Losing Your Religion – David Pepose On His New Post-Apocalyptic Cult Series ‘Scout’s Honor’

by Brendan M. Allen

I recently had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with writer David Pepose to kick around his new post-apocalyptic cult series Scout’s Honor, dropping this Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 from AfterShock Comics. Here’s what the publisher says about the series:

‘Years after a nuclear apocalypse, a new society has risen from the ashes…and their bible is an old Ranger Scout manual. A young Ranger Scout named Kit has endured the harsh survivalist upbringing needed to con-quer the irradiated Colorado Badlands. But after discovering a terrible secret once lost to histo-ry, Kit must risk everything on a dangerous quest to uncover the truth behind the Ranger Scouts’ doctrine. 

From multiple Ringo Award-nominated writer David Pepose and artist Luca Casalanguida comes a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age tale that proves when all you know is a lie, a Scout’s Honor is the only way to move forward.’

Brendan Allen: Hey David, thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with us today. In the solicit, you called Scout’s Honor ‘Fallout meets Mulan, by way of The Handmaid’s Tale.’ That’s fair, but I also picked up some elements of Mad Max, Revolution, The Postman… 

All these post-apocalyptic kinds of stories base their values and government system off some relic left over from the fallen social order. Why’d you go with the Scouts handbook?

David Pepose: For me, the post-apocalyptic element of Scout’s Honor actually came after the cult element of the series — another big influence on this series was a show called The Path, which explored the intrigue of a Scientology-style cult and the emotional drama of someone finally seeing the cult for what it really is. I had thought to myself, “what’s the weirdest thing that someone could use as a Bible?” 

The Boy Scout manual popped into my head, and with all the imagery of the Boy Scout organization, I quickly realized the concept had some legs. That’s when the post-apocalyptic element started to emerge, versus something contemporary like Lord of the Flies — I didn’t just want these Ranger Scouts isolated geographically, but totally disconnected across time. If you’ve ever read Howard Zinn, you know that history is a game of telephone written by the victors — so I thought, how could you cut that game of telephone off entirely, really crank up those conditions for a society to make up their own history as they went along?

I guess I should be thankful I went for a Boy Scout manual instead of a D&D guide. That would have probably been a short book! (Laughs)

BA: I can totally see that. I can also see how easily Scout training could be twisted into a paramilitary ideology. It’s really not that big of a jump. The structure, uniforms, rewards system, rank, status, weapons/survivalist training… That all sounds a hell of a lot like Army BCT. 

DP: Yeah, exactly that — I find that I always tend to gravitate towards high concepts that have a lot of imagery to them, whether it was riffing on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes for my first series Spencer & Locke, or even the wedding imagery on my previous series Going to the Chapel. The Boy Scouts have a lot of history and a lot of very iconic elements to them as an organization — and I could immediately see how a lot of stuff that could get twisted and mutated in translation in this post-apocalyptic world.

For example, we’ve got the Ranger Scout merit badges — which as a cool promotional tie-in, AfterShock is actually offering a different Ranger Scout merit badge to comics retailers for every 20 copies they order of our various covers. We’ve got the standbys like archery and wilderness survival, but we’ve also got stuff like explosives and tactical driving — it was fun getting to write backstories for all of these different badges in the backmatter of our first issue, but more importantly, it made sense from a quasi-military perspective that in every Ranger Scout troop, you know exactly what skills your brothers-in-arms have just by looking at them.

There’s also the religious elements of it all, which fit the actual existing Boy Scout structure perhaps uncomfortably well. There are actual Boy Scout laws that it doesn’t take a whole lot of tweaking to see how they could be turned into something pretty sinister — rules like always obeying your Scoutmaster can turn pretty dark in a cult-like setting, or “a Scout always shows mercy” can take on a very different meaning in a post-apocalyptic world, where mercy might just mean a quick death. 

It took me a while to figure it out, but I really do think that we hit the Venn diagram of a lot of stuff going on in our country, from the rise of evangelical religion, the fetishization of military culture, the disdain for critical thinking and greater education, and the simmering toxic masculinity that influences so much of what we do. It’s unsettling that the Boy Scouts wind up being right in the middle of all that — which means there’s a lot of baked-in cultural elements that Kit has to wind up fighting her way out of from the inside.

BA: I kind of love that you get that first big pop out of the way early. It’s in some of the AfterShock promotional materials, so I assume it’s fair to talk about Kit’s gender? That’s going to be that Mulan element you talked about before. 

I can see this whole thing blowing up in her face, especially with the rivalry/friendship she has with one of the other characters, Dez. There’s this built-in tension going in, where a female has infiltrated the highest, most elite levels of a hyper-masculine organization, and her best friend has no clue. 

DP: Scout’s Honor evolved and transformed and mutated a lot over the overall development of this series — it was one of those things that after I had pitched the logline to AfterShock, I realized, how can I write a series that’s predominantly or even exclusively all-men? So Kit being a woman in this world wound up being my way of solving one problem with another — it breaks up our cast from just being dudes, but it also provided some nice contrast of showing how toxic masculinity certainly doesn’t make it any easier for women to navigate that world, either.

But the reason I wanted to promote that early is I didn’t want our reveal of Kit being a woman to be seen as a punchline — I’m always trying to be cognizant of how our work is being read, and to do whatever we can to avoid punching down. So much of the reading experience is about setting readers’ expectations, and then being able to upend them later, so I wanted to make sure we had our cards on the table for such an important thematic element of this series. 

Kit has been a really fun and interesting character to get inside her head — because she’s not concealing her identity for her own safety, but to pursue her true calling as a Ranger Scout. She’s a true believer, through and through — but so much of this series is about secrets, and how corrosive they can be for people. Just like I wanted to give the Ranger Scouts a dark secret, I wanted to make sure that Kit had something of her own to keep under wraps — it’s certainly not sinister like the cult itself, but it can be really constricting and isolating about having to conceal something of yourself day in and day out. The journey of publicly being your authentic self is something that I think a lot of people spend their whole lives trying to accomplish — especially if you come from a conservative religious upbringing — and I think that journey is something that really sets Kit apart.

 

BA: The artwork is pretty fantastic. Character designs are brilliant. The Scoutmaster looks oddly familiar. Something messianic and super creepy about that dude, with his beard, white vesture and red sash. And then Kit has this amazing, androgynous look. Action scenes are frenetic and terrifying, and the sets have that grungy, tetanus nightmare feel to them.

What’s it like working with Luca Casalanguida and Matt Milla?

DP: Luca and Matt are incredible, I love working with them. Scout’s Honor is the first book that I’ve ever had the creative team matchmade for me, and I feel like my editors Christina Harrington and Mike Marts did a really incredible job putting our team together. 

What’s funny is that I had actually reached out to Luca years ago about another project, but his work on James Bond had his schedule booked. He’s got such a versatility to his style that I think really plays nicely off our post-apocalyptic high concept. There are these moments he has that are really thoughtful and clean — and then he shifts gears into action, and things suddenly get a lot more shadowy and brutal and violent. 

And like you said, his character designs are really impeccable — you can feel a lot of emotion coming from Kit, from her best friend Dez, from the cult’s leader Scoutmaster Shepherd… there’s plenty of action in this series, but that’s not all there is to it. There’s a real sense of an interior life that I think Luca delivers magnificently, that I think elevates our series in a big way.

And Matt Milla — man, what a champion. I’ve been a fan of his for ages, and when Christina floated his name as a colorist, I distinctly remember saying, “Wait, we’re allowed to do that?” (Laughs) I’ve always believed that if art makes or breaks a comic, then colors make or break your art, and I’m so thrilled with what Matt has been doing for our series. And having just gotten my comps from AfterShock, I can tell you that Matt’s work looks even better in print.

BA: Before we wrap this sucker up, is there anything you’d like to leave readers with? 

DP: Even though it’s the story of a post-apocalyptic Boy Scout cult, Scout’s Honor might be my most personal book. I grew up in a pretty conservative, religious Jewish home, and so I know firsthand how it feels to go out into the world and suddenly discover that your whole worldview might be knocked off its axis. 

Scout’s Honor is ultimately a book about losing your religion — and figuring out what you’ll put in its place. How do you keep your ethical and spiritual values intact, while navigating the flawed, maybe even corrupt human institutions you’ve grown up with? Combine that with some stylish post-apocalyptic action, and you’ve got an adventure story with a distinct point of view, and with something that I think a lot of people might be surprised they’ll find something to relate with.

BA: Thank you again for taking this time with us today. I’m really stoked about the book. Looking forward to seeing where we’re headed. 

Scout’s Honor #1, AfterShock Comics, 06 January 2021. Written by David Prepose, art by Luca Casalanguida, color by Matt Milla, letters by Carlos M. Mangual, edited by Christina Harrington and Mike Marts.

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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