By Nancy Powell

When David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr. last left Spencer & Locke, it was with a tired but satisfyingly-twisted happily ever after. Locke had just mowed down dear old dad, who mowed down Locke’s sweetie, Sophie. And now the action will take on a darker and more sinister turn when this new dynamic duo returns. The Beat sat down with David and Jorge to talk about the new nemesis, new love, and a crisis of conscience in the Spencer & Locke sequel dropping in stores in early February.

The Beat (CB): The original Spencer & Locke was one crazy ride! It seems like Locke ended the first series having somewhat resolved a personal crisis only to be thrown into another and more worldly one. What other changes will Locke face in this new series?

David Pepose(DP): There’s going to be a lot of growing pains for SPENCER & LOCKE in this sequel — we pick up just a few months after the conclusion of our last series, and Locke is finding out that while his partner Spencer is imaginary, the consequences of their actions are all too real. Following the significant body count and property damage he and his partner racked up in Volume 1, Locke has been benched by the police force, under investigation from Internal Affairs.

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And as tumultuous as Locke’s professional life has become, that’s nothing compared to what’s going on inside his head. This is a character who has been forged in the fires of deep-seated trauma — but now that he’s confronted his childhood tormentors, why doesn’t he feel any better? It’s a perfect storm, with Spencer and Locke already on the ropes — and that’s the moment when Roach Riley busts into town. Will these scrappy cops stand a chance against a highly trained, heavily armed soldier on a mission of destruction? That’s the kind of emotional, layered gauntlet we’re going to be putting our heroes through in SPENCER & LOCKE 2.

Jorge Santiago, Jr. (JS): I think Locke’s biggest challenge this time will be responsibility. In Volume 1, Locke goes a little off the rails and a lot of destruction occurred that people will want answers for, but perhaps the biggest change for Locke is going to be fatherhood. He didn’t realize Hero was his child until Issue 4, and this time he’ll have to be a good father while also trying to save the city. Even Batman can’t do that.

CB: Not only had you put an adult spin on a grown-up’s version of Calvin & Hobbes, but you parody Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey. Can we count on seeing incarnations of other comics strips?

DP: Definitely — for me, the hardest thing about discussing our first volume was biting my tongue that Calvin & Hobbes was just the tip of the iceberg! (Laughs) The thing is, we knew that the original SPENCER & LOCKE was audacious — so we thought that the best way to up the ante for SPENCER & LOCKE 2 was to go full Fables with it, drawing in characters from across the funny pages. Without giving too much away, in addition to our obvious inspirations from Calvin & Hobbes and Beetle Bailey, we’ll see nods to characters like Brenda Starr, Hi & Lois, Marmaduke, Hagar the Horrible… and like I said, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

JS: I think it makes for an interesting juxtaposition; seeing these somewhat familiar faces and a scenario you’d never expect to see them in adds a level of dark comedy to the book. I don’t want to spoil who you might see in the story, but I hope people enjoy it.

CB: Locke experienced a mind-dizzying number of relationship reveals is the first series.

DP: Yes, absolutely. Locke’s relationship with his family — his parents, his ex-flame Sophie Jenkins, his young daughter Hero, as well as his imaginary talking panther Spencer — was really what drove our original series forward, and we’re going to continue delving into that fallout with our second arc. As much as he might wish otherwise, Locke can’t just shoot his problems into submission, and he’s going to have to do some real soul-searching to figure out how — or even if — he can overcome his scars, or if his life is always going to be defined by them.

Additionally, Locke’s relationships with Spencer and Hero are really going to be front and center in this sequel — he might be the nucleus of our series, but these two characters in particular are always going to be in his orbit. Plus, Locke will have a new love interest in reporter Melinda Mercury, our riff on Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr — these three characters together are going to be navigating a treacherous minefield due to their proximity to Locke, and his increasingly brutal cat-and-mouse game with Roach. By the time the dust clears in this battle royale, all of these relationships are going to grow and change in some big and dramatic ways.

JS: I think Locke’s world is so broken that it would be impossible for his ghosts to ever fully rest. While the reveals in Volume 1 were his past antagonists returning to bring him pain, they’ll probably never stop haunting him, even as Roach is closing in.

CB: The idea of the childhood imaginary friend is not new, but an adult imaginary friend? How did this idea of Spencer and his mythology come about?

DP: I think the biggest misconception that a lot of people had with SPENCER & LOCKE was the idea that I started with Calvin & Hobbes first — but honestly, when I first decided I wanted to write a comic of my own, the first thing I wanted to do was an homage to classic Frank Miller. That unique voice, the uncompromising darkness, that trailblazing way he’d arrange his pages — that was the starting point.

But when I thought of different childhood properties to remix through this hard-noir lens, that’s when this image of this grinning, beat-up cop holding a stuffed animal popped into my head. What kind of home life must this guy have had, if he’s still carrying his childhood security blanket around with him as an adult? So the idea of Spencer growing up alongside Locke was immediately baked into the concept — part of the mystery of our first volume wasn’t just figuring out who killed Sophie Jenkins, but what turned Locke into this profoundly broken character in the first place. Meanwhile, as far as the rules of Spencer as an imaginary friend went, I looked to Fight Club as a primer — given that he’s hallucinating to some degree almost every single day, Locke’s the ultimate unreliable narrator, so part of the fun of reading SPENCER & LOCKE is working out how Locke is really pulling off all the things he’s seeing Spencer doing.

JS: When we were developing Spencer, I wanted to make sure that I could portray him without ever making the reader question “wait, how did this work if he’s not really there?” For example, in the first issue Spencer claws the bully in the face, so before that happens, I made sure there were shards of broken glass around Locke so the reader could extrapolate that Locke actually did the slicing with the glass. He just attributes that to Spencer because in his mind, he’s there to protect him. Spencer is an interesting character in that he sometimes represents the true heart and intentions of Locke, but he is the ultimate smokescreen because ultimately, he’s born out of Locke’s damaged upbringing, so there’s no telling what he’s capable of.

CB: Did you have an idea of how Spencer would look? And did it mesh with Jorge’s vision of Spencer?

DP: I did — and thank goodness Jorge had other ideas! (Laughs) When I had written the first script of SPENCER & LOCKE, I had envisioned Locke as this big, beefy dude, with Spencer as his skinny, rakish foil. Because Locke was going to be the guy getting his hands dirty, with Spencer acting more like his conscience, you know? But Jorge had the idea to flip the script, and as soon as I saw his early character designs, I knew he was right. Making Locke this scrappy little guy emphasized his vulnerability, and really just increased the sense of tension every time he walked into a room, thinking he had backup when the reader knows he really doesn’t — and thematically, making Spencer this massive figure plays up the way he’s protected Locke’s fractured psyche all these years.

JS: I felt that making Spencer the bigger, more powerful of the pair spoke to Locke’s need for protection. Spencer exists because Locke needed a protector as a child, so he would make someone more powerful than himself. It also created a dramatic irony of Locke going into situations thinking “I have my powerful panther man with me” but really, he’s a scrawny dude heading into danger alone. If he was ripped like any character from Predator, we wouldn’t feel like he was in much danger.

CB: Let’s talk about the process of how you and Jorge go from idea to the page. I understand you come up with the script and basic the basic action. What transpires next?

DP: Jorge and I are really collaborative with our process, with a lot of discussion on every single page. We email back and forth particularly in terms of panel layouts and thumbnails, to make sure we’ve got the right rhythm going, and zeroing in on the biggest moments to really knock the readers out. What’s great about Jorge and I’s dynamic is that we come from such varied artistic backgrounds — while I come from a very meat-and-potatoes superhero background, Jorge has this deep knowledge of manga like Ranma ½ to books like creator-owned independents like Last Days of American Crime, and so we’re able to trade reference art to really knock each panel out of the park. Honestly, Jorge is just a consummate artist’s artist, and it’s amazing to be able to work with a collaborator like him, knowing full well that the end result is going to look incredible.

JS: David and I spend most our time on the page layouts, mostly because we come from different comic backgrounds so we spend at least a week per issue figuring out what the best panel layouts and such are for the pages. After that, I draw them and ink them, checking in with David to make sure I’m not leaving anything important out and that I’m hitting the right notes. I’m not used to working with writers, I’ve written most of the comics that I’ve drawn since I was 16, so it’s interesting to work collaboratively with someone who has a distinct idea of what these sequences should look like and how events should unfold.

CB: The action sequences very much remind me of Frank Miller’s Batman and Daredevil comics. I’d love to hear who your artistic influences are.

DP: Well, first off, thank you so much for saying that — as a longtime fan of classic Frank Miller, I take that comparison as a tremendous compliment! Frank Miller and Bill Watterson are the two biggest influences on me as far as SPENCER & LOCKE goes — I’ve always admired their pioneering spirit, their sense of true innovation and experimentation in their work. I think there’s also a real subversive streak both of them share that I think is oftentimes overlooked — there are some people who claim that Calvin & Hobbes was just this innocent piece of Americana, but I remember the strip where a deer walks into an office and starts blasting cubicle workers with a hunting rifle! (Laughs) So that’s clearly the sort of stuff that’s very appealing to me.

I’m also a big fan of psychological movies — Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are my two favorite movies, and these movies’ ideas of “mind over matter” was something that really inspired SPENCER & LOCKE to go beyond the confines of traditional noir storytelling. There’s also comics creators like Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr on Batgirl; Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey on Moon Knight; Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on Criminal; Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla on Afterlife with Archie; and most importantly, Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson on Batman: Gotham Knights. Seriously, if you love the heartache that permeates SPENCER & LOCKE and SPENCER & LOCKE 2, go on ComiXology and get Gotham Knights next. You won’t regret it.

JS: I did have a copy of Batman Year One near my table while I was working on Volumes 1 and 2 of SPENCER & LOCKE. It’s probably my favorite of Frank Miller’s stories, it has a distinct noir feel that even without the words, it’s built into the art. My artist influences are mainly Yusuke Murata (One Punch Man, Eyeshield 21), Stuart Immonen (Next Wave, Russian Olive to Red King), and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), as they’re all creators who breath life into their pages, so every line and space is utilized in the telling of the narrative. They also have some of the strongest layout and paneling chops of any creator out there. My biggest influence though has to be Natsume Ono, who wrote and drew the graphic novel Not Simple, which was the first comic that moved me to tears. I’ve been chasing that ideal ever since.

CB: I heard that a feature film is in the works. Will it be animated or live action? Any word on a release date?

DP: Yes! We’re still in the works with SPENCER & LOCKE’s movie plans, which currently are in the live-action sphere. I can’t say a whole lot publicly about where we are just yet, but we’ve had some really cool conversations with some incredible Hollywood talents. Expect big things to come for our boys — and sooner than you might think.

JS: I imagine it would be live action, but I would love to see more serious animated features in American films! We rarely ever get serious stories for adults put into animation here in America and if SPENCER & LOCKE were to go that route, I would be super happy.

CB: Who would you love to see voice or play the characters of Spencer, Locke, Hero and Melinda? And how about the villains?

DP: Boy, that’s a tough call! Honestly, there are so many great actors out there, and some of the most fun conversations we’ve had on the movie front have really gotten me thinking about people I never would have thought of when this process first started. I’d love somebody like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling, or Matt Damon to play Locke — and I think each of those actors would bring a really different energy and vibe to a character who already feels so engaging and complex.

And as far as Spencer goes, I’d probably sell a kidney to have someone like Idris Elba, Bryan Cranston or Ben Kingsley in the role — like you said, the thing I’d be most excited for with that character is just to hear his voice, since Spencer has that tenderness and sweetness about him despite his massive size. For Hero, I’d love somebody like Ant-Man’s Abby Ryder Fortson to play the role — just somebody with a really likable sense of humor and enthusiasm to play off Locke’s broodiness. Their relationship is one of the most important in the series, at least to me. And as far as Melinda goes, I’d love somebody like Rosario Dawson, Eva Mendez or Zoe Saldana — she’s a really fun and important character for this second arc.

As far as some of the villains go… honestly, I have a real love for actors like Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich, and I would be over-the-moon if someone like them played Locke’s father Augustus. (Or, since I just saw Vice, it’s hard not to imagine somebody like Christian Bale just totally transforming himself into that role.) And for Roach, when Jorge first started designing the character, he drew a lot from Matthew McConaughey, and that’s something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since he told me that — that’s the kind of role I’d love to see somebody really sink their teeth into, the same way Heath Ledger did with the Joker a decade ago.

JS: I’ve really only thought of who would play Spencer and that’s because I was imagining Terry Crews when I was designing him. I can’t really think of who would play Locke or Hero, but I think Stephanie Beatriz would be amazing as Melinda. I’m seeing a Brooklyn 99 trend…

CB: Has Bill Watterson seen this book and offered up any thoughts on this?

DP: That’s kind of you to think we’re big enough to ever make Bill’s radar! (Laughs) Honestly, I don’t know if either Bill Watterson or Frank Miller has read SPENCER & LOCKE, but if they did, I hope they’d see it for what it is — yes, it’s a parody, and yes, it’s a remix (as someone reminded me recently, in the same tradition as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is terrific company to be in), but at its deepest heart, SPENCER & LOCKE really is a love letter to two pioneering comics creators with some incredibly large shoes that we aren’t deluded enough to think we can fill. Jorge and I have been standing on the shoulders of giants with this book, and we just hope that by drawing from these two profoundly different inspirations, we’re able to deliver something new — and something that does justice to these once-in-a-generation artists.

JS: I would just hope that he could find some dark humor in it, or at least know that we tried to make something with love for his influence on our work. Calvin & Hobbes is still one of my favorite comics, so I hope that that comes through in the pages.

Check out this preview of the new series:

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