by Howard Chaykin
Star*Reach Comics, Issue No. 1,1974
April, 1974. If your car radio, or your portable radio, or your clock radio, or the radio in your stereo was on, or if you were watching Soul Train, then you were hearing the song 'MFSB' (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) by the band TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).
TSOP was comprised of the musicians in the Gamble and Huff studio in Philadelphia; the backing vocalists were the members of The Three Degrees.
Also in April of '74, the very first issue of a black and white comic book devoted to sf and fantasy is released. 'Star*Reach' was independently published by Mike Friedrich; eighteen issues were released from 1974 - 1979.
It was a path-breaking endeavor on the part of Friedrich; he sought work from up-and-coming talent, offering them a forum to publish material without editorial constraints. The Star*Reach books thus occupied a sort of middle ground between the territory of the underground comix, and the mainstream publishers like DC and Marvel.
Since in the mid-70s there was no mechanism by which independent comic books could be included in the existing newsstand-based, 'rack jobber' distribution networks, Friedrich sold the books through the growing network of small 'direct sales' comic shops, who acquired their inventory from specialized distributors like Phil Seuling's Sea Gate Distributors.
This first issue of Star*Reach featured the debut of Howard Chaykin's 'Cody Starbuck' character, who would appear on a sporadic basis in later issues of Star*Reach, and then, in the 1980s, in Heavy Metal magazine.
Despite the underwhelming quality of the reproductions of Chaykin's artwork printed in black and white and graytone on mid-70s comic book paper stock, 'Starbuck' retains its imaginative visual qualities, including the unconventional arrangement and placing of panels, and the use of varied background textures and inking techniques to give the artwork a cutting-edge sensibility simply not present in mainstream comics until the advent of Jim Starlin.
Chaykin is also inventive in having a lead character who is hardly the square-jawed, morally upstanding hero of traditional sf comics. Instead, Cody Starbuck is a space pirate, cynical, self-serving, and not inclined to turn the other cheek when confronted.
Taken as a whole, this inaugural episode of the Cody Starbuck franchise reflects an approach to visuals and plotting that belonged more in the camp of 70s Western European sf comics, an approach that prefigured the works soon to be showcased in the French magazine Metal Hurlant.
Summing up.....when I compare the sixteen pages of 'Cody Starbuck', which now are 41 years old (!) I find them more interesting and rewarding than much of what makes up contemporary sf comics: Manhattan Project, Saga, and Black Magic, among others. There is a visual flair, and a sense of fun, about 'Starbuck' that is entirely absent from these modern-day productions..........