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DF Interview: David Pepose brings a ‘paws’ to crime in Spencer & Locke
By Byron Brewer
When his grade-school sweetheart is found dead, there's only one friend Detective Locke can trust to help solve her murder -- his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. But when they face a vicious crime syndicate and memories from Locke's traumatic youth, can this unlikely pair survive long enough to find the truth?
In the first published work for either, writer David Pepose and artist Jorge Santiago Jr. bring a wonderful world of gritty noir and surprising comics homage to life in Spencer & Locke.
To learn more about this miniseries, DF spoke with scribe David Pepose.
Dynamic Forces: David, tell us about how Spencer & Locke came about and to Action Lab.
David Pepose: This story, in a lot of ways, started off as a dare — could we mash up two types of stories that couldn’t be any more different, and still come up with a cohesive narrative? But most of the combinations I came up with felt largely rooted on shock value — until I started thinking about Calvin and Hobbes, particularly the way that this young boy’s only friend seemed to be imaginary. What kind of twisted home life would that represent? Once that thought came to mind, the idea of transplanting this scenario into a dark noir story felt like a match made in heaven — and when we pitched to Action Lab, they clearly felt the same way.
DF: What can you tell us, in a non-spoilery manner (and acknowledging that issue #1 of the four-issue miniseries is already in stores), about the storyline here?
David Pepose: Spencer & Locke is the story of hard-boiled Detective Locke, who returns back to the old neighborhood following the murder of his childhood sweetheart, schoolteacher Sophie Jenkins. But as Locke’s return home stirs up memories of his traumatic upbringing, the only friend he can trust to help close the case is his trusty partner, Spencer — who just so happens to be a six-foot-tall imaginary panther. So our story not only follows this unlikely pair of odd couple detectives as they delve into this seedy criminal underworld in search of answers, but it also examines Spencer and Locke’s troubled past and explores why this unlikely friendship would persist deep into Locke’s adulthood.
DF: Introduce readers to your main protagonists (even the ones who don’t exist) please.
David Pepose: Growing up in horrific circumstances, Locke is the scrappy smartass from the wrong side of the tracks who’s grown up to become a tough-as-nails homicide detective. Driven by his demons, Locke has a vicious streak equaled only by his zeal for justice — he’s the type of man who fights for the defenseless, in many ways, to avenge the wrongs of his own past. But Locke’s scars tell a tale, and perhaps the most telling of all is Spencer — his closest friend, his truest confidant, and a talking panther who happens to be a figment of his imagination. As a tough and muscular figure, Spencer’s definitely a defense mechanism of Locke’s psyche after years of abuse, but he’s also the yin to his partner’s yang — Spencer represents Locke’s intuition, his animal instincts as a cop, but also his warmth, his sense of humor… at times, even his very humanity.
DF: What other characters of interest do readers need to keep an eye out for?
David Pepose: There are plenty of characters around the periphery that circle in and out of Spencer and Locke’s orbit, as we examine Locke’s present and past. There’s Sophie Jenkins, Locke’s former flame who wound up on the wrong side of a straight razor in an abandoned alleyway. There’s Locke’s mother, who looms large over her son’s personality, who left some deep and lasting marks that go more than skin deep. But ultimately, we’re fortunate that we don’t need to linger on these side characters for too long, with our story really focusing mostly on Spencer and Locke’s buddy-cop dynamic.
DF: And your big-bad(s) …?
David Pepose: The beauty of Spencer & Locke is that we have plenty of bad guys in the mix, with lots of winks and nods to Bill Watterson’s comic strip mythology, each of which attack our heroes on a different level. From schoolyard-bully-turned-street-enforcer Stanley to Augustus, the vicious crimelord who has some deep personal ties to Locke, these bad guys really put our heroes through the wringer, testing them both physically, mentally and emotionally.
DF: This series’ Calvin and Hobbes influence is very obvious (and somewhat jarring, to be honest). Were you a big fan of the strip, and if so why?
David Pepose: Calvin and Hobbes has been a comic strip classic for years, and rightfully so. I’ve always been struck by the sheer range Bill Watterson was able to accomplish, with such sheer artistic virtuosity. There’s such a subversiveness to those strips that I think really gave Calvin and Hobbes an edge, and it’s something we’ve tried to emulate with our dark noir environment as well. But there’s also something so simple and pure that drove that strip for so long, that friendship between a boy and his stuffed tiger — seeing that bond between Calvin and Hobbes, and Spencer and Locke after them, I think when you see these characters’ affection toward one another, it can’t help but be contagious.
DF: Calvin and Hobbes, yes, but there is also a lot of grit and noir here reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight or Daredevil. Very cool. Was Miller’s unique street writing style an influence for you?
David Pepose: Absolutely — Frank Miller made a tremendous impression on me as a kid, and was the first author whose voice really stood out as singular and unique. There’s a certain degree of poetry that his street-level noir allowed him to invoke — writing that not only allowed us to get into his antiheroes’ heads, but to make them just sound totally cool in the process. And that’s not even taking into account the sheer innovation he brought to the table as both a writer and artist — look at the way he composed Sin City, the way he’d play with contrast and negative space, or the way he’d punctuate a splash page with lines and lines of text in the margins. The man’s forgotten more about comics than I’ll ever know, and it was that kind of spirit that really pushed us to bring our A-game.
DF: Why is Jorge Santiago Jr. the right artist for the mini? What does he bring to this table?
David Pepose: Considering Spencer & Locke is the first published work for both of us, I can’t tell you how fortunate I have been to work with Jorge on this book. What’s so great about Jorge is that he never backs down from a challenge — and this book has thrown a lot at him! From car chases to alien worlds, Jorge brings such a thoughtfulness and passion to his pages, and that pairs off so well with the energy and expressiveness he gives his characters. Jorge is really the person who established so much of our visual tone, and was able to pull off the dichotomy between our cartoony flashbacks and our dark present-day scenes so well. He even really solidified the dynamic between Spencer and Locke, switching the initial dynamic I had envisioned, making Locke a smaller, scrappier cop alongside the towering, muscular Spencer (whose button eye was also Jorge’s idea)! But yes, as my partner and co-creator on this book, I couldn’t be luckier.
DF: David, any other projects current or near-future you can tell us about?
David Pepose: Aside from the post-release coma I’m planning on? I’ve got a few irons in the fire, a few pitches that I’m very excited to develop. But honestly, I’d also just love to tell some more stories with Spencer & Locke. I think there’s a much larger universe for these characters to explore, and who knows? Maybe if the demand exists, maybe we will!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank David Pepose for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Spencer & Locke #1 from Action Lab is in stores now!
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