In the vast ocean of comics, it's always inspiring to see independent, creator-owned comics get their sea legs, succeed, and build momentum. David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr.'s nostalgic noir comic, Spencer & Locke, is one such comic. It features a homicide detective who has an imaginary Panther as his best friend. Published through Action Lab, the first arc was a big hit that earned five 2018 Ringo Award nominations including Best Series, Best Writer, Best Cover Artist, Best Colorist, and Best Letterer.
It is also being optioned into a feature film and is currently in preproduction. While the iron is hot, Pepose is unveiling the entire first issue of the second story — set to arrive in comic shops and digital in winter of 2019 — at San Diego Comic-Con, with a variant cover by artist Joe Mulvey.
Suspended by Internal Affairs, Detective Locke deals with the fallout of the first arc, but a new villain has arrived, Roach Riley, a scarred former soldier looking to terrorize the city. SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look at the issue, and spoke with writer and co-creator David Pepose about the big news and the behind-the-scenes process of one of the variant covers (you can check it out in the gallery at the bottom).
When we spoke last spoke to Pepose, the first story arc on Spencer & Locke had just finished and there was the announcement of the movie deal. At the time, he was mulling over how to extend Spencer & Locke and going beyond the Calvin and Hobbes motif. After the initial story, one of the challenges for any storyteller is coming up with what comes next, but Pepose already had the idea of Roach Riley right after he came up with his lead characters.
“I’ve never told anybody this, but with our first arc, I had initially envisioned doing twisted comic strip backmatter, before I realized I could tell a whole story based on this stuff!” Pepose shared. “Going full Fables felt like the natural progression for our dark parody world of Spencer & Locke — I was thinking a lot about the threats that cops can face, and since we already tackled organized crime in our last arc, what would happen if Spencer and Locke were in completely over their heads, facing the actual threat of terrorism?”
“For me, building off that, the biggest challenge in tackling this script was establishing Roach not just as a physical antagonist, but a moral one, as well. My artist (and co-creator) Jorge Santiago, Jr. and I dug into a lot of pop culture references to inform our take on Roach — Travis Bickle, The Deer Hunter, Heath Ledger’s Joker — but what I’m proudest of is that Roach brings a twisted philosophy to the table that, if you squint in just the right way, can make a nihilistic sort of sense.”
These exclusive SYFY WIRE preview images reveal that Detective Locke is dealing with a military antagonist and Santiago Jr. having fun with the Beetle Bailey strip. Roach is a product of his pain — as is Locke — and that kinship, that commonality, makes this an unavoidable collision. Locke has worked on his inner demons and it’s a constant effort by him to sublimate them by leaning on Spencer, his imaginary panther friend. But Roach uses his demons as fuel.
“Roach believes there’s a purpose and a plan for pain,” Pepose explains. “He’s less a student of violence and terror, and more of an apostle. And he’s come back to spread the gospel to as many people as he can. Locke and Roach are going to cross paths by chance, but their twisted dynamic is going to entangle them from the very beginning. Think of it as the opposite of a meet-cute — this is more like a meet-kill.”
Private Beetle Bailey found comedy in the place of Camp Swampy and skirting his duties. When the comic slips into the Roach Riley-Beetle Bailey strips, they will show the horrors of war that Roach found himself entrenched in.
“Roach has... seen some stuff [laughs]. Like our first arc of Spencer & Locke, I like to leave some room for interpretation for these characters — almost like a Rorschach test — but we’re going to see exactly what turned this goofball private into a deadly killing machine.
Locke, to his credit, had an entire lifetime to grapple with his problems. Roach has been... on more of an accelerated track.”
But while the first arc dealt with a recurring nod to one classic cartoon strip and Frank Miller Sin City comics, we will see an “anything goes” approach as the world of all cartoon strips and recognizable comics are on the table.
“We’ve got a wide world for these characters to explore, with characters like Melinda Mercury, Star Reporter, the city’s power couple Hal and Lana, or even a nod to a certain 5-cent comic strip psychiatrist. And that’s just in our first issue!” Santiago Jr. too does some of his own storytelling and is known to throw in Easter eggs that he comes up with outside of the script.
“The theme of this sequel is all about escalation, and we’re going to be stuffing this book to the gills with as many twisted winks and nods to classic comic strip characters as we can.”
Like the first arc, Spencer & Locke 2 will dive into Locke’s mental health subplot and how he deals with the emotional and professional baggage, as well as answering questions that arise from his traumatic experience.
“As nice a thought as it is in Hollywood, you can’t just shoot your inner demons into submission, you know? So what happens to Locke when his tormentors are gone, and he still feels broken inside? That’s going to really inform his dynamic not just with Spencer, but with everyone around him.”
“What’s also great about this second arc is that we get to broaden our scale from the purely intimate psychodrama of Locke and his immediate family, and spread it out across an entire city. We had a lot of [readers] ask, for example, how someone with such clear mental illness could operate as a police detective. Well, we’re going to be addressing that, as we see that Locke’s vicious streak is going to catch up with him — he’s essentially a high-functioning schizophrenic, but he’s still a schizophrenic, you know? And no matter what comfort Spencer can give Locke in that regard, that stuffed doll is still the equivalent of a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”
“So when Locke’s fighting someone as deadly as Roach, he’s going to have to take a hard look in the mirror to decide where he wants to go from here.”
As for the movie, Pepose could not share much, but said Spencer & Locke 2 helps in moving the film in the right direction and that he’s been able to oversee and be involved in pre-production.
“It’s been a wonderful experience being able to actually participate in the development process, making sure our jump to multimedia stays true to our story, while still be accessible to the widest possible audience.”
Check out this exclusive look below at the behind-the-scenes process of how artist Maan House and Pepose created a variant cover for Spencer & Locke 2. Plus, be sure to scope out the other covers by Joe Mulvey and Jorge Santiago Jr. and preview of interior pages colored by Jasen Smith and lettered by Colin Bell in the gallery below.