“Sure he’s got his idiosyncrasies. He’s a freakin’ talking panther, what do you expect?”
Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes has served as a backbone for all that is good about comic strips for the last 30 years. Often parodied and rarely bettered, it speaks to the child inside all of us that refuses to grow up. Writer David Pepose goes that extra step and flashes forward to a slightly different version of that relationship with his original creations SPENCER & LOCKE.
The opening issue follows a detective named Locke, who once had an imaginary series of adventures with his plush panther Spencer. Yet the carefree days never really lasted, and a series of harsh realities growing up have darkened his worldview. However, imaginary friend Spencer has not left his side, and now Locke works as a detective solving crimes alongside his lifelong partner. When an incredibly personal case presents itself, Locke has to unpick some old wounds in the process.
Pepose is not the first to imagine a grown-up version of Calvin and Hobbes, with Dan and Tom Heyerman’s Hobbes and Bacon and Martine Leavitt’s schizophrenia-focused Calvin just some of the inspired texts. Make no mistake about it: this is no parody, and nor is it a noir version of Drop Dead Fred. SPENCER & LOCKE stands on its own two feet (or six depending on your point of view), playing on our familiarity and nostalgia over a perennial favourite and our more perverse desires to witness the corruption of the innocent.
The secret to this comic’s success is that it plays it straight at all times, committing to the high concept at every turn. By the same token, the book is far from humourless, with pun-master Pepose delivering deadpan lines with a matter-of-factness that is laugh-out-loud. Locke telling a waitress, who can only see a stuffed toy in a booth, that he is having a “private conversation” is priceless. Yet the book is also shrouded in a love for hard-boiled noir that shines through like so many Sin Cities.
This dual love of nostalgic hat-tipping and gritty noir comes through in Jorge Santiago Jr. and Jasen Smith’s versatile artwork. Opening with a clear tribute to Watterson’s highly imitable style, the duo juxtapose this with the neon glow of sin and vice in the big city. From the first page, the childhood illusion is literally slapped in the face and shattered, instantly replaced with an underlit and bloodied crime scene that prepares us for anything. A fight scene between Locke, a perp and ‘Spencer’ frenetically fuses all of these things together, delivering on the promise of Pepose’s wonderful premise.
SPENCER & LOCKE is unquestionably one of the most gripping debuts of the year. Pepose’s long career in writing about comics pays off with this excellent first issue that doesn’t just throw out a novelty concept, but creates an entire world to go with it. A wicked fusion of comic strip by way of Blacksad, we’re in for the haul with this limited series.
Spencer and Locke #2 is due out on 31 May 2017. Ask your local comic book store for a copy now.