Spencer & Locke 2
Not Your Average Detective Duo
What’s Spencer & Locke? Where’s the first one?
I’m glad you asked, chum! SPENCER & LOCKE is a comic book from Action Lab Comics. I spotted it many months ago while reading Voracious, one if its cousin books.
And lo, there was a full-page print ad; one in such strong dark black lines, shadowy reds and dusky blues that it looked like a murder scene in Superman’s adventures.
In a grim alley stood a haunted, red-haired man with the sort of set to his jaw that screamed “detective”. Over him loomed a blue panther, fangs bared, whose missing eye had been replaced with a shirt button. He wore a beaten trench coat.
Across the top of the scene was emblazoned “SPENCER & LOCKE”. I was interested. In the bottom corner was the sly declaration “His partner’s imaginary… But the danger’s all real!” I was hooked.
The miniseries ran for four stark, vicious issues, where it seemed like everyone and everything was bubbling with dangerous insanity… Save one or two exceptions.
Main characters like this, a story that reads like the latest Hollywood blockbuster crime drama, and the newspaper comic-strip styled visuals combine together for something that still feels like the comic heroes of the 1930s to 1950s.
Jasen Smith’s colors fit beautifully with Jorge Santiago, Jr.’s art to bring us into the gritty back alleys and superimpose classic nostalgic comics on top of it all. Colin Bell’s lettering reinforces both our action and our nostalgia with the right mix of movement, crime thriller reflection, and childhood adventure. It’s a fascinatingly jarring juxtaposition that speaks to the violation in our lives that crime brings quite well through that distorted lens.
SPENCER AND LOCKE RIDE AGAIN
Though our Detective Duo have braved their first conflict, there’s a new threat on the horizon. SPENCER & LOCKE 2 features a new villain. Issue #1 already delivers what the first installment did and a little bit more. The reader and the characters both feel a little more cemented in this world now, The art is that much crisper, the lines a little smoother, the details a little deeper. This does make me feel that that looseness in the first volume felt more like a comic strip mashed into a crime drama, but time will tell… (Flashbacks echoing each character’s, well, character and being slightly more cartoony than the real world IS a nice touch.)
[Editor’s note: On the other hand, Marly reads the art evolution as a reflection of the influences introduced in this story line.]
Either way, the team brings in a heartfelt, genuine appreciation for these classic art styles and influences. If comics are art that reflect some truth in us, then SPENCER & LOCKE is showing us that reflection in every issue. It will be interesting to see if Spencer and Locke will truly be outclassed by this foe, or if the Detective and his Panther Partner will prevail.
To answer your second question, why, just ask your local bookstore or local comic shop for it in trade paperback or the four monthly issues.
Tell Me More!
David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, Jr. were kind enough to answer some questions for our Comics For All! team, and we’re here to share! (Melinda Mercury would be proud of us!)
ALERT: If you like to go in completely blind, STOP. Go pick up your copy of the trade paperback, preorder a copy of Spencer and Locke 2 #1, and support your local comic book store. IF, however, you’re like our Marlybaa and want to have all the details you possibly can about this delightful comic first, then read on…-Editor Again
Having read nothing from either of you gentlemen before Spencer & Locke, I must ask – what did you read as children? What were your favorite activities?
David Pepose (DP): I guess the answer to both those questions for me would be comics! (Laughs) I grew up in St. Louis during the ‘90s, so I was raised on a steady diet of Marvel and DC – things like the Clone Saga and the Age of Apocalypse, up to Kingdom Come, Grant Morrison’s JLA and the Bruce Wayne: Murderer saga. Since this was before the comics internet, and my exposure to Wizard Magazine was sporadic at best, in fits and spurts I’d also be introduced to creator-owned works like Spawn or Crimson, as well as licensed materials like Tokuma Comics’ amazing adaptation of Street Fighter II.
The real seminal book for me, though, was Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s work on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear – that was the book that made me realize that real writers and artists made these books, that there was a real intention and purpose behind them, rather than just stories generated by committee. That’s part of the reason why SPENCER & LOCKE embraced those noir roots as “what if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City” – our series is just as much a love letter to classic Frank Miller as it was to Bill Watterson.
Jorge Santiago Jr (JSJ): I mostly grew up reading novels, with the occasional comic books. We couldn’t really afford to go to the comic shop a lot, so I read a smattering of books here and there, but a lot of the monthly superhero comics that were coming out in the 90s were not really something a kid could pick up in the middle of an arc and understand, so after a while, my comic reading dwindled. It wasn’t until high school when I picked up comics again and it changed my life forever.
Aside from comics, I did draw some, but it was never really the focus of my life the way it is now. I did play a lot of video games, my favorites were always fantasy games like Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy Tactics. I was also sort of a sports kid, but I never really enjoyed sports, I mainly did them because I felt like I was supposed to.
Why comic books?
DP: I always loved the art – I remember spending hours hand-drawing Spider-Man pages from Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley as a kid. There’s just something so visceral and exciting about comic book art, and getting to see all the different ways different artists get to interpret things. I think unlike film, comics are based on selling individual moments rather than an actor’s performance, and so I think there’s something about comics art that really sticks to your memory and plays to your emotions in a very different way.
There’s also an economy to the storytelling, since we deal with narrative real estate in a way that’s completely unique to any other medium – how much can you fit on a page, how do you break up a page to get the right rhythm, how to do you keep readers on their toes as far as page turns and panel structure? So as a kid, it was just fun to experience as a reader, but as a writer, every page becomes a cool puzzle that you have to work out.
JSJ: It wasn’t until I got into manga that I realized how effective comics could be at delivering a story. I was always a kid who loved story, and as I began to read some of the more mature manga that were coming out from lines like Viz Signature that I was able to see comics could offer in both entertainment and study of the human interaction.
My first manga was Ranma 1/2, which is a silly martial arts comedy that lured me into the fun world that manga represents. The first comic that made opened my eyes to comics potential was Not Simple, by Natsume Ono. This was the first comic that had such a powerful story and storytelling that it made me cry in the reading of it. The artwork for the comic was intentionally rough, so I think many people turned away from it, but the story and how it was delivered was such an experience that I endeavored to follow in its footsteps.
For those who don’t know them, who are Spencer & Locke?
DP: Detective Locke is a hard-boiled cop who survived a particularly harrowing childhood… thanks to the help of his trusty partner and lifelong imaginary friend, Spencer. As an adult, though, Locke is a tenacious and scrappy fighter who barely keeps his inner demons in check. But given that he actively hallucinates his best friend, he’s come up with a tenuous coping mechanism – Spencer, as a seven-foot-tall blue panther, represents Locke’s animal instincts as a detective, as well as his empathy and sense of humor. The two’s dynamic, however unlikely, have made them a particularly effective crime-fighting team – even if Locke is hanging onto sanity by the fingernails.
But as we’ll see in SPENCER & LOCKE 2, Locke’s grip might be slipping. Following his last case, he’s going to find himself benched by Internal Affairs – because you don’t get off scot-free after the body count he left in our first volume, you know? But even worse than that, Locke has found himself adrift – in our last adventure, he confronted a lot of the tormentors of his past, but he’s finding out that catharsis doesn’t come from the end of a gun. With all that turmoil inside of Locke, that’s already begun to affect his partnership with Spencer – needless to say, these two are already on the ropes before our new villain arrives.
And who is Roach Riley?
DP: If Spencer and Locke are our analogues of Bill Watterson’s iconic strip Calvin and Hobbes, then Roach Riley is our murderous riff on Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey. Roach is a former Army private who wound up becoming the sole survivor of his platoon overseas – but as readers are going to find out, Roach’s tale of survival was every bit as harrowing as anything our heroes have endured. The only difference is, Spencer and Locke had a lifetime to cope with their wounds – Roach has sustained all this damage in a much more accelerated time frame.
While he was in captivity, Roach saw something that really shattered anything remotely human about him – and instead, replaced it with something particularly vicious and cruel. He’s bigger, faster, stronger and more heavily armed than Spencer and Locke – but what’s most frightening about Roach to me is that he’s not just a blunt instrument, but he has a purpose and sense of conviction about him. He’s more than just an agent of terror – he’s found religion in pain and suffering, and he’s returned home to spread the good word as far as possible. There’s a nihilism to Roach that makes a weird sort of sense, if you look at it right – and that makes his conflict with Spencer and Locke more than just just a physical battle, but also a war of ideas.
How many pitches did it take to get Spencer & Locke published? What were you told when it was accepted?
DP: We pitched this around to a number of places, but for the most part, a lot of publishers didn’t so much reject us as they didn’t respond at all. I do remember one big-name publisher, though, who told me that SPENCER & LOCKE was the best pitch they’d never print. (Laughs) I’ll take it! As far as Action Lab goes, however, they immediately saw the potential in our concept – we had actually gotten an email from editor Dave Dwonch about 20 minutes after I sent in the pitch, asking what we thought our timetable might be to completing the series. There are a lot of publishers who would have gotten very squeamish about our concept or the themes we were working with – or worse, tried to push them over the line into exploitation – but Action Lab has always trusted us to tell the story that we wanted to tell, and really given us the latitude we needed to successfully make this tightrope act succeed.
Why crime fiction in particular?
DP: There are a few reasons I like crime fiction so much. Part of it is that the stakes and the goals of the story are inherently baked into the genre – you’re either trying to pull off a scam, or you’re trying to stop or avenge a crime, whether it be a bank robbery or a murder. But the other thing I really enjoy about crime is that as a genre, it’s down-to-earth enough to lend itself well to different genres – you can inject in trappings of sci-fi, or fantasy, or horror, or historical fiction, or superheroes… the genre is both supremely elastic and extremely accessible. No matter where you take it, at the end of the day, it’s very steeped in humanity.
JSJ: My interest in crime stories is because I feel like ultimately, they’re about people. In superhero stories, I find that a lot of the time, we get short changed on any sort of real character growth or human interaction in service of fights and crazy scenarios. With crime stories though, while there are the Bad Boys kind of stories, the ones that made an impact on me were the Godfather, Memento, Breaking Bad, Criminal, Fatale, The Last Days of American Crime; stories where the character was the main focus, and crime was something they turned to in desperation, and that was what interested me in the medium.
What influences did each of you draw on when you pictured their world? (Besides the obvious.)
DP: Beyond classic Bill Watterson and Frank Miller, I drew upon a lot of different influences. The movie Memento was a huge inspiration – I love the idea of a protagonist who has a disability that they’re able to leverage or navigate in unexpected ways, particularly a psychological one. For SPENCER & LOCKE 2, the Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back were two other movies I looked at a lot in terms of setting up a tone of escalation and dread – just expanding their world into something that lived and breathed, that held personal tension for Spencer and Locke as well as physical dangers.As far as comics go, Criminal and Afterlife with Archie were really inspirational as far as twisting genre and playing around with more subversive takes on popular culture. I always look at Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl, as well as Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s Moon Knight, as far as our pacing goes – I wanted to make sure that every single issue read fast but also covered a lot of ground, storywise. And Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson’s Batman: Gotham Knights really is at the heart of SPENCER & LOCKE’s DNA, just the way they were able to infuse a character as thoroughly examined as Batman with such heartache and psychological depth alongside some really gripping action.
JSJ: My art style is influenced by a number of artists, but the artists I tried to evoke for volume 2 are Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame, and Yusuke Murata, the artist of Eyeshield 21 and One Punch Man. I’ve heard it said that my characters remind people of the Akira manga, so I tried to lean into that feeling with how I draw people and how the world is depicted. Akira has probably some of the best city scenes and drawings of any comic ever, so I had a few volumes of it on my desk when I was depicting the city as Spencer and Locke traverse it.
Yusuke Murata is a huge influence on me because he is truly an artist of a different caliber than all other artists. His storytelling, character acting, and eye for dynamic shots are probably the best in the world right now, and I am a humble student trying to learn from him as much as possible. I love that no matter the scene, he’s able to bring out the emotions of the characters to the front, and that is something I tried to incorporate as much as possible into Spencer and Locke, because this story is about pain and people, so losing sight of that for the spectacle would be doing these characters a disservice.
I see your councilman (he’s pretty lit), Roach Riley, Spencer, Locke, and all the rest, and must ask – why them? Why not a purely crime story, pure fantasy, etc.?
DP: Well, our first series was very much an experiment in styles – it was taking that pioneering style of Frank Miller, and seeing where it overlapped with the iconography of Bill Watterson, who was also a once-in-a-generation innovator for comics. So with SPENCER & LOCKE 2, it felt really organic for us to expand that universe across the funny pages – these characters all lived on the same page when I was reading the comics section of the paper as a kid, so why wouldn’t they all live in the same universe here? It just made sense.
But I guess to answer your question more broadly – I write comics as if each one is going to be the last thing I ever write. I don’t want to play it safe, and I don’t want to box myself in any one genre. The appeal of a book like SPENCER & LOCKE, to me, that our hero’s unreliable perspective affords us these opportunities to inject sci-fi, war, and horror without readers losing the overarching storyline. And in that regard, the funny pages conceit lends itself idea as well – characters like Calvin and Hobbes, Beetle Bailey, Brenda Starr, Hi and Lois, these are all different archetypes that we could use as inspiration to build our own distinct universe.
You’re getting much credit for creating something different with Spencer & Locke (and rightly so), but what kind of comic books do you think the world still needs more of?
DP: I think the world just needs more comics that take risks, and that try to innovate and take chances and make readers feel something. SPENCER & LOCKE was very much an Evel Knievel stunt jump for a first book, but I think that was exactly the right way for us to introduce ourselves to the Direct Market.
There’s always going to be room for stories at the Big Two for icons like Spider-Man and Batman, but the best way for the industry as a whole to keep thriving is through experimentation and trying new things. My next book after this is a romcom, and that’s in part because I didn’t see many people trying that in the Direct Market. But trying new things is the only way to stay relevant and to keep growing as an artist.
JSJ: I think that comic books now have never been more in the public eye, and it’s important that we use that spotlight to tell more diverse stories with diverse people and get some new ideas out there. One of the things that comics tends to suffer from is the problem of sameness; when you have a wall of comics written and drawn by the same 100 people, it’s like living in a world where you can only eat at McDonalds or Burger King. That is a future no one should look forward to, but when you have books with some new ideas and new approaches, it changes everything! Image comics has really set the bar high for monthly comics, with books like Saga being the only book some people will read, they’ve brought an indie flavor to a mainstream world that the industry sorely needs, and we need more of it still! I would like to think that the books I work on would have that appeal, or at the very least, I aspire to that ideal.
What kind of stories do you think kids need to hear, versus what adults need to hear?
DP: That’s a good question. While I don’t think SPENCER & LOCKE is a kids book, as far as the stories I think kids need to hear? I think they just need stories that don’t talk down to them – kids are a lot smarter and more resilient than parents take them for, and I think they automatically register when someone’s trying to sanitize or dumb down a story for them. So I think the balance you want to strike with kids is to tell a story that is as resonant and universal as you can, but to tell it with as much sophistication as possible. It’s a tricky balance.
As far as adults… I think we’re oftentimes the products of our tragedies, and as SPENCER & LOCKE will tell you, we carry those memories with us for life. So I think the kinds of stories adults need to read are ones of hope and redemption – showing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that it’s never too late to turn things around, that we don’t have to be defined by the heartbreak in our lives. Regret is a powerful thing, but so is just the catharsis that comes from being seen – to realize you’re not alone with whatever you’re grappling with. It comes down to empathy, and reaching out to your audience – those are the kind of stories that stick with you.
JSJ: I think people, no matter the age, need books about empathy. The problem the world is facing today is that a lot of people have become convinced that the world is their enemy, and the people they know nothing about are to be feared, and that’s an awful state for things to be in. And comics can do something to fix that!
When G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel book debuted, I knew very little about Muslims or Pakistani culture, but this book had so much heart and so much love and insight into that world, that I was instantly hooked! I never was one to feel hate towards anyone, but that book really opened my eyes to people that I hadn’t seen stories about before, and I felt like I had a greater awareness of my fellow people throughout the world. Maybe that’s a silly interpretation, but I think if we can make stories that anyone would read that show the heart and soul of real people, no matter what their race, gender or sexuality, we can have a more open mind to the people we share a planet with and learn that we’re in this together! The only enemy we have is ignorance, so why not use comics and stories as a flashlight to send it back into the shadows where it belongs?
Okay, that sounds awesome, how do I get more?
You can also follow the SPENCER & LOCKE team on Twitter:
David Pepose @Peposed
Jorge Santiago, Jr. @JorgeSantiagoJr
SPENCER & LOCKE 2 #1 is available for preorder now and will be on shelves this April at your local comic shop. If you’re part of a shop, the preorder codes are FEB191309, FEB191310 or FEB191311!
Thank you again, David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, Jr. for answering our questions. We’re loving the work the whole team is doing with these characters and this world, and can’t wait to see more.
Igor, Possibly a box
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