The comic book Star and Stripes begins with soldiers marching into war. A battlefield blast segues into a flashback of a boy, action figures in hand, playing a game of war.
Stars and Stripes, by writer Michael "Frick" Weber and illustrator Loran Skinkis, follows an American soldier's frontline experiences during World War II, and adds the fantasy element of a "super soldier" something like Captain America. It augments the story with an excerpt of a real wartime speech by FDR and a reprint of an authentic Western Union telegram announcing the demise of a fallen soldier to his wife.
Weber and Skinkis began the project in 1999. The two met while working at local multimedia firm Mind Over Media; Skinkis was a former U.S. Marine Reservist who had been deployed during Operation Desert Shield, in 1990, and in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Desert Storm.
Though their career paths subsequently diverged, they remained friends and creative partners. After five years of fomenting ideas, shaping storyboards and courting publishers, they decided to self-publish in 2004. With no luck in sales -- "We had a few hundred copies stacked in my garage," says Weber, by phone from his home in South Hills -- they posted the project online in 2010.
Curiously, says Weber, Stars and Stripes proved popular in India, of all places. But the online presence also led to attention from Australia-based independent comics publisher Cloud 9 Comix. Last year, Cloud 9 approached them about their second book, The Field On The Edge Of The Woods. Cloud 9 picked up both books and currently features downloads on www.cloud9comix.com.
Weber and Skinkis are also currently working on a follow-up to Star and Stripes.
"This project is one of those things: If you work on it every night, you'll get a little reward, everyday; if you take two of three nights off -- you get absolutely nothing," says Weber.
Weber notes how attitudes toward war have changed.
"World War II was different from how we understand wars today because there was a clear bad guy," he says. "We had good and evil and we didn't need to question motives."
Although some dialogue in Stars and Stripes suggests anti-war sentiment, Weber insists that the subject just fascinates him.
"We weren't trying to necessarily make a political statement. War is just one of those things you remember as a game when you were a child, and there's a disconnect with how you know it as an adult."
Weber and Skinkis will attend New Dimension Comics' Pittsburgh Comic and Collectibles Show, at Century III Mall, in West Mifflin, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 20 (412-655-8661 or www.ndcomics.com).