER & LOCKE 2 is finished. I can't go into too many details, other than I wanted to try some other genres. There was a genre I didn't think they did enough of in the Direct Market, I figured nobody has really tried doing any rom-coms recently. But keep in mind, it's a rom-com the guy who wrote SPENCER & LOCKE. So take from that what you will.
I also have GRAND THEFT ASTRO, which we announced at SDCC. I'm working with artist Jordi Perez on that. I'm still in the very early stages of it. It's kind of "Back to the Future" meets "Fast and the Furious", in space. It's a time travel space heist. I don't have any sort of date on that yet though.
Beyond that, there's a few irons in the fire, but I'm focusing on SPENCER & LOCKE right now. This book has always been my baby. I owe it to my collaborators to put 125% into making sure this book has the right kind of launch. Just kind of noodling around with, where can we take this story from here. So that's where I'm at right now, just very excited for SPENCER & LOCKE 2 to hit stores.
SANTIAGO: As for me, right now, I'm mainly focusing on some of my creator owned work. My continuing, CURSE OF THE EEL, which I just finished the 10th chapter of a little while ago. It's been doing really well online, I think total I have about 3000 readers on it, which is amazing. I've never had that many people follow anything of mine. It's bizarre and shocking, but I love it.
I also have an all-ages fantasy comic, RARE DROPS, which has been popular lately. Especially with the resurgence of D&D, which I'm also a fan of. I'm mainly working on those things. I'm considering getting them ready to "pitch", I just need to figure out which companies/publishers they would best fit in with.
Other than that, just freelance illustration and trying to keep busy.
COMIC LOUNGE: Alright guys, thank you again and I can't wait to read SPENCER & LOCKE 2.
PEPOSE: Of course! Don't forget, Spencer and Locke Volume 1 is available from your local comic shop and bookstores.
The first issue of Volume 2 comes out on April 24th but can be preordered now at your local comic shop using these codes: FEB191309 (Jorge Santiago, Jr. Main Cover), FEB191310 (Maan House Variant), or FEB191311 (Joe Mulvey Variant).