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Somerville graphic designer's sports posters evoke WWII propaganda

Athletes like to say every game is a battle and every season a war. It's a notion with which Somerville artist Chris Speakman has no trouble identifying.

Though Speakman, 30, makes his living doing freelance graphic design for local book publishers and a TV station, his true passion is spending hours in his basement studio designing silk-screen prints of the Boston Red Sox through his Sports Propaganda company.

The idea for the prints grew from his interest in the bold, colorful aesthetics of World War II-era propaganda posters, combined with a passion for baseball, especially the Red Sox. The warlike rivalry between the Red Sox and New York Yankees also was an inspiration, he said.

"I see myself as a little bit of a history nerd and a baseball nerd," Speakman said. "I like the idea of recruiting people to root for a particular team."

In Boston, especially these days, the Red Sox images aren't a hard sell. "I'm moving a lot more prints," Speakman said. "I'm really looking forward to doing a World Series print. Hopefully, it's a championship print."

In his work, he tries to match familiar images and slogans from old war posters with the traits of a particular player or to celebrate a key moment in Red Sox history.

A print of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka incorporating an iconic rising-sun image declares "Victory Through Strength Of Arms," while one of rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia exhorts: "Join The Ranks! Serve Proudly. Join Red Sox Nation."

"I want it to look like it was printed 60 years ago."

Growing up in Carver, Speakman and his two brothers inherited their father's passion for baseball. He said he's been hooked on the sport since his father took him to his first game when he was around 8. He gets to about 15 games a year, and attended the deciding game of the American League Championship Series last Sunday. After studying art at the University of Hartford, he returned to the Boston area in 1998 and worked as a graphic artist for a couple of firms before setting out on his own last year.

He begins the design process on computer, spending plenty of time fine-tuning. Then he stretches silk screen for each color ink on wood frames. With ink applications and drying time, a single print takes about 12 hours to produce.

Last fall, Speakman put up a Myspace page with his first print, an image of slugger David Ortiz with the phrase, "United We Are Strong. Victory Can Be Ours." Soon, friends - and friends of friends - were leaving messages requesting copies for themselves or as gifts.

"I had no expectations" of how they would go over, he said, but things got so hectic that four months ago Speakman launched his own website, sportspropaganda.com, so people could order one of the dozen prints he's designed.

Speakman said he has been amazed that Sox fans from as far away as Australia have found him. "Red Sox Nation? Try Red Sox World!" he said with a laugh.

"I really love doing this. This is as much to me about creating the artwork and getting the positive response from people as it is about making some money," said Speakman, who added that his ambition is simply to sell enough to be able to buy more paper and keep printing. His prints are limited to runs of 100, and cost $20 to $60 each.

The team's recent good fortune has given him lots of ideas for future designs, but for now, he's holding off until the World Series war is over. Though Red Sox fever has prompted many requests for T-shirts and trinkets, Speakman said he's not interested in something that feels opportunistic or smacks of crass commercialism.

"I'm not going to be that guy on Yawkey Way selling T-shirts. I'm trying to keep this at a higher level."

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