Spencer & Locke owes a lot to the classic comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. Like Hobbes, Spencer is another stuffed animal as far as the rest of the world is concerned. But to Locke, Spencer is a lifelong friend, confidant and partner in crime (detection, that is).
But much of the similarities end there. Locke did not have the childhood Calvin did. Locke’s childhood involved growing up in a harsh neighborhood with an abusive parent. Other supporting characters – the girl next door, the playground bully, and the overly strict teacher – are all grounded in the real world. And this real world isn’t too different from ours: drug dealers, rough neighborhoods, and school rooms with bars on the windows.
Jorge Santiago’s artwork (when rendering young Locke) is similar to that of C&H creator Bill Watterson, but the mature Locke is more realistic, while retaining some of Santiago’s cartoony aspects. I mean, he’s got this 6-foot panther walking around, examining crime scenes. How does one not make that look a little cartoony?
At its root, the book is crime fiction, a favorite genre of mine. There are different variations on the theme, but it almost always starts with boy-meets-corpse. And murder investigation is a fertile setting for dark humor, another favored plot device.
So if you’re a fan of crime fiction, Calvin & Hobbes, or are just looking for something that doesn’t involve capes and tights, Spencer & Locke is definitely worth a read. It’s not the first book I’ve read from Action Lab, but clearly I should look at more of its offerings.