Digging Deep Into Imaginary Friends With David Pepose Of Spencer & Locke

by James Ferguson

Spencer & Locke is returning this April from Action Lab: Danger Zone. The series, written by David Pepose, illustrated by Jorge Santiago Jr., colored by Jasen Smith, and lettered by Colin Bell, picks up with Detective Locke suspended by Internal Affairs and wrestling with the demons of his past. His childhood imaginary friend, Spencer is along for the ride. He’ll need the help as Roach Riley, a maniacal, scarred soldier is terrorizing the city.

I had a chance to speak with David Pepose about Spencer & Locke 2, the tropes used, and the feature film adaptation coming up.

James Ferguson: Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Calvin & Hobbes. Obviously you’re playing with the archetypes of these classic characters for Spencer & Locke. What is it about those characters that lend themselves to this story?

David Pepose: I think the idea of a boy and his imaginary friend has a real bittersweet quality, when you take it to its natural conclusion. On the one hand, there’s a profound sadness to it, knowing that someone like Calvin is so alone in the world, that the only true friend he’s got isn’t even real. But on the other hand, there’s something really touching about Calvin’s invention of Hobbes – we live in a hard world, and the idea of a friend that will always protect you, that will never leave you, that’s a heartbreakingly beautiful idea. And in the case of Spencer and Locke, which translates these archetypes to adult characters, it just takes that idea to the extreme – Locke is a character that is profoundly traumatized by his abusive upbringing, but given the effect that Spencer offers him, his pathology might also be his salvation. His partner might be imaginary, but that doesn’t make their relationship any less real or important.

JF: With Spencer & Locke 2, you’ve double down on the newspaper strip concept, introducing Roach Riley. How did this character come to be?

DP: Roach is our dark twist on Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, and I think he works so well as a villain because he comes from the same sort of place as Spencer and Locke. In the comic strips, Beetle is this slacker Army private at Camp Swampy, whose biggest concern is finding a suitable place to nap that won’t get him beaten up by his commanding officer Sergeant Snorkel – so turning him into a vicious killing machine in the vein of a Heath Ledger-Joker or a Travis Bickle elicits the same kind of surprised gasp that hard-boiled detectives Spencer and Locke do. (Laughs)

And given Roach’s military background, he also feels like the kind of adversary that would totally outclass two street-level cops, but it also feels like a natural place for him to acquire the same kind of PTSD that’s intrinsic to our heroes. But it wasn’t until I dove deep into Roach’s headspace and really cracked his internal philosophy that the rest of the story themes clicked into place. No matter what’s happened to them, Locke and his creation of Spencer ultimately comes from a place of hope – Roach’s idea of deliverance through pain and suffering, meanwhile, is the opposite of that, with his mindset operating in just this void of unimaginable anguish and despair. There’s a line in The Dark Knight where the Joker says “this town deserves a better class of criminal,” and I’d like to think we’ve given one to Spencer and Locke, not to mention our readership.

JF: Are there any other newspaper strip comic concepts you’d like to play with? Will we get a hard-boiled version of Garfield?

DP: Don’t you tempt me with a good time! (Laughs) I have ideas, but I don’t want to spoil some of the cameos and Easter eggs we have in Spencer & Locke 2. Suffice to say that if we get enough preorders of Vol. 2 to justify us doing a Vol. 3, I’ve got two iconic strips that I’d love to explore. Okay, maybe three. (Laughs)

JF: Spencer & Locke has a signature visual style. How did that come together with the rest of the creative team?

DP: Our letterer Colin Bell was actually the first recruit for the team – I’ve known him dating back to our days in the trenches at Newsarama, and so he was the natural choice to join the book.

Artist Jorge Santiago, Jr. was next, and that took some time, given that he was the most important piece of the puzzle – when I was looking at other creators’ breakout books to try to emulate, and Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore’s Luther Strode always stood out to me. I figured, where would the next Tradd Moore come from? So I looked at the various art schools like SCAD, SVA, RISD, the Kubert School, and that’s how I found Jorge’s portfolio – and thankfully, I reached out just when he was graduating his MFA at SCAD, so I connected with Jorge at just the right place and at just the right time.

Colorist Jasen Smith was the last member of the crew – we actually had two previous colorists who didn’t work out, and out of sheer desperation to get our pitch done, I actually posted on Facebook looking for someone. Taylor Esposito, a letterer and a friend of mine, recommended Jasen, whose colorwork made Jorge’s already fantastic pitch pages into something even more incredible. They’re really a dream team.

JF: Spencer & Locke was optioned as a major motion picture in 2017. Any news on that front?

DP: Sadly there’s nothing I can delve into too publicly right now, but seeing that I’m based in Hollywood, so I can say that we’ve had some really cool conversations on the multimedia front with some really talented people. I’ve got fingers crossed I can go into it in more detail soon, but either way, I think this’ll be a good year for all things Spencer & Locke.

JF: How does it feel to have your first comic optioned as a film? That’s got to be a wild ride.

DP: It’s been pretty crazy! Honestly, the entire reception to Spencer & Locke has been unbelievable, from the critical reception to the option to getting nominated in the Ringo Awards to actually getting to be able to talk about this sequel… like you said, Spencer & Locke was my first book, so I have to pinch myself every time I think about it. It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to tell this story and to have such a wonderful platform and readership as a comics creator, and that’s something I’m determined never to take for granted. It’s probably a supremely nerdy thing to say, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Flash #0 lately — that story about Wally West finally getting to step into the same shoes as his hero. It’s not about empowerment — but by faith rewarded. And that’s the thing — creating comics is a dream that took me years to finally embrace. But now that I’ve taken the leap… it feels like I’ve finally woken up.

Spencer & Locke 2 #1 is set for release on April 24th, 2019. It is currently available for pre-order. We’d like to thank David for taking the time to speak with us.

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