This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #7, October 1997.
So, you like comics? You like good comics? You like “alternative” comics? Sure you do. You’re reading Strangehaven, aren’t you? But how do you decide what’s worth reading in that huge forest of comic books in your local store? What about all that great stuff that never gets ordered or gets sold before you get to see it?
Enter The Staros Report. A bumper 96-paged comic book sized guide to the industry’s most intelligent and innovative comics. Its author, Chris Staros reviews and ranks almost 80 titles in addition to the 121 he reviewed in last year’s edition. Every review lists creators, publishers and ordering information and is heavily illustrated with panels from the comics in question. This year’s crop are included in a consolidated top 200 list ranked in order (and fully indexed), so if you’re looking for the best comics to go out and buy, then just start at the top of the list and start working your way down.
Of course Chris doesn’t claim that his list is definitive – on the contrary, he openly admits that many titles are sure to have escaped his attention, and merely by ranking his choices, he creates controversy and discussion – that’s all part of the fun. But his list is astoundingly close to my personal favourites, and judging by all accounts, Chris is one hell of a judge of quality.
I won’t spoil your enjoyment by listing Chris’ top titles, but personally, I would have Dave McKean’s sublime Cages up in my top ten, rather than languishing at #72. But few comics mavens would argue with the majority of Chris’ chosen works. And there’s always something new to investigate for even the most ardent alternative comics aficionado.
In addition to the reviews, there’s also an indispensable “Industry Addresses” section which lists contact details for retailers (graded by a star system), publishers, professionals and much more.
Chris also tests his hand at scripting some short strips of his own in the form of semi-autobiographical comics (ably illustrated by Mike Hoffman) which reveal some rather horrifying details about Chris’ youth. They’re funny and show gradual improvement from last year’s Amateur Philosopher strip from TSR’96.
Throughout the book, Chris continually comes across as a likeable, intelligent lover of the comics medium – and that’s a pretty accurate picture of the man I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions.
An extra bonus is the inclusion of three all-new self-contained strips by the creators which Chris happens to represent in the US. Canada’s Rob Walton (now with Image Comics) provides “Ragmop Babies,” Australia’s most famous Scotsman Eddie Campbell supplies an eight page instalment of his new Alec story, and also included is four pages of Strangehaven by yours truly. Completing the package is a healthy number of letters and two full colour covers, one by Mike Hoffman and the flip cover is by me.
If there was a criticism of the overall package, it’s that reviews for the whole 200 comics and graphic novels aren’t included in this one edition. As last year’s model is still available, you can buy both (very little information is duplicated) but it’s a little inconvenient to have to flip through two books.
But Chris is making huge strides towards his goal of “an Overstreet for Readers rather than Collectors”, and this is one book that I wholeheartedly recommend. Support him and the entire future of comics. Get hold of a copy of The Staros Report 1997.