What would you think of Calvin and Hobbes thrust into the dark world of detective noir, solving crimes and rehashing childhood wounds? Spencer & Locke is a series that transforms the wonder of childhood and imagination into something that reflects parts of us we may not want to see. We had the chance to sit down with David Pepose, writer of the series, and peer into the ideas and motivations behind the series, from its inspiration to its seedy foundation.
Allen Thomas: To call Spencer & Locke a dark spin on Calvin & Hobbes is an understatement. What gave you the inspiration for the story?
David Pepose: Our high concept when we pitched SPENCER & LOCKE was “What if Calvin & Hobbes grew up in Sin City?” and I think that elevator pitch really speaks to our big influences. When I first decided I was going to try to write a comic, I wanted to do something that really spoke to comics readers first and foremost — and as a big fan of remixes and mashups, the idea of leaning into genre really appealed to me. It’s the story of a hard-boiled cop and his partner, who just happens to be his childhood imaginary friend — what’s not to like?
But what really made SPENCER & LOCKE come together was actually a remixed Calvin & Hobbes strip I saw online, which had Calvin go on medication that left Hobbes a silent, lifeless doll. I think that’s where SPENCER & LOCKE ultimately clicked for me as a concept, this idea of an imaginary friend not just being this benign childhood quirk, but a symptom of a much darker pathology going on beneath the surface. What sort of home life would inspire a child to develop a character so vivid and detailed? And how would that upbringing twist and shape an adult? So it’s that kind of deeper human story is what I think helps make SPENCER & LOCKE stand apart.
AT: Jorge Santiago and Jasen Smith use visuals with striking contrasts and dark hues. How does their work influence the tone of your story? How do you work together to create a vision?
DP: Jorge, my co-creator on the book, has been a tremendous partner to work with on this book, as has our colorist, Jasen Smith. When I was looking for artists to team up with on SPENCER & LOCKE, I saw that Jorge described himself as making comics with “stupid amounts of passion,” and I knew right then and there that was the kind of collaborator I wanted to work with — and boy, seeing his pages come in, I just thank my lucky stars we connected. Jorge just has so much expressiveness and energy and style, and I’m just honored to have him as collaborator on my first book. Jasen, meanwhile, was actually the final member of our creative team to join up — we had worked with several colorists previously, and none of them had worked out, but as soon as Jasen took a crack at our preview pages, I knew we had the right guy.
As far as our work flow went, we definitely had a ton of back-and-forth communication to make sure that every page was a knockout. Jorge and I spent months really honing and defining the look of SPENCER & LOCKE, sharing a ton of reference images from different influences ranging from Torpedo and Cowboy Bebop to old-school Batman and Frank Miller. We’d spend pages and pages of emails hammering out just the right way to block out an action scene — Jorge is just so thoughtful and exacting with his artwork, and having his expert knowledge really helped make this book look dynamic. Jasen, meanwhile, is the ultimate team player — he and I would play around with different approaches to different scenes, and the end result just looks stunning.
AT: That twist at the end of the issue sure was something. What else do we have in store for Locke in the next issues?
DP: We play around with a lot of the original Calvin & Hobbes iconography, and our first issue is really only the tip of the iceberg. Without spoiling too many details, there’s that saying that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, in the case of Locke, it takes a village to break a child, too, and we’ll get to see plenty of figures from his past come out of the woodwork. But something I’m really proud of with SPENCER & LOCKE is that each issue has its own flavor and its own identity — no two issues are alike, which I think will keep readers on their toes.
AT: Calvin & Hobbes plays on childhood imagination, but it seems as though Spencer & Locke is something entirely different. Are you going to get into Spencer and the reality of his existence?
DP: Boy, how can I answer this without getting myself into trouble…? You’re on the right track talking about imagination — and I’d make the argument that perception and imagination aren’t always as divided as one might think. I have some very clear-cut ideas about Spencer that we’ll dive into as the series progresses, but I think we also leave readers plenty of room for interpretation through all four issues. By the end of the book, I think readers will feel strongly one way or the other — and honestly, I’m really excited to see what people take away from this.
AT: I’m a big stickler for representation. What other characters are going to show up? Are they going to be LGBTQ, people of color, women, disabled, etc.?
DP: The ideas of mental illness, depression and trauma are big themes in SPENCER & LOCKE, and as we follow Locke’s journey, I think it’s something we touch upon in some form or fashion in every single issue — I think it stems a lot from me loving movies like Memento growing up, these sorts of stories where people have these disabilities they’re able to embrace and turn into strengths.
And as far as the rest of the cast, while our main focus is always on Spencer and Locke as our two buddy-cop protagonists, we’ll have plenty of other characters come in and out of Spencer and Locke’s orbit, particularly the women in Locke’s life — characters that fans of the original comic strip might recognize if they look in just the right way.
AT: What do you hope readers get from your story?
DP: Ultimately, I just hope fans enjoy reading SPENCER & LOCKE even half as much I did helping put it together with Jorge, Jasen, Colin, Maan and Joe. For people who like their comics to have high-octane thrills, there’s plenty of awesome action sequences to get people excited; for fans of suspense, there are plenty of twists and turns.
But underneath all the gunfights and car chases and all the other fun police detective tropes, SPENCER & LOCKE also has this undercurrent of psychological drama. At times, it can be horrifying — at other times, even depressing. But there’s that saying that you can’t hate someone if you know their story — and I think people who follow SPENCER & LOCKE will find that underneath all the harrowing action and childhood dangers, there’s a core of hope.
I think it’s a universal experience that everyone has scars — but are we defined by them? I think that’s the sort of underlying question we tackle every day of our lives — and I hope ultimately that people find some comfort in seeing Locke try to answer this question for himself.
AT: Anything else you want to add?
DP: Given that we took the mythology of Calvin and Hobbes and spliced it with hard-boiled crime noir, SPENCER & LOCKE was a comic that always felt like a long-shot, and I promised myself that if I only wrote one comic in my entire life, I’d pack in as much awesome stuff into it as possible. We’ve got gunfights, car chases, even dinosaurs and spaceships, and that’s just the beginning — I feel like this book plays to fans of crime writers like Frank Miller and Ed Brubaker, to fans of the original Calvin and Hobbes strips, and fans of strong characters and artistic experimentation. As the kind of fan who’s been reading comics for years, SPENCER & LOCKE is absolutely the kind of comic I’d like to see on the stands. Indie comics like ours live and die thanks to retailers and fans, so I hope anyone who’s interested calls their local comics shop and tells them to pre-order!
You can pre-order Spencer and Locke with the codes Feb171047, Feb171048, or Feb171049 at your LCS TODAY!