12-Gauge Comics' first war comic is entirely fictional, but the creative team behind "Skull One-Six" aims to bring authenticity to the deadly scenarios U.S. Special Forces have been battling in Afghanistan in each and every panel.
The reason for this attention to detail, according to 12-Gauge's President Keven Gardner, is due to the respect the publisher has for its many fans who have served in the military, and his desire to publish a comic for them. "Specifically, in Albuquerque last year we had [a soldier] that stood up in a panel, just thanking us for the kind of books we do. A lot of the guys [overseas] enjoy them, and I wanted to do this for those guys," Gardner said, emphasizing how proud he is to be working with "Skull One-Six's" creative team, writer Kevin Maurer and artist Tony Shasteen.
Maurer has plenty of first-hand experience to draw from for the story that follows a group of Green Berets -- who answer to the radio designation Skull One-Six -- on an adrenaline-fueled rescue mission. An award-winning journalist who spent the last nine years embedded with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan and Africa, Maurer co-wrote "No Easy Day," the New York Times best-selling novel that gave a firsthand account of the legendary raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Joining Maurer on art is Shasteen, who is bringing a kinetic level of detail to the tense and violent story set in Afghanistan in 2005.
Maurer's first taste of creating comics came after consulting with Nathan Edmondson on some military aspects of his Image Comics series, "The Activity." When Maurer began kicking around a way to bring a fictional Special Forces story to comics, Edmondson hooked Maurer up with 12-Gauge.
Included in his initial pitch to 12-Gauge was "Tales of the Green Berets," a comic strip created by Joe Kubert and Robin Moore in the '60s. Moore wrote about his own Special Forces experiences in the strip, and that level of detail is something Maurer hopes translates to his own comic book squad, from the military jargon to the personalities of each member of the comics' team.
"[Skull One-Six] is a fictional team that is sort of based on some Green Berets I've met," Maurer explained. "It's sort of a hodgepodge of guys I've met overseas. The great part of the Green Berets -- and Special Forces in general -- is, they are pretty diverse and interesting individuals. It makes a little bit fun to write because no one has the same personality."
Maurer emphasized that the real-life influences for the fictional comic begin from the first panel. "The opening sequence, the first six pages, of the series is a mission I cooked up with a bunch of Green Berets in 2010 in Afghanistan. We were talking about this incident they were having in and around their base -- where Taliban fighters were setting up checkpoints and shaking down locals," said Maurer. "That mission was sort of rattling around in my brain since I got back from Afghanistan. When Keven and I started talking about this, it was just the perfect jumping-off point."
Though it sports a plot centered around an intense rescue mission in Afghanistan, like "Blackhawk Down" and "Saving Private Ryan," Maurer said "Skull One-Six," isn't concerned with making a political statement. "The message centers around a pretty universal idea. It centers around a rescue and a team that has to go up into the valley and rescue an American -- a helicopter crew member who's on the ground.
"What I hope to get across in this, and I think we're moving in that direction, is that war -- in a situation like this -- most of the guys don't care about politics," Maurer continued. "They care about the guy to the left and right of them, and they're going to do their job to the best of their ability; not only to protect themselves, but to protect the team and their teammates."
Shasteen, who doesn't have any military experience, said he's taking his art research very seriously.
"To me, it's extremely important to be accurate," Shasteen said. "I know I'm not 100 percent [accurate] on a book like this, but I want to do it justice for the guys that are out there. I'm trying to take extra time to make sure those guys are proud. They're out there doing it every day."
"I think he's just crushing it when it comes to getting this authentic look," Maurer said about his partner's art. "I'll get the pages back, and it looks better than what I had in my head."
Maurer has even passed some of Shasteen's art to Green Berets, and the response has been entirely positive. "I have a couple friends I've shown the pages to, and they're overwhelmed," Maurer said. "They like what they see. I think Tony's done a great job, bringing a lot of accuracy to it and really bringing these guys to life. I had one of the Green Beret guys I talk to frequently say that he says he feels like he knows these some of these guys, like he's met them."
One of the concerns Mauer and Shasteen have is how they're portraying the violence of modern warfare, and the writer assures readers he's not looking glorify the horrors that are part and parcel of war. "It's a war, and to be honest to the story that we're going to tell; guys are going to get shot and guys are going to bleed," Maurer said. "I think, as graphic as it could've been, Tony handled the violence really well. I don't think I've ever seen a page where I thought it was gratuitous or overdone. I think it's been done very smartly."
"It's about soldiers and telling their story, and hopefully in a respectful way," Gardner said, describing "Skull One-Six's" overall mission. "We'll show people things they can really think about or that they haven't seen before. I think Tony and Kevin have done a great job so far as really getting that on the pages. But don't worry; this will be a very entertaining story. We are definitely going to entertain the reader."
"Skull One-Six" will be released in late 2013, but Maurer and Shasteen will be on hand at this weekend's HeroesCon in Charlotte giving away copies of an ashcan preview for the first issue.