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Coping methods in comic storytelling: David Pepose talks Spencer and Locke 2

An interview with David Pepose on the sequel to his hit series, Spencer and Locke.

One of the most unique comic series Spencer and Locke is back with a sequel series this year. It deals heavily with its main character utilizing an imaginary friend to cope while also utilizing a comic strip style when imagining Spencer as if they were in a Calvin and Hobbes strip. The first series wrapped up in July 2017 and will soon have a sequel series hitting comic stores.

Created by David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr., the sequel will debut in April further developing the Locke and Spencer’s relationship. The story centers on Locke, a detective who teams with an imaginary panther called Spencer. AiPT! sat down with David Pepose to talk the new series, writing process, and much more.

AiPT!: Catch fans up to speed – where is Spencer and Locke when Spencer & Locke 2 opens?

David Pepose: They’re not in a great place, that’s for sure. Without spoiling too much of the original series, Spencer and Locke returned to the old neighborhood to bring Sophie Jenkins’ killer to justice — and while they got what they were after, Locke has learned some things about his past and about himself that have really shaken him to the core.

That inner turmoil has not only begun to affect Locke’s partnership with Spencer — because of course, Locke’s imaginary panther is going to be shaped by his subconscious — but his standing with the police, as he’s under investigation for all the destruction he caused in our first arc. And to tighten the screws even further, Locke’s suspension means he also isn’t deemed fit to have custody of his young daughter, Hero. So Locke’s future is very much uncertain when we begin our second arc… and that’s before our brand-new villain, Roach Riley, starts using military hardware to pick off the city’s political elite.

AiPT!: When writing a sequel to such an original and clever series, how much pressure is there to up the ante, change the title to something clever, or meet the usual sequel expectations? 

DP: Pressure might not be the word, as much as just having something to prove? I feel like we’ve always had something to prove with Spencer & Locke as a series — with our first series, it was to prove to readers that this wasn’t shallow or derivative or some edgelord fantasy, but a worthwhile and unique story that delves into a very human, resonant theme of how we face our pain.

And with Spencer & Locke 2, we’re upending our high concept to prove to readers that we’re not just a one-trick pony, but that this is a world that’s vibrant and wild and full of possibility. Because we’re not just parodying Calvin and Hobbes anymore — we’re going full Fables across the funny pages, setting our sites on classic comic strips like Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr, and so much more.

And what I like so much about this escalation is that it feels organic — it’s a natural multiplier to the effect we utilized in our first series. We’re weaponizing your nostalgia and your expectations to tell a story that’s both unpredictable and heartfelt — and perhaps most importantly, has lasting changes and consequences for our characters. Because consequences are the only way this story has any weight.

AiPT!: I was curious about the writing process. How many passes does it take to get a script right? Do you write certain parts at different times or linearly?

 DPYeah, it’s very rare to get it 100 percent, completely right on the first try. I did a lot of rewrites on this script just to fine-tune certain details to really emphasize certain characteristics of Locke, Spencer, and Roach. And oftentimes my rewrites will be just figuring out the Rubik’s Cube of packing a script together — you only have a limited amount of real estate, and because only so many panels can fit on a page before it becomes untenable, that means those 22 pages start to get eaten up really quickly.

But for me, the majority of the development of the series came from figuring out these characters and brainstorming their voices and points of view — particularly developing a specific philosophy for Roach, who I was developing whole-cloth as opposed to building off a previous arc — and figuring out where I wanted these characters to wind up by the end of the series. Thankfully, I’ve had a long-term plan for Spencer and Locke since before I finished writing the first arc, so it’s really just a lot of brainstorming and trial-and-error digging into their characters and figuring out what kinds of story concepts would be the right nods to Bill Watterson and Mort Walker’s iconography. 

AiPT!: You mentioned these characters have specific voices. Do you literally think of an actor or maybe a comedian and use that voice when you read the dialogue back to yourself?

DP: Yep, that’s exactly what I do — although what’s interesting to me is when that voice changes from time to time, depending on what else I’m absorbing in terms of content. It’s a very Rorschach test sort of thing. At least on my end, Locke’s voice has changed the most since I started writing — the first issue script I was channeling Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis from Sin City, because I didn’t even know what he really looked like yet. Once Jorge’s designs for Locke came in, though, I was channeling Clive Owen — but while I was writing volume two, Locke’s go-to voice became Justin Theroux from The Leftovers, who can just sort of switch from snappy to melancholy to genuinely earnest at the drop of a hat. He’s just an insanely talented actor.

Spencer, on the other hand, hasn’t changed since the jump — his voice has always been Mandy Patinkin’s. Sort of that very warm, heartfelt voice — just lots of personality, y’know? And Roach was hugely influenced by Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course — if his speeches didn’t give me that same kind of creepy chill, I would often go back and punch it up until it felt really deliberate and menacing. But there’s definitely a balancing act, in my mind — since this is a print comic, I always try to think of how the dialogue will look as well, just from a pure design and typographical perspective. There are lines that wouldn’t necessarily work when spoken out loud, but when you read them, have a powerful visual effect.

AiPT!: I don’t want to give anything away, but the second “season” of this series appears to be integrating another famous comic strip. What made you decide to use this one (aside from the obvious military element) and if you had to pick another strip to use in the series what would it be?

DP: Nah, man, spoil away, that’s our big hook! (Laughs) If the first arc of Spencer & Locke was “what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City,” Spencer & Locke 2 is “Calvin and Hobbes versus hardcore Beetle Bailey!” And that came from thinking of what kinds of threats do police usually tackle — and while a drug syndicate felt like a simple enough jumping-on point for readers last time, I thought that the specter of terrorism would be this sort of enormous, almost unthinkable threat for two street-level cops to tackle.

And just like people thought that a dark spin on Calvin and Hobbes was unexpected and darkly comic, I felt transforming Beetle Bailey’s slacker Army private into this Heath Ledger-by-way-of-TheDeer-Hunter killing machine was the sort of high concept that immediately gets people curious. What turned Roach into such a dangerous person? What did he see over there that transformed him so completely? And what kinds of nasty tricks does he have up his sleeve as he paints the town red?

But like I said, we’re going full Fables with this series, so we’ll see plenty of other analogues from other classic comic strips as well. Over the course of our four issues, we pay homage to Hi and Lois, Brenda Starr, Hagar the Horrible, Marmaduke, and a whole lot more. Honestly, I haven’t even told you my favorite cameos yet!

AiPT!: Having seen the movie Glass (and if you haven’t, there’s a twist ending that relates to Spencer and Locke…maybe) and then seeing what you’re doing with Spencer and Locke 2, is it possible there are many more folks like Locke?

DP: Maybe! We played with that a little in our last arc, as well, but pain, fear, and trauma make people react in very different ways. After surviving an entire childhood full of horror, Locke has essentially invented his own best friend to help him cope. Who’s to say what might happen to Roach, having endured a lifetime of scars in just a fraction of the time?

AiPT!: What has the fan reaction been like as you peruse the conventions across America?

I will say that conventions have been some of my favorite parts of this whole process. We’ve had survivors of abusive households tell us how resonant Spence & Locke  was for them, which is honestly the best compliment I’ll ever get as a writer. We’ve had cosplayers as both Spencer and Locke, which is just astonishing. Even my mom crashed a convention to surprise me! And honestly, having creators I really respect tell me at conventions that not only they’ve heard of Spencer & Locke, but read it and loved it, is kind of mind-blowing to me. It doesn’t always feel real, you know? So maybe Locke and I aren’t so different after all.

AiPT!: Since the premise of this series is based on coping methods, I have to ask: Let’s say a publisher wants another story from you involving a different kind of coping method. What would it be and why?

DP: Man, that’s such a great question! The more I think about it, the more I think you really just zeroed in on my entire process as a writer — while I think conceptually I lean towards mashups, I think thematically all my work is about coping mechanisms to some degree. (This probably stems from my love of the movie Memento — the more unhealthy the coping mechanism, the better.) I’ve got another series with Action Lab that we’ll be announcing later this year that’s all about someone trying to grapple with commitment, and their coping mechanism for that is something that could potentially screw things up for themselves and a whole lot of other people. Grand Theft Astro, my upcoming sci-fi series that we announced at San Diego, is all about a space racer’s increasingly dangerous coping methods after being rendered obsolete.

And looking through all the other scripts I’m writing and developing and pitching right now, coping mechanisms really are the connecting thread. So without giving too much away, how do you cope with sadness, pain, and trauma? Maybe you go someplace new and unexpected looking for answers. Maybe you dig in your heels to keep yourself from changing too much… or maybe you just hide the evidence, from the world or from yourself. Or maybe you’re coping with something so shocking, you decide to go the entirely opposite direction and blow your entire life up. There’s a lot of ways to go! In my mind, pain is synonymous with change, and our scars are very much reminders of who we are and where we’ve come from. The real question is, where do we go from here?

Check out the trailer for the upcoming series below.

Comic shops can preorder the series with the codes below:
Cover A (by Jorge Santiago, Jr.) is FEB191309
Cover B variant (by Maan House) is FEB191310
Cover C variant (by Joe Mulvey) is FEB191311.

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