For these final few days of 30 in 30—and with 2018 nearly upon us—I wanted to take a look back at a few of my favorite books of 2017. Chief among the cream of the crop is Spencer & Locke—a far cry from a book like Nemo: River of Ghosts—which flawlessly blends Frank Miller and Bill Waterson.
Title: Spencer & Locke
Storytellers: David Pepose & Jorge Santiago
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Year of Publication: 2017
Page Count: 128
Spencer & Locke follows hard-boiled Detective Locke as he investigates a brutal murder with the strangest of partners ― his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. But when they face brutal gunfights, deadly car chases and memories of Locke’s traumatic youth, can this unlikely pair survive long enough to find the truth?
SPOILERS FOR SPENCER & LOCKE BELOW
What I learned about Comic Book Storytelling in Writing
Pepose approaches homage in a smart way. One of the dangers of homage is skirting, or passing, the line into parody. Parody has its place, but no one want’s their homage mistaken for it. One of the big reasons Spencer & Locke never crosses that line is because as over-the-top as the content of the book can be, it’s always deadly serious. A high-stakes delusion is written as a Spaceman Spiff homage, and because it’s part of the plot and the protagonist is in danger, the reader remains aware that it’s a reference, a callback—anything but a joke.
What I learned about Comic Book Storytelling in Art
Handling dark story material can be a tricky feat to pull off. Spencer & Locke goes to some pretty dark places, but Santiago makes the violence and heavy topics more palatable with his art styles. The main style of the book is best described as a noir-y, serious cartoon. It leans hard away from photorealism, which helps to both suspend readers’ disbelief about a giant talking blue panther and to make the violence (physical assault, gunfights, etc.) a bit more digestible. The other style of the book occurs in small flashback vignettes in which Santiago channels his best Bill Waterson homages. These scenes, strangely, tackle some of the darkest material in the book, including young Locke’s possible attempted suicide. Fittingly, Santiago pushes even further away from realism in the art for these scenes, which, again, helps to lessen the weight of these sections.
Recommendation: A (Must Read)
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