Smash Pages Q&A: David Pepose on ‘Going to the Chapel’

The writer of ‘Spencer & Locke’ discusses the upcoming action/romcom miniseries from Action Lab.

Fans of David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr.’s two Spencer & Locke miniseries might be surprised to see something very different from Pepose for his sophomore project. Going to the Chapel is one part romcom, one part action heist, with a host of interesting characters, one-liners and twists along the way. And that’s just the first issue.

Pepose teams up with Gavin Guidry and Liz Kramer for this four-issue miniseries, which arrives in comic shops this September. I spoke with Pepose about his approach to the series, its influences, the differences between it and his previous work, and more.

Also, you can meet Pepose at this week’s Comic-Con International at the Action Lab Booth #1737, where they will be selling the first issue with a convention-exclusive cover by MJ Erickson.

One of the things that jumped out of me after reading the first issue was how tonally different this is from Spencer & Locke. Were you looking to do something lighter after two S&L miniseries? 

Thank you! Yeah, that was exactly the goal — I actually wrote Going to the Chapel before I even wrote Spencer & Locke 2, to give you a sense of how long it took me to convince a publisher to actually print a romcom! (Laughs) The thing is, tonally speaking, everything I might write after Spencer & Locke is going to seem light in comparison — so really, what I wanted was to pursue a totally different genre entirely, just to see how it turned out. But for me, the crazier the pitch, the more I want to pursue it, just to see if I can make it work.

I wound up stumbling onto romcoms as a genre thanks to some real-life stuff that happened to me — namely, I was the best man at a friend’s wedding, and I was singularly awful at it. (Laughs) The experience of trying to contain a bachelor party that had spiraled into chaos wound up making me think that a crime story about a wedding taken over by Elvis-themed bank robbers could be fun — and the more I thought about it, the more it started to check off boxes of things I wanted to do post-Spencer & Locke. A sprawling, diverse cast? Check. A great angle for comedy? Check. An embarrassment of riches in terms of imagery? Big old check. And to tackle a genre that the Direct Market would rarely ever touch? That’s like the Holy Grail for me, man.

Let’s talk about the rom com elements here, because you’ve captured them very well. What are some of the great romcoms out there, in your opinion? And what elements make a great romcom?

Great question — I’ve got really eclectic tastes in romcoms, which I think is part of the reason I wanted to do another genre mashup for Chapel. There’s the classics — When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Wedding Singer — but I actually gravitate the most toward romcoms with a twist. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while definitely a bittersweet movie, I think is a great sci-fi riff on the traditional romcom foundation, as is the lighter, sweeter About Time. (Hell, even more dated romcoms like 500 Days of Summer or Chasing Amy were huge influences on me back in the day.)

I think the best romantic comedies are the ones that have a balance to them, and have a human element at their core — when people turn up their noses at romantic comedies, chances are they’re thinking of movies where it’s super-obvious who’s going to wind up with whom, and there isn’t enough character development to make audiences care about both sides of the romance. In Eternal Sunshine, you care about both Joel and Clementine — in When Harry Met Sally, it’s impossible not to care about both title characters. That’s why I wanted to take the Bridget Jones approach with Going to the Chapel, to make readers root not just for Emily, but to decide if they’re Team Jesse or Team Tom. It’s a little bit of wish fulfillment!

How difficult was it to balance those two elements, action + romcom, to achieve the story you were looking for?

Actually, that was the easiest part of the script for me. I think that’s one of the reasons I gravitate towards genre mash-ups the way I do — the bigger the contrast in influences, the more I can shift gears between one or the other when I’m feeling stuck. And what’s funny is, there’s a lot of wedding imagery that I think lends itself to crime stories — there’s a reason we have phrases like “shotgun weddings” and “stolen hearts,” you know? I think balancing those dual elements works to get readers intrigued, but it’s also a great way of keeping them on their toes.

How did you and Gavin Guidry begin working together? What’s the process been like, compared to S&L?

I found Gavin’s work on Twitter following the release of his ComiXology one-shot The Night Driver, and was immediately surprised with how smoothly he could shift between expressive comedy and downright impressive action. He’s got this style that hits right in the sweet spot between Jamie McKelvie and Doc Shaner, and we brought a lot of the same visual influences — Tarantino, Breaking Bad, Baby Driver — to the mix with this series.

The biggest difference between working with Gavin on Going to the Chapel versus Spencer & Locke has to be navigating the chapel as its own setting — because we were spending so much time there in the long-term, not to mention juggling a cast of 15 people, Gavin and I actually wound up choreographing a lot of the major plot points to create a fully-rendered, three-dimensional chapel in SketchUp, which Gavin could then manipulate as needed. The thing is, Gavin pencils digitally and inks traditionally, and combine that with his very clean linework, and I had to move fast in the scripting process to stay ahead of him!

I was really impressed by the work that Liz Kramer did as well. Did you collaborate with her on the color palette?  

Yeah, Liz is fantastic, isn’t she? She and I talked at length when the series started, particularly about Matt Wilson’s work on Black Widow and Patricia Martin’s work on Secret Weapons. I was immediately taken with Liz’s coloring when I first saw her webcomic Threader, and the thing is, her style is just unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere in the Direct Market. She just really made this series her own, just juggling those amazing golds and purples, really just going against the grain of what a scrappy crime story and a sweeping romance would look like. So yeah, I’m already bugging Liz about what our next book together is going to be. (Laughs)

You and I spoke at length about the comics that influenced Spencer & Locke; can you talk about some of the comic books or other media that influenced this story? 

In terms of comics, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye was a big one — just in terms of finding a particularly type of voice behind this whole series. Fraction’s work with Chip Zdarsky on Sex Criminals was another book that gave me some confidence that we could pull this off, not to mention Kelly Thompson’s work on Hawkeye and Nancy Drew. Finding books that could pull off humor and style were really inspiring to me.

But a lot of this book was also just love letters to other media that I’ve loved over the years — in particular, Dog Day Afternoon and Death at a Funeral were two movies that absolutely are in Going to the Chapel’s DNA, just in terms of seeing how far people can spiral when they’re locked in close proximity to people they really don’t want to be around. (Laughs) The idea of blurring the lines between perpetrator and bystander was one of the biggest sources of comedy for me in this series, but that makes it even more inspiring when unexpected people finally step up to the plate to save the day.  

Finally the Bad Elvises … we’re going to get more of these guys in later issues, yes? I feel like I need to see more of them. Maybe a spinoff? 

Oh yes, absolutely — the Bad Elvis Gang were some of my favorite characters to write in this book. A gang of bank-robbing Elvises was just a perfect way to sell the unique tone of Going to the Chapel, and playing around with their own individual dynamics as a group — as well as their increasingly weird interactions with Emily’s super-dysfunctional family — is absolutely the highlight of this series for me, even amongst all the crazy action and hostage drama.

Y’know, if the demand is there and everybody makes it out in one piece, I could definitely see a future for the Bad Elvis Gang beyond this botched robbery. Who’s to say there isn’t another big family milestone they could crash? Or who’s to say I don’t have a crazy idea to bring them into the Spencer & Locke universe? I guess the limit is whatever needle drops I can come up with. (Laughs) I mean, if Father of the Bride can have a Part Two, why can’t we?  

The convention-exclusive cover by MJ Erickson

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