From an early Star Reach cover. Artist: Howard Chaykin.

CODY STARBUCK

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Star Reach Productions
Creator: Howard Chaykin
First appeared: 1974
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In the 1970s, the American comic book industry consisted of Marvel, DC, a few smaller publishers like Charlton and Gold Key, and the underground comix movement, which was distinguished from the mainstream mostly by use of an alternative distribution system. Into this, entrepreneur Mike Friedrich (who had entered the field during the 1960s by writing for editor Julius Schwartz) introduced the concept of what he called "ground-level" comics — aimed the same sort of audience as the "above-ground" comics of Marvel and DC (tho more mature and/or less inhibited), but distributed more like …

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… the undergrounds. Once the the 1980s Direct Distribution System was added to the mix, Friedrich's "ground-level" comics became the forerunners of today's "independent" publishers.

Star*Reach #1, the first of Friedrich's industry-altering comics, was dated April, 1974. Its contents included Death Building, by Jim Starlin (Dreadstar, Warlock); A Tale of Sword & Sorcery, by Ed Hicks (who has no other writing credits in comics) and Walt Simonson (Thor, Manhunter); and Cody Starbuck, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, whose credits also include American Flagg and Black Kiss. Chaykin's contribution was the only thing in Star*Reach #1 that had a significant impact on the comics field; and in fact, the biggest property ever to come out of Star*Reach.

One of the things distinguishing Friedrich's enterprise from most comic books of the time was creator ownership. Other publishers tended to glom all rights to whatever they published (a notorious example being DC grabbing all rights to Superman), but at Star*Reach Productions, creators retained rights to their work, with the company purchasing only the rights to print it for a limited time. Nonetheless, the first issue went through four printings within a few years — another way this publication set comics industry precedents; most had one printing and that was it.

Cody Starbuck was typical of the heroes Chaykin created during this phase of his career — a swashbuckling hero with a certain amount of moral ambivalence, whose adventures, while not as sexually explicit as, say, Cherry Poptart's, wouldn't (unless deliberately toned down) be likely to win the approval of The Comics Code Authority. Characters like Dominic Fortune (1978) or Ironwolf (1973). Cody was a space pirate, sometimes a hero with an edge and other times a bad guy with a couple of redeeming qualities.

The character was seen a couple more times in Star*Reach, which finally published him in his own title in 1978. But as that company withdrew from the hands-on aspect of comics publishing, Chaykin, as owner of the character, was free to take him elsewhere. He was published in several issues of Heavy Metal in 1981. After that, Chaykin seems to have largely lost interest in the character.

But as a harbinger of today's comics publishing and distribution patterns, Cody Starbuck's place in the industry's history is secure.

— DDM

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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Howard Chaykin.