David Pepose knocked it out of the park with neo-noir thriller Spencer and Locke. This fall, he unveils yet another new series (also via Action Lab: Danger Zone) with an smart new heist story, Going to the Chapel. Pepose teams up with artist Gavin Guidry, colorist Liz Kramer, and letterer Ariana Maher for a story involving weddings, human chess, and, um, Elvis impersonators (For. Reals.) We touched base recently with Pepose to talk about the book, the importance of inkers, the art of procrastination, and plans for the future.
AiPT!: Hey David! Thanks for sitting down with us and talking about your new book Going to the Chapel. It looks to appeal to action fans, but there is a hint of a romantic side as well. Please tell us more!
David Pepose: Going to the Chapel follows Emily Anderson, a wealthy bride grappling with a serious case of cold feet, whose wedding is taken over by a gang of Elvis-themed bank robbers. Unfortunately, when this smash-and-grab for a priceless wedding necklace spirals into a full-blown hostage situation, Emily will have to play both sides against the middle in order to not just get everyone out in one piece, but to figure out exactly what direction she wants her future to take. It’s like if Die Hard got hitched to Wedding Crashers, an action comedy that focuses on love, commitment, dysfunctional families, and the leap of faith it takes to say “till death do us part.”
But most importantly, I think Going to the Chapel is also about making a statement about what genres readers consider themselves “allowed” to enjoy, not just in the Direct Market, but in pop culture as a whole. I think romance as a genre often has a lot of preconceived baggage, especially amongst men, but a lot of my favorite movies — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer, About Time — these are all twists on that same narrative foundation. In a lot of ways, I think romance as a genre is just as flexible as superheroes, sci-fi, or crime, and by injecting Tarantino-style action and Arrested Development-style humor into our story, we wanted to make Going to the Chapel the kind of action rom-com that could appeal to even the most skeptical of readers.
AiPT!: You are collaborating with an impressive duo of art creators. What is it like working with artist Gavin Guidry and colorist Liz Kramer. They have done a wonderful job of crafting a gorgeous book.
DP: They really are terrific, aren’t they? When I first saw Gavin’s breakout indie work on The Night Driver, I knew he would be the right fit on Going to the Chapel — he’s got a style that’s like Jamie McKelvie meets Doc Shaner, just very accessible but also so funny and expressive. And his thoroughness didn’t stop with the character designs — Gavin also designed a fully-rendered, three-dimensional chapel that we could reference for each and every scene, which I think helped maintain a real sense of place with Going to the Chapel, making sure the church was just as much a character as anybody else.
And to that end, Liz really is our secret weapon for this book — she’s been instrumental in selling the off-beat tone of Going to the Chapel with every single page. I’ve always been a believer that color makes or breaks a book, and I sincerely think Liz is going to be the next Laura Martin — she does such great work upending expectations with our yellow-and-pink palette, turning traditional rom-com colors into something that evokes southern crime stories like Breaking Bad or Hell or High Water.
AiPT!: I got to read the first issue and I enjoyed it cover to cover. I got a Kill Bill vibe as well as 3000 Miles to Graceland. What was your inspiration for the story?
DP: Believe it or not, inspired by a true story! (Laughs) The idea for Going to the Chapel came from my disastrous turn as best man for my oldest friend’s wedding… particularly the bachelor party. That weekend, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong — the Airbnb was trashed, the sumo set I rented couldn’t fit in a backyard that wound up resting at a 45-degree angle, a couple of groomsmen bailed at the last second to get out of paying their share of the money… and I got hospitalized with a kidney stone two days before the party, so I couldn’t even make the flight out.
I remember thinking to myself at the time, “Thank God this didn’t happen during the wedding.” But then I thought to myself… what if it did? Once that idea hit, the gears started turning pretty quickly — not only did this feel like a story that hadn’t really been attempted in the Direct Market, but I felt like there was a really human core to the story. Having leg-breakers interrupt your wedding would be a horrible way for things to go, but how much worse would it be if the bride started having second thoughts? That’s an emotional arc that felt clear as day to me, and immediately made me realize there was a deeper story beyond the funny characters and exciting set pieces.
AiPT!: The characters are delightful, full of personality, and some are very outspoken. I will admit the grandmother is my early favorite. Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life? Do you use personal experiences when writing your stories?
DP: Thank you so much! Yeah, I drew a lot of inspiration from a lot of people for Going to the Chapel, some from personal experience and others from popular culture. I’m glad you dug Grandma Harriet, since she was inspired by my Grandma Helen — so if I wind up getting struck by a bolt of lightning between now and when the trade comes out on Valentine’s Day week, you all know what happened to me. I also drew upon characters from pop culture like LOST‘s Sawyer to help get the voice for our charming bank robber Tom, or The Good Place‘s Chidi to help inform Emily’s well-meaning groom-to-be Jesse. The great thing about weddings is that there’s a very clear sense of imagery and archetypes at play here — the best man, the maid of honor, the flower girl, the father of the bride — and so it was natural to build up this very dysfunctional family using that structure.
But I definitely also draw from personal experience to try to inform the themes of my work. I’ve never been held at gunpoint before, but if you’ve ever had Thanksgiving with my family, it can definitely feel like you’re in the middle of a hostage situation! But seriously, I think the heart of Going to the Chapel is, well, heartbreak — I think we can all relate to having relationships crash and burn in sudden or surprising ways, and learning how that effects and shapes you down the line for future romance. At the end of the day, Going to the Chapel is about examining those past relationships instead of running away from them, and figuring out how to break out of those bad patterns in the hopes of committing to something healthier, that can hopefully last the test of time.
AiPT!: Heist stories come and go. But Going to the Chapel has a unique feel to it. What have you done to breathe new life into a familiar tale?
DP: The best part about playing in a genre as well-worn as action is it’s easy to spot the clichés and turn them on their heads a bit. For example, I thought it was really important to have Emily as our central protagonist, both because it’s rare for pop culture to portray flawed, human women as the leads in action movies, but also because I think the fear of commitment is often framed as a male-only problem — let’s be real, women are the ones who are usually taking the bigger risk when it comes to marriage.
But beyond that, going back to something I said earlier, I think weddings have such great, iconic imagery to them, and it’s easy to find ways to take these ostentatious staples and essentially transform them into makeshift tools and weaponry to use in the middle of a hostage situation. If you thought someone tossing a bouquet was tense at a normal wedding, wait till you have a SWAT team crashing in!
AiPT!: Spencer and Locke received a lot of acclaim and I enjoy that story too! Did you feel any pressure while writing Going to the Chapel?
DP: That’s a great question. I remember when I first came up with the idea of Going to the Chapel, I made myself a deal — there’s often a lot of pressure in this market to just go bigger and bigger with your high concepts, but I think that’s a sucker’s game that’ll drive you nuts. The deal that I made with myself was that as long as I kept growing as a writer with every book, and worked on developing new skills with each new series, and focused just on telling stories where I felt like I actually had something to say, that I wouldn’t sweat the size or scale or scope of a project. My top priorities are always going to be maintaining as high-quality of a read as I can, and experimenting as much as possible — I feel like if I’m going to ask readers to spend their hard-earned money on my work, that’s the least I can do, right?
For me, the challenges I wanted to tackle the most in this book was not just tackling an under-served genre in the Direct Market, but expanding the cast beyond the tight ensemble of Spencer & Locke, both in terms of numbers as well as diversity and representation. At the end of the day, Going to the Chapel is a story that juggles 15 characters and locks them into one setting — and by having a story with a female lead and two men of color as the romantic interests, I feel like we’re able to appeal to a much wider demographic that doesn’t always get catered to, especially in action and rom-coms.
AiPT!: I like asking creators about how they spend their time procrastinating when they should be writing. I spend a lot of time on Twitter when I should be doing stuff, like creating questions for you to answer! What eats up a lot of your time when you should be writing?
DP: Probably running the social media accounts for my books! Either that, or just coordinating with my art teams on pages, covers, new pitches, things like that. You would be shocked at how much you have to do as an indie comics writer that is anything but writing! I also have a terrier named Holly, who tends to demand walks at all hours of the night. I call her my writer’s assistant, which is a joke given how she is super poorly trained, so it’s a very good thing that Holly is also extremely cute.
AiPT!: Are there any other projects you are currently working on or planning in the future that you can share with us?
DP: Sure! I’m hard at work on Grand Theft Astro, my upcoming Top Cow sci-fi series with artist Jordi Perez — we’re getting everyone’s schedule sorted on that, and the script is coming together wonderfully on that. I’m also wrapping up promotion on my current book, Spencer & Locke 2, ahead of our trade paperback collection being released in August — we might have some cool news to share regarding that series soon. And beyond that, I’ve got pitches for a few more series that are coming together. I’ve got a couple of sci-fi stories that I’m very excited about, as well as a fantasy epic with some gorgeous art starting to trickle in, as well as another ambitious crime story that I’m excited to tackle. It’s been really validating and really fun just getting to try new things as an indie creator, and I’m excited to see what 2020 and beyond brings.
Be on the look out for Going to the Chapel when it hits shelves this fall. In the mean time, you can pre-order Spencer and Locke volume two on Amazon now.