I have had the honor of interviewing David Pepose before, a few times actually. Every time he comes out with a new book I am at the ready (if you haven’t figured it out, I’m a big fan). So of course, when I learned about SCOUT’S HONOR, his new book being published by Aftershock, I was excited to talk with him about it.
I always like to first ask – what’s the book about?
David Pepose: SCOUT’S HONOR is the story of a cult that has risen from the ashes of a nuclear war… and their bible is an old Boy Scout manual. Our series picks up over 200 years later, where our protagonist Kit is one of the Ranger Scouts’ most promising recruits — but in this hyper-masculine society that only allows men to serve, Kit has had to conceal her identity as a woman in order to pursue her calling. But when Kit discovers a chilling secret at the heart of the Ranger Scout doctrine, she’s going to find herself losing her religion as she embarks on a dangerous quest for the truth.
Ultimately, SCOUT’S HONOR is a book about toxic masculinity, about how secrets can be corrosive while the truth can be blinding, and about how you can hold onto your spiritual and ethical values while still navigating the human corruption of our sacred institutions. Given that we’re living through a pandemic, I never expected to be writing a post-apocalyptic book during lockdown, but like my previous series, SCOUT’S HONOR starts in a dark place so we can build our way back up to redemption. In that regard, this series might be a little more prescient than I expected when I first pitched it!
While Spencer & Locke is a mystery noirs type, your more recent book, Going to the Chapel, was a little more on the comedic side, this story seems it will be intense and action packed, what inspires you when you make a genre change?
David Pepose: That’s the thing I love most about comics — I never have to be pigeon-holed in a single type of story. At this point, if you named any particular genre, I probably have a story idea for it that I’ve been tossing around. As far as to which genres I work on at any particular time, it’s a combination of factors — sometimes it’s whenever inspiration strikes, sometimes it’s when I find an artistic collaborator whose style fits best for a particular high concept, and sometimes (like in the case of SCOUT’S HONOR), it’s a publisher realizing that a particular high concept has legs, and telling you to run with that particular pitch. I think for a lot of reasons — like the general dystopian and militarized trend our country has been taking, particularly in 2020 — I give AfterShock a lot of credit for realizing this series was super-current even before I did.
But I think every genre has its own opportunities, and then individual high concepts give you other angles to explore as well. Post-apocalyptic fiction gives you a chance to explore decay and evolution — not just how do people survive in the face of societal and environmental collapse, but how do we even remember the old world? That’s one of the elements of SCOUT’S HONOR I’ve enjoyed the most, because it’s allowed me to really flesh out the world accordingly — history isn’t just written by the victors, it’s written by the survivors. It’s a game of telephone — but when that historical chain is broken and we find ourselves in a new Dark Ages, I think that we’d still try to find meaning and continuity with whatever scraps we had left. In this case, an old Ranger Scout manual becomes the starting point for an entire religion and way of looking at the world.
What were some inspirations you drew from for this story?
David Pepose: Stylistically, I drew from a number of post-apocalyptic and dystopian inspirations — I’ve described this book as Fallout meets Mulan, with a little bit of Hunger Games and Handmaid’s Tale thrown in for good measure. But beyond that, I actually drew from a lot of real life. For starters, my memory of my younger brothers in the Boy Scouts really helped kick off SCOUT’S HONOR — while on the inside it was all about camaraderie, practical skills, and constantly improving yourself, on the outside, you can see how the pageantry and the costumes and the laws could easily turn into something like… well, a cult! So we’ll explore how this historical game of telephone has mutated the Boy Scout iconography — the merit badges, the wilderness, even the Eagle Scouts get a turn here.
There’s also something a bit autobiographical about this series. I grew up in Missouri, in a pretty conservative Jewish house (both politically and religiously). It wasn’t until I left home for the first time that I really started having my own spiritual and political awakening. I’m Jewish, and my identity in that regard isn’t the same as my parents, which wasn’t the same as their parents — but I’ve always felt the way I’ve practiced my religion has been my way of connecting with the universe and the people who have come before me. As Kit is going to discover, it doesn’t take much to shift your whole world view off its axis, especially when navigating the human element of any religion — but sometimes that kind of shock and dissonance is exactly what you need in order to find out what you really believe.
In this story, we have a woman who disguises herself as a man, what made you decide to have a female protagonist in this instead of a male?
David Pepose: SCOUT’S HONOR has evolved a lot over its development process, really reinventing itself every step of the way. At first, the story was simply about the Boy Scout cult, but I quickly realized that having a story with zero women in it felt a little bit tone-deaf — but when I thought about the themes of secrets, the idea of our lead character having something about themselves that they’ve had to conceal, just like the Ranger Scout society itself, the idea of a woman having to disguise herself in order to pursue her calling felt like a character with some inherent dramatic stakes, and someone you could really root for.
But beyond this particular story, I think as a straight white male creator, I should have some level of responsibility for having some degree of representation in my work, as long as it doesn’t veer into any negative stereotyping — so I’m regularly asking myself with each project, is there any reason I shouldn’t be leading this story with a woman or a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ community? I’m not the guy to be speaking to someone else’s lived experiences, but our pop culture landscape has looked the same way for a very long time, and we’re only scratching the surface at addressing that disparity today — it makes creative sense, it makes business sense, and it makes ethical sense. It’s a win-win for everybody.
What are some things you can tell us about Kit that makes her who she is?
David Pepose: Without spoiling too much about her backstory, which we’ll touch upon a bit in Issue #2, Kit is a true believer — she’s grown up believing in the Ranger Scouts, truly believing they are all that stands between hope and anarchy in the Colorado Badlands. And in a lot of ways, she’s found herself working twice as hard to excel… and while she doesn’t necessarily realize it at the outset, she’s really embodied everything the Ranger Scouts aspire to become. Kit’s tough, tenacious, but still is hopeful that there’s a better world around the corner, even in the depths of the apocalypse — and despite her survivalist upbringing, she’s actually a bit green. Kit’s not like any of the other characters I’ve written before, where they’ve all marinated in their trauma — we’re going to watch the rug get pulled out from under Kit in real-time, and she’ll have to catch up on the fly.
The other big character that I think is important to discuss for SCOUT’S HONOR is Kit’s best friend, Dez — he’s kind of the Loki to Kit’s Thor in a lot of ways. Dez is the son of Scoutmaster Shepherd, who is the religious and political leader of the Ranger Scouts — in a society that already is profoundly punishing and unforgiving to its youth, Dez has grown up under a completely different level of scrutiny, and yet he’s always found himself second-best to Kit. But most importantly, as close as Dez and Kit are, he doesn’t actually know Kit’s big secret — all of which makes this one-time friendship spiral into something more like a bitter rivalry. Dez has been one of my favorite characters to write in this entire series — he mirrors Kit in so many ways, and he has secrets of his own that lead him to be a tragic rather than irredeemable supporting cast member.
When can we find Scout’s Honor on shelves and where can people find you on social media?
David Pepose: You can order SCOUT’S HONOR at your local comics shop and ComiXology! And you can follow me on Facebook at @davidpeposecomics, Twitter and Instagram at @peposed, or you can subscribe to my newsletter PEP TALKS.