I was laying next to my daughter, The Princess, a few weeks ago, doing our bedtime ritual of reading a few pages of Bill Watterson’s classic newspaper comics strip, Calvin and Hobbes. More than thirty years since its debut, the series remains as hilarious as it ever was. While we were having a laugh, an email came through from writer David Pepose, asking if I’d like to take a look at his Calvin and Hobbes inspired book, Spencer & Locke, illustrated by Jorge Santiago Jr and published by Action Lab Comics. It was an immediate yes for me and, I’m happy to say, I’m thrilled with what David and Jorge are doing.
On that note, David and I did an email interview in which we discussed the concept behind Spencer & Locke, its forthcoming second volume and, of course, the inspiration and influence of Bill Watterson’s legendary series.
Andy Burns: For those readers who don’t know about Spencer & Locke, how would you describe the series?
David Pepose: For those who aren’t familiar with SPENCER & LOCKE, our easy elevator pitch is “what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City?” Our first volume followed Detective Locke, who returned home to his old neighborhood to investigate a brutal murder – and whose trusty partner Spencer happens to be his imaginary talking panther from childhood. It was a story that not only was our black comedy love letter to Bill Watterson’s classic work, but was also a story about childhood trauma, mental illness, and the lengths the mind will go to protect itself from harm.
Andy Burns: Can you take us through the genesis of the series – how did you come up with it? How did artist Jorge Santiago Jr come on board? And how did the series wind up at Action Lab Comics?
David Pepose: When I first decided to write a comic, it was more in reaction that I wasn’t clicking with a lot of comics at the time, and I asked myself, what can I contribute to the industry that hasn’t been seen before? As a fan of mash-up music, I wondered what a mash-up comic would look like – and as someone who really loved Frank Miller’s classic work growing up, I wanted to do something in that style. The thing is, a lot of the initial combinations I came up with just felt like shock for shock value’s sake – that’s not really a sustainable model to work with, you know? But once I thought of Calvin and Hobbes, I immediately thought about a beat-up cop with a maniacal grin on his face and a stuffed animal in his hands. And that’s when the whole story clicked – what was his home life like, to still be holding onto an imaginary friend as an adult?
I connected with Jorge after a deep search of the various art school portfolios – places like SCAD, RISD, SVA and the Kubert School. Given that I was just starting out, I wanted to find an artist whose talent was undeniable, and I really found that with Jorge, he not only had that sort of fluidity to his action sequences, but he really nailed the emotional beats – honestly, that really encouraged me to play up the heartbreaking moments of the series a lot. And as far as Action Lab, I honestly cold-emailed them with our pitch, and they immediately saw the potential for the concept – they really trusted us to tell our story the way we needed to tell it.
Andy Burns: I don’t think we can talk about Spencer & Locke without talking about the influence of Calvin and Hobbes. That strip has really stood the test of time. I read it as a child, and now I’d reading it my 8 year old daughter. How did you first get exposed to Bill Watterson’s classic strip?
David Pepose: I was introduced to Calvin and Hobbes the same way — I’m a third-generation comics fan, and my mother used to clip out Calvin and Hobbes from the newspaper and tape them to walls around her office. It didn’t take long for me to get one of the big collections of the series, which I always appreciated the subversive sense of humor to it, not to mention Watterson’s visual riffs like Spaceman Spiff – of course, rereading the series as an adult, it just reinforced what an innovator and pioneer Watterson was as a writer and as an artist.
Andy Burns: There was a lot of existential musing in Calvin and Hobbes, and I thought you did a very strong job carrying that over to Spencer & Locke. Has it been difficult at all to pay tribute while also crafting your own unique work?
David Pepose: Well, first off, thank you so much for saying that! For me, using Calvin and Hobbes as inspiration really helped in terms of the overarching structure of the series – I read every single strip while I was developing the first arc, and then reread the strips again while I was putting together the sequel, and there’s really this rich iconography that Watterson developed. The challenge was picking and choosing which pieces felt organic to the story, while hitting touchstones that readers would definitely expect – things like Spaceman Spiff or Calvin’s ghoulish snowmen.
But ultimately, I think Jorge and I were able to keep this story as something unique and personal to us, because the central throughline was ours – really examining how horrific Locke’s childhood was, and how broken he must be now, to require having Spencer as an imaginary friend as an adult. While we share a lot of DNA with Calvin and Hobbes, I think SPENCER & LOCKE takes a very different thematic turn early on, and that helped it establish its own identity.
Andy Burns: Tell me about the reaction to the first run of Spencer & Locke. You’re back with the next series, so I’m assuming you sold some books and made some fans.
David Pepose: We did! SPENCER & LOCKE was a high-wire act just based on our high concept – Calvin and Hobbes is as beloved as it gets, and we were turning one of comics’ most sacred cows into some not-so-sacred hamburger. But thankfully, most readers really seemed to get what we were doing, that this wasn’t our way of trying to diminish or tarnish or ride on Bill Watterson or Frank Miller’s legacy – if nothing else, SPENCER & LOCKE was our mash-up love letter to not just one, but two trailblazing, once-in-a-generation artists.
So it was really exciting to not just get strong sales and critical acclaim from the press, but for our book to receive five nominations at the Ringo Awards last year – with all four members of the creative team earning a nomination in the process. We also were optioned shortly after the series was released, and we’ve been riding that wave to have some very cool conversations out in Hollywood about SPENCER & LOCKE’s future on the big screen. And the crazy thing is, this was my first book! So the response to this has been nothing short of unbelievable.
Andy Burns: Spencer & Locke 2 is out in April, with preorders beginning this month. What can readers expect to see in this new volume?
David Pepose: With SPENCER & LOCKE 2, we’re raising the stakes higher than ever – because Calvin and Hobbes was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that we’ve established our heroes and their world, we’re expanding the Spencer & Locke universe across the funny pages, Fables-style. Suspended by Internal Affairs after the events of our first arc, Spencer and Locke are not only going to cross paths with our analogues for Brenda Starr, Hi and Lois, Hagar the Horrible, Nancy, and more, but they’re going to find themselves face-to-face with our new villain Roach Riley, our Heath Ledger-style riff on Mort Walker’s classic strip Beetle Bailey.
As someone bigger, faster and stronger than Locke, Roach is the sole survivor of his platoon overseas, and he’s come back with some pretty twisted philosophies on pain and suffering. I like to say he’s Heath Ledger’s Joker, if he had survived the events of the Deer Hunter. (Laughs) But watching him play off our heroes has been really fun, because some sparks really fly between these three. It’s definitely going to be like the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object when Spencer and Locke find themselves in Roach’s gun sights.
Andy Burns: If there’s one strip from Calvin and Hobbes that you could point to as a favourite and/or inspiration for Spencer & Locke, what would it be?
David Pepose: Boy, there’s so many. I always loved Calvin’s dynamic with Hobbes – things like Hobbes stalking Calvin and tackling him after school, or their escalating battles with squirt guns, water balloons, and child-sized pools. (Laughs) Spaceman Spiff was one that really grabbed me as a kid, and that was one of the first sequences I came up with for our first arc. Calvin’s grisly snow tableaus also stood out, and we get to revisit that in a bit more detail in Volume 2.
Meanwhile, as an adult, I was really taken by the way Watterson would experiment with different styles – things like Calvin becoming a cubist version of himself, or Calvin losing gravity, or Calvin transforming into a fly. There’s a such a wide breadth of artistic and philosophical literacy that Watterson was drawing from, and that means there’s a whole lot of favorites to choose from!
Andy Burns: Finally, what are you reading right now that you’d recommend Biff Bam Pop! readers check out?
David Pepose: Right now, I’ve really been enjoying Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ recent wrap-up on Mister Miracle, Brian Michael Bendis’ work on Action Comics, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s run on Venom, John Layman and Afu Chan’s Outer Darkness, Kieron Gillen’s new series DIE (and its sci-fi cousin Self/Made, by Matt Groom and Eduardo Ferigato)… I’ve started reading Giant Days over at BOOM! recently, and that’s been such a fun series to binge on. Southern Bastards at Image has also been a real favorite of mine – Jason Latour is one of the industry’s best living cartoonists, and he consistently impresses with every issue.
Beyond that, when time permits, I always like to go back to the classics – Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla’s Afterlife with Archie, Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s run on Moon Knight, and my personal comics holy grail, Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson’s Batman: Gotham Knights. If you haven’t read it, go to ComiXology and pick those books up now – they’re action-packed, heartbreaking, and seriously terrific. (Laughs) It’s everything we aspired to be with SPENCER & LOCKE 2!
Comic Retailers and fans – be sure to preorder copies of SPENCER & LOCKE 2 #1 now:
FEB191309 for Jorge Santiago, Jr.’s main cover
FEB191310 for Maan House’s variant cover
FEB191311 for Joe Mulvey’s variant cover.