Rose City Roll Call: David Pepose Lockes in a Dark Comic Strip Homage

David Pepose and friend at SDCC 2017

Back when David was my editor for the reviews I did at Newsarama, I knew he had a twisted sense of humor. What I didn't realize was just how twisted. The good news is that it means he's managed to do something extremely difficult--make a dark homage to comic strips that I actually like.

The idea of taking characters from the newspaper comics and making them into a gritty version isn't new at all, and I'm sure David would be the first to tell you that. The problem is that most of the time, there's a desire to go "raw" and throw out any attempt to tell a quality story that bends the source but doesn't crap all over it. Spencer & Locke, based very clearly on Calvin and Hobbes, certainly makes life terrible for the protagonist. But at no time do I feel like there's mockery involved. It's a mash-up of putting these characters who had a slight edge to them at time and taking that edge to the extreme.

In this case, Locke (Calvin) had an abusive set of parents, leading to a psychotic break that finds him believing that his stuffed animal Spencer (Hobbes) is real and helps him in his role as a police officer. Soon we see that everyone he interacted with, from the perverted babysitter to the grizzled teacher, are down in the mud with him. It's an extreme noir, and if the story featured no analogs, it would still be really cool. Adding in how Pepose re-imagines Watterson's characters to be their worst possible selves gives it an extra dimension that's either going to work for you or not, depending on how you feel about another creator playing fast and loose with an iconic figure's toys.

There's some really great plotting work, as David winds Locke through his past, inserting flashbacks that are drawn in the style of Watterson by Jorge Santiago, Jr. I love how Santiago is easily able to switch between his own realistic takes and the cartoon-strip versions. What's best about this is that Pepose makes sure that those scenes are the ones who have the most creepy elements, juxtaposing horrific experience with the looser, "innocent" style. And let me tell you, some of this gets really, really dark. There's a vein of humor, sure, but I was surprised by just how violent and awful David gets here with the characters. It's great work, but wowie zowie. Don't walk with Pepose alone at night, that's all I'm saying.

Spencer & Locke's first volume tells a story of murder, vengeance, and depravity, showing that sometimes no matter how we try, we can't escape the darkness of the world. Even a vivid imagination can't help. But it also uses its source material so brilliantly--I won't give away how he works Spaceman Spiff into the mix--that it's extremely compelling on a technical level, too. I guess critically examining comic books for years on end has its advantages.

The series will be returning in 2019, and I can't spoil what David's told me about it when we ran into each other at San Diego Comic-Con this year. However, if you like mash-ups and noir stories, when you get to Rose City, make sure you stop by David's table at booth T-04 and check out the book. I think you'll dig it. Even if it's not your thing, my 'Rama Rating on David as a person is a perfect 10/10. He's a solid guy in the comics world, and that's not an imaginary story.