The Star*Reach Companion

Review by KC Carlson

The Star*Reach Companion is an in-depth look at one of comics’ most important 1970s independent publishers and its namesake comic book Star*Reach. Publisher Mike Friedrich only put out about 30 comic books under this imprint, under a handful of titles, but anybody who read them back then still remembers them — and what they stood for — today. Written and compiled by Richard Arndt, The Star*Reach Companion tells the story of this fascinating and beloved comic book publisher and anchors these important publications into their rightful place in comics history.

Star*Reach was one of the earliest mainstream independently published comic books. It also was in some ways, the link between the underground comics of the late 1960s and early 70s, and the more recognized 1980s explosion of independent comic books and graphic novels. What it shared with the undergrounds was a more mature way of producing comic book material, and what it paved the way for was a demonstration of breaking boundaries in the way that comic book storytelling could evolve, unshackled by corporate-produced comic books. What it did all by itself was revive many of the various genres that largely fell to the wayside in the 1960s takeover of comic books by the superheroes — of which Star*Reach had none. Star*Reach specialized in swashbuckling adventurers, intelligent science fiction and fantasy settings, and in spin-off publication Quack!, the funny-animal genre (albeit for adults).

Another spin-off series (Pudge, the Girl Blimp) was by a female creator (Lee Marrs), starred a female character (Pudge, an overweight teenage geek girl frantically attempting to lose her virginity), and was drawn in a art style galaxies away from Jack Kirby and Curt Swan. In other words, nothing that Marvel or DC would ever consider publishing (at least at that time). Ironically, as revealed in an interview with Marrs in this book, Pudge was a favorite of teenage boys who “identified with her non-hip status, with her not really understanding what was going on. Fatness was only a symbol.”

Star*Reach also pioneered the development of the graphic novel with its serialization of Dean Motter and Ken Steacy’s The Sacred and the Profane, which Archie Goodwin cited as “the first true graphic novel” in the contemporary comics medium in an interview in Comic Book Artist #15 in 2001. P. Craig Russell’s early “Opera” work was also published by Star*Reach.

Many popular creators had work published by Star*Reach, including Howard Chaykin (who provides a new cover of his Cody Starbuck character for this book), Walter Simonson, Jim Starlin, Frank Brunner, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jeff Jones, Steve Skeates, Marshall Rogers, Frank Cirocco, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Steve Ditko, Al Milgrom, Michael T. Gilbert, Steve Leialoha, Joe Staton, Gene Day, Mary Skrenes, Mike Vosburg, Steve Englehart, John Workman, Sergio Aragones, Alan Kupperberg, Scott Shaw!, Mark Evanier, and many others, including very early work by Dave Sim (mostly writing) and Mike Friedrich himself. Friedrich is extensively interviewed, and there are shorter interviews with Marrs, Leialoha, Simonson, Vosburg, and Russell.

Several important Star*Reach stories are reprinted in full, including for the first time in its original, intended version “Siegfried and the Dragon” by P. Craig Russell, one of his first operatic adaptations. As a special bonus, this book also includes a mini-history of other independent comics and publications of this era, including witzend, Hot Stuf’, and Andromedea, with creator checklists.

Sadly, the published book has one major flaw — the book’s introduction by Star*Reach publisher Mike Friedrich was inadvertently omitted from the printed book. A tip-in page of the introduction has been inserted into the front of each book. Make sure that your copy has one, as it’s an introduction worth reading.

The Star*Reach Companion is a profusely illustrated 192-page trade paperback, B&W with partial color. Due to its content, the publisher recommends it for mature readers only. They’ve provided a substantial preview at their website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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