Welcome back to another Spotlight Interview. We had the great fortune to get together with the creators of the Ringo Award nominated series Spencer and Locke.
Spencer and Locke first debuted in 2017, and was published by Action Lab. It was created by David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr. The creators have described it as riff on the idea of what would happen if Calvin and Hobbes had grown up in Sin-City.
The concept is so audacious, a lot of people wanted to look to see if we could stick the landing.
Capitalizing on the success of their hit series, the guys are back with Spencer and Locke 2, and it is beginning on April 24, 2019. You can find the preorder information on PreviewsWorld.
Our conversation with David and Jorge covered topics ranging from the inspiration for the series to process techniques, and fan reactions. Take a look below. We think you will be impressed with these guys and definitely intrigued about what you will find in Volume 2 of Spencer and Locke.
Pop Culture Squad: What was the inspiration for the original series of Spencer and Locke?
David Pepose (Writer/Creator): It took me a while to muster up the nerve to think that maybe I could write a comic. I think there is a lot of mysticism about creating stuff that people think it is kind of magic. Where, to me, it’s more like building a chair. It’s hard work, but there is a form to it that you can build upon. So, people say to write about what you know, and I thought, “Well I don’t know anything about anything, except for comics.” The more that I thought about that, the more I thought it was not as limiting as one might think.
I was a big fan of mashup music at the time that I was coming up with this idea. Things like Nine Inch Nails meets “Call Me, Maybe”. Weird, unorthodox mashups that sound kind of catchy. And I thought, “Nobody’s ever done that with a comic that I can think of.” So, I thought of what that would look like.
I am a big fan of classic Frank Miller, things like Daredevil, Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Sin City. I thought that type of homage would be a cool base to start from. Then, I thought of what would be the weirdest thing to throw against that. I thought about childhood properties to age-up, and the problem that I had was that they felt like they would be purely for shock-value’s sake, which is not a way to sustain a readership.
It was only when I thought about Calvin and Hobbes that everything clicked together for me. I sort of had this image of a beat up, hard-boiled cop, grinning in the rain, and he is holding a stuffed animal. And I thought, “What’s that guy’s home life like, you know?” “What is going on in his head that he still needs to carry a stuffed animal?” That is when a lot of the themes like childhood trauma, PTSD, and sort of psychological tension started coming in, and immediately, these characters seemed really interesting to me. I think that I wrote that first script in less than a week, maybe even a couple of days. I just really kind of wrote itself.
PCS: How did the two of you get together?
DP: When I decided that I was going to put a book together, I looked at a lot of other creators and their breakout books to see what pages that I could borrow from their playbook. One that really stood out to me was Justin Jordan, with his book The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. Justin is a smart guy, a great story generator, and has done a lot of cool stuff, but I’d argue that the smartest thing that he ever did for that book was hook up with Tradd Moore, an artist who was so good and so talented that the book was undeniable. So, I thought to myself, “Where is the next Tradd Moore going to come from?”
Since Tradd was a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), I looked at the art schools: SCAD, The Kubert School, RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I looked through the work of anyone who had a portfolio out there from one of these schools, to see if this might be a good fit.
Jorge really stood out to me immediately. He is so fluid with his action sequences, which I think is really important and cool, but the thing that was most important is how expressive he is with his characters. There is a lot of emotion that he is able to express when drawing characters, and I thought that was really important with a series like ours. Thankfully, it was the right place, right time, and I caught him just before he graduated. I was so excited when he said “Yes”. And I am excited to continue riding his coattails now a few years later.
PCS: That is great. And Jorge, how was it for you to have David come at you with “I have an idea for Calvin and Hobbes, all grown up. What do you think?”
Jorge Santiago Jr (Artist/Creator): David emailed me, as he said, right as I was getting ready to finish my grad program at Savannah College of Art and Design. I think that that was in 2014, and at the time, I had been drawing comics mostly for myself and by myself. As I was getting ready to leave school, I was wondering if there would be room for me in the comic book industry. I loved making comics. I have a lot of pride in what I do. I take time to write stories and create characters that I think people will care about and will resonate with them. Unfortunately, I became worried that, that type of thing would not be popular, because I found that modern comics, especially at that time, were focusing more on spectacle than character.
When David emailed me, it was kind of a wake-up moment. I realized that there was an “Indie” world that exists, and you can dance over here and not feel that you need to fit the square peg into the round hole. There are plenty of spaces over here where you can fit in and make comics that makes sense to you that people will be interested in. You find that, like you, they are looking for something that is different from the ordinary.
PCS: I have read the first issue of Spencer and Locke, Volume 2. It is fantastic. What do you guys want to say about what we can expect from Volume 2?
DP: Well it’s all about escalation. If our first series is “What if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City?”, we are taking the Fables approach to Volume 2. No comic strip is safe. We have expanded Spencer and Locke’s universe exponentially. We have a new villain, Roach Riley. He is our Heath Ledger inspired riff on Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey. He is kind of like if the Joker had survived the events of “The Deer Hunter”.
Just like Spencer and Locke are the products of their traumatic upbringing. Roach also has seen some stuff overseas. The difference is that he has sustained the same amount of trauma and abuse, but on a much more accelerated timeline. He has found “religion”, in a way, and that religion happens to be one of pain and suffering. He is trying to spread the “good word” to as many people as possible.
The other thing, about our series, is we are sort of taking this time to be able to subvert and interrogate some the tropes that we invoked last time. For example: Does might necessarily make right, in terms of avenging one’s childhood traumas?
Locke is a hard-boiled cop, and he still has his imaginary friend. Yeah, that has been his unorthodox coping mechanism for dealing with all the horror that he had to endure as a kid, but is that necessarily a healthy coping mechanism. When we find him at the beginning of this new series, he is under investigation, and he has been suspended because you don’t leave a multi-million-dollar car chase and warehouse full of dead henchmen without someone calling you to account for it.
So, this adventure is going to be much bigger and bolder, and we are taking some big swings with it, while still keeping things very personal. We view it as The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, and we don’t invoke either of those trilogies lightly. It is a very big swing, and I am very excited for how Jorge and the rest of the team executed it. It is really next level stuff.
PCS: How long will the second series be? Is it another four-issue run?
DP: It will be four issues. We don’t want to leave our readers hanging on longer than they need to be. I mean we cram a lot into our issues. If people thought our first series was pretty dense, it is only more so from here since we have an expanded cast and a deeper look into Spencer and Locke’s psyches.
PCS: What was the process like for you to get this to a publisher?
DP: Well, we shared it around to quite a few publishers. It’s funny. I’ll never forget a top five publisher telling us that this was the best pitch they’d never publish, and I take that as a huge compliment. I mean, it’s a parody, and it’s a parody of one of comics most sacred cows, and here we are turning it into hamburger. Who the hell are we to be doing that?
Thankfully, I emailed Action Lab, blind. I was familiar with their books Princeless, Stray, and Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger, but I did not know anybody over there. I remember that I sent them a PDF of our pitch after work one day. I was just catching up on some work, and twenty or thirty minutes later, I got an email from editor Dave Dwonch saying, “How soon do you think you can finish this book?” And that’s when stuff started getting real. I thought, “Oh, No. I have to make this jump. I have to write this book and we have to draw this book.”
It took us a little while to get there. For example, it took us a while to find the right colorist. We had worked with two other colorists before we found Jasen Smith. Our first colorist was very nice but just not the right fit for Jorge’s art, and our second colorist just took the money and vanished. I had almost given up when letterer Taylor Esposito said, “Hey. Have you met my friend Jasen Smith?” Then, we were off to the races. I always kind of think of Jasen as our secret weapon, because Jorge’s art is just incredible, and Jasen brings it to that next higher level. They are really a “Dream Team” to be working with.
Action Lab has been an incredible home for our book, and we are very excited to be there.
PCS: Jorge, there are two very clearly different styles for your art that go side by side in this story. How do you find the process of navigating between the child Spencer and Locke and the grown-up versions?
JSJ: It feels very natural. Comics are a visual medium, and I think a lot of them rely on telling and not showing. By mixing in different art styles, it allows to create a visual language for flashbacks that lets our readers know immediately when we do flashbacks so we get to avoid a lot of clunky captioning. I think that’s a strength that few books can take advantage of.
Creating those art styles did take time. Since they were inspired by Calvin and Hobbes and later Beetle Bailey, it was important to me that it looked like I drew them, and that the “comic strip scenes” didn’t look one hundred percent different from the older versions. I have seen comics where they bring in other artists who have different styles to try to do something like this. There is a book that I am thinking of where there is a different artist, and the art is fine, but it is so different from the rest of the book that it is very jarring. With our book, we jump around in time a lot, and I wanted those flashback scenes to always feel connected to the main storyline. It was just about studying these classic comics and finding ways to interpret their art styles into mine. In some cases, it was even using similar tools. For example, with the flashback scenes, since we are invoking the “Calvin and Hobbes” art style, I always ink those with a brush. In the scenes that take place in the present, I am usually inking those with a nib, because I like that scratchy feel. I think that I can get the right look from that tool for a gritty noir comic book.
I think that decisions like that make our book visually more complex. It allows us to tell the story in few different ways by varying up our art style, and I think it makes our book something that you have to read as opposed to just something to flip through.
PCS: So, in your process, Jorge, is it all paper, or do you use digital at all?
JSJ: Yes. I am traditional all the way. I do have a tablet for corrections which I am at least proficient in. I can go in an redraw something in Photoshop if I have to, but whenever possible, I like to draw on paper. I like the feeling of the different feedback that I get from using a brush versus using a nib. The way they feel when they touch the paper gives me more control over the art.
For Spencer and Locke, inking the flashback scenes with a brush, the way that I imagined Bill Watterson did with his Calvin and Hobbes strips, gives me a connection to that kind of feel for the art. For me, that works a bit better. I know there are artists that can use the computer and create art that is way more beautiful than mine, but I just love paper.
PCS: We like to pull back the curtains on the process of making comics. What is your collective creative process like?
DP: Well, I tend to write scripts, and Jorge and I will talk back and forth about the panel layout and thumbnail process, because that is really the groundwork for all of it. I try to plan how I would pace and lay it out in my head, but Jorge is the one who is ultimately executing it. He may tell me that something doesn’t fit or that we are being too ambitious, and then we go about finding the ground that does work for the story and the page. After that, it is kind of like time travel on my end, because it takes so much less time and physical labor on my end than it does Jorge’s. I get to sit and watch my inbox fill up with beautiful artwork that I can then send to our letterer and colorist.
PCS: We know the original volume was nominated for Ringo Awards in 2018, but what has it been like for you to get the reactions to people that have read your stuff?
DP: It’s been tremendously encouraging. Going back to the Ringo Awards. The first volume of Spencer and Locke is my first book, and it was tremendously heartening not just for me personally to be recognized, but for our entire team to be recognized. Each of the four creators were nominated in individual categories (David for Best Writer, Jorge for Best Cover Artist, Jasen Smith for Best Colorist, and Colin Bell for Best Letterer), and the book itself was nominated for Best Series. That was pretty intimidating going up against Mister Miracle and Tom King and books like that. So, that was an incredible awareness that people are hearing us and seeing what we are doing. Yeah, our book is audacious, and at the high concept, it is polarizing. When Action Lab emailed us, I thought that whether this book succeeds or fails, it is going to do so loudly. But in general, we have so many tremendous fans. I really feel like we are the little Indie that could.
I try to fit as many Cons in my schedule as I can, and we always move volume. The best part, though, is a fan buying a book on a Saturday, and then, coming back the next day and completely fanning out. It is an amazing feeling, because it is just cool to see our readers as excited about this book as we are. It has been a labor of love for all involved. It has also been a big swing for all of us, and it is great to see that work recognized.
PCS: So, to follow up on that. Why do you think Spencer and Locke has been so well received? What is it about it that resonates with people?
DP: I think, for me, it is that we all have pain in our past. I think we all sometimes feel a little bit alone in shouldering our past and our memories of it, and I think, in our book, we have always tried to extend a sense of empathy to Locke and our characters. I think that may help people realize that they are not alone with their scars, and that if somebody as damaged as Locke can get back up and face the day, maybe they can too.
I also think that since the concept is so audacious, a lot of people wanted to look to see if we could stick the landing. You know the idea of “Can these two idiots really pull this off?” Luckily, I think that a lot of people felt that we did stick the landing. It was a very risky premise, but you know “Big Risk. Big Reward.”
JSJ: I think, and I should note that when David emailed me that we were nominated for Ringo Awards, I was in disbelief. I thought, “No… David is just messing with me.” Then, when I took a minute to let it sink in, I realized that there is a fan voting component to the Ringo nomination process. So, to take it back to the question, I think that what a lot of fans have latched onto is that Locke is a very tragic character. He is someone who has suffered a lot and it still trying to move forward.
To compare it to crime-fiction, and more specifically the way crime-fiction tends to be, if you take The Godfather, and Michael Corleone, and realize that at the beginning, Michael is not super interested in the business and power of his family. However, as the story goes on, he ends up becoming corrupted by that power. You see similar themes of power corrupting over time in Breaking Bad. I think that what we are doing different with Spencer and Locke is that our character, who was corrupted as a kid, feels guilty for what he has done. He did something really bad in his childhood, and he feels terrible about it, as it continues to eat at him. For a character to have had all of these horrible experiences, it would make sense for him to have gone to the bad side of the law, but instead, he is trying to rise above it.
I think that that is sort of why people like Spider-Man. His origin is bathed in his uncle’s blood, but the fact that he continues to get up even though he is always beaten down, I think that is the type of thing that speaks to our readers.
We have all had bad things happen to us, but Locke is a character that despite the bad, tries to do the right thing. I think part of the reason that people like our book is that, although it is definitely crime-noir, it is a step in a different direction. We have a virtuous character, who is trying to remain virtuous, as opposed to a character who is indelibly stained, and that is the tragedy of their story. I think that the idea that there could be a happy ending in Spencer and Locke is what people are invested in.
PCS: Are there more stories that you are looking to tell with these characters beyond this second volume?
DP: Yeah, and that is the reason why pre-orders for Spencer and Locke 2 are so important, even more important than our first arc. Action Lab has told us that, as long as our sales aren’t in the toilet, they would be very interested in doing a third volume. We have plans for these characters. We have been thinking about this for a long time.
Locke has been in my head now for the better part of five years, and so, there is a plan, and readers are going to want to see where it goes. There are other comic strips that have been untouched as of yet. There are different paths that the characters can take to change, evolve, and grow. So, Yes, there is a plan for more as long as the demand is there.
PCS: One last thing. How does Spencer and Locke exist in terms of a legal space since is loosely inspired by another property?
DP: Well, Spencer and Locke is a parody first and foremost, and so, it does kind of fit in that space of “fair use.” Given that the series is primarily about Spencer and Locke as adults, it is considered more transformative. We also took great care to not mention Bill Watterson’s characters by name in our book. I also think that including characters like Roach and more analogs from across the funny pages only increases that transformational aspect.
I would like to hope that if Bill Watterson, or Mort Walker’s children read our book, they would see it both as a parody and a love letter. I don’t think that Jorge or I are conceited enough to think that we could fill Bill Watterson’s boots, or are even qualified to lick his boots. We have been very much standing on the shoulders of giants to tell this story, and we are very happy inhabiting that overlap space between a Bill Watterson and a Frank Miller. We are never going to be more than the sum of those parts. We just sort of wrote this book as a love letter to two once-in-a-generation talents. If it wasn’t for their pioneering innovations, I am not sure we would be here right now.
PCS: Well, that was great. Thanks for doing this.
D&J: Thanks for taking the time.
You can follow David on Twitter @peposed
You can follow Jorge on Twitter @jorgesantiagojr