Big Indie Books…Literally!


I like big books. Not hard covers but soft covers. Books that have just a touch of the disposable to them. Black and white is preferred. I dig the ink getting on my hands. I have plenty of these from the Big Two but there are indie collections that wet my whistle as well. They are some of my favorite collections and I have gone back to them again and again.

Jack Staff Volume 1: Everything Used To Be Black and White

Created by Paul Grist, this series follows the adventures of the British super hero, Jack Staff. The possibly immortal Jack has been fighting evil since the Victorian age. The series features a wide cast of supporting characters that touch on all the best traditions of comics books. Vampires, robots, WWII, Nazis, escapologists, vampire hunters, and magicians who look like Alan Moore all feature in the fast pace adventures Jack Staff. This collection holds the first twelve black and white issues that were published by Image Comics.

The magic of the book lies in Grist’s unique pace of storytelling. Slightly askew from linear the story is infested with pop art explosions mixed with solid sequential storytelling. Grist finds a way to put multiple first page splashes into one issue. The first page splash being the old technique of setting the character up on the very first page. It often featured the name in big letters with the character doing something bold to hook you in. Grist has several hooks in you at once. Various characters are moving in and out of each others stories with everything aimed at one end point.

Grist’s simple and effective style fit the propulsive pace of the book. The black is laid on thick when it needs to be and the page is left open when the story demands it. A healthy dose of humor is also injected into the tale. It features references to many pieces of British pop culture an comic book traditions. The humor is just a winking aside to the bold action of the book. A hefty but quick read…in a good way.

High Society

This is the second collected volume (containing issues 26-50) of Dave Sim’s long running Cerebus series. Cerebus is an ill tempered aardvark who seems to find himself in rather strange situations. Originally just a parody of Conanesque barbarian books, it slowly evolved into a much more complicated commentary on the world. The series would touch on religion, government, gender roles, and the nature of art. It is truly the singular vision of Dave Sim. While the highs of the series are exhilarating, the lows could be devastating. If you are going to hitch a ride with one guy’s vision; you have to be ready to for the ebbs in the flow. There is no corporate overlord to make sure that thing stay on the straight an narrow. Cerebus really could and did go anywhere it wanted.

In this volume Cerebus finds himself manipulated into running for office. He is aught between Lord Julius (a Groucho Marx look a like) and the elusive Astoria. Cerebus gains political power in apathy, gets greedy, starts to care, and then loses it all. The book has a heavy cynical viewpoint towards how government works. The cynicism is mixed with a heavy dose of Pythonesque humor.

To be honest, the first couple times I tried to read this I quit about 25 pages in. Weird stuff happens. A ghost shows up. Cerebus has a long conversation about religion with a disembodied voice. If you go expecting a tight and fast story, this isn’t going to work for you. It is a book that requires patience and investment of time. The payoff is worthwhile. Sim does a masterful job of playing with your expectations of Cerebus. When you think he is shallow and callous he will show the possibility of hidden depths . When you think he is capable of greatness, he will run away from it. Cerebus is as frustrating as real people can be.

True Story: Swear To God Archives Vol. 1

A lovely slice of life comic by Tom Beland. This collection features the first seventeen issues as published by Image Comics. It features the story of how Tom met and fell in love with his wife. A story that is far more complicated then it would seem. A chance meeting waiting for a bus leads Tom to meet Lily, a radio host in Puerto Rico. We see the complications of long distance relationships and giving up a lot of your current life to start a new life.

Beland does a great job of walking the fine line of sweet and saccharine. When the story threatens to get a little too far into the realm of fairytale, Beland always makes sure to give us the counterbalance. It feels like a real slice of life. There is coincidence, happiness, laughter, anger, and lots and lots of worrying. Tom has to leave his life in California behind to make a go of it with Lily in Puerto Rico. He doesn’t sugar coat his decisions in hindsight. We get to see him worrying and feeling selfish. There is no whitewashing of life. Just the real stuff. The scene of his run in with a Puerto Rican insect still makes me smile when I think of the page.

The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus

Fred Hembeck is a cartoonist and comic book fan. Much of his work would fall into the parody realm, but personally I see him as one of the best comic book critics of all time. Hembeck’s parodies appeared in publications from both Marvel and DC. He has had his work published by Archie Comics, First Comics, Fantagraphics, and Twomorrows Publishing. His work has ranged from three panel gag strips to long form stories. This big book (published by Image!) collects almost all of his work. Fred himself is featured in many either talking to audience or interviewing super heroes. His work can best be described as the ultimate slice of life of a comic book fan.

This might as well be called the Tom Katers bible. In my podcasting and in my writing I strive to capture the same type of style of Hembeck. A fan with a viewpoint. Someone who can express frustration and disappointment with a smile. You get the feeling that Hembeck will love comics forever when you read his work. He has the unique gift of being able to transmit his excitement to the reader when talking about a character. My own podcast is inspired by Hembeck’s fun dissections of Jimmy Olsen comics. A mix of his commentary and swirly knee drawing these page long examinations have been a touchstone for me.

It isn’t all humor. Two particular pages in the collection stick out to me. One is strip of Fred discussing Don Heck. He explains his dislike of Heck when he was a young reader. Fred then goes on to explain how he grew to appreciate Don Heck with the passing of time. It was a strangely sweet sequence of a fan growing up and changing their viewpoint. It was an astonishingly honest and interesting strip. The second page is a analysis of the various inkers that Kirby had on his Fantastic Four run. Fred apes all of their styles and gives a quick analysis of their style and his own views on their work. I often hear people talk about how they don’t understand what inkers do. This is a one page clinic on different styles. Hembeck is the ultimate edutainer.

Four books that display the unique visions and viewpoints of four creators. These hefty collections will let you burrow into their brains and hang out for awhile. They are also excellent for flattening the corner of a rug. Try and do that with a single issue.


The one person Tom Katers would get nervous meeting is Fred Hembeck.


  1. I always wanted to read Cerebus and then I found out that Dave Sims was this bat shit insane misogynistic asshole so it really turned me off from it.

     I LOVE Jack Staff though.


  2. I love True Story Swear to God.  So funny and honest.  Was there ever an archives vol 2?

  3. I loved High Society, my favorite ‘drunken aardvark in over his head’ comics.  Church & State that followed continued to be good, going after religion the way govt was skewered in High Society.  After Church & State, Cerebus just got weird.  Too much fancy-pants navel-gazing for me.

  4. Love Hembeck, and that’s a great collection of his non Marvel work. And can’t go wrong with a little Cerebus or Tom Beland either.

  5. @SirCox Don’t worry there is no misogyny club sign up sheet in the back of the book you have to fill out. Sometimes it is good to read something you don’t completely agree with.

  6. I need to find that Hembeck Omnibus. His work is just so great. I first saw some early issues in this archive collection and i had so much fun i wasn’t getting any work done! I totally agree, that he is one of the best comic book critics/satorist out there. 

    I need to get into Cerebus as well, its one of those characters i’ve always admired from afar, but never really been able to get into. I think now i’m in that place where i can appreciate it.  

  7. One of my all time favorite comic books is Soulwind (available in one big B&W softcover volume as The Complete Soulwind) by Scott Morse.  A bunch of different stories that mesh together in unexpected ways.

  8. High Society is the essential Cerebus story. It’s damn-near perfect. And it’s from pre-batshit crazy, he-man women hater club presidente for life Sim.


  9. I gotta look into what this Sims dude did… it must be pretty F’d up, ’cause the guys comics were revolutionary I think. I’ll look into the Jack Staff. I like the idea of liking semi-throw away books. That’s how comics should be read, I think. F collectors items!

  10. @DenverDave Basically from what I know, Sims got divorced and wrote this nasty story demonizing all women and in his words "creatures that want to devour the male light"

    He challenged Jeff Smith to a boxing match because Jeff responded to David calling him out as a man who is dominated by his wife. He’s written essays on how he hates woman and that the western world is a facist feminist world. Basically, the guy is a little extreme by 1800 standards, nevermind now. It’s really awful and it’s a shame because I truly do want to read Cerebus.

    @ThomasKaters I know I know. I truly want to read it but I’m not comfortable giving my money to someone like that. Maybe I can find a copy used on Amazon. It’s just inexcusable behavior to me though.

  11. I might be one of the few hundred people that have actually read all of Cerebus. I’ve read every word. It gets really abstract, wordy, boring, and self referential but it is also an amazing achievement. I hate seeing the ‘crazy misogynist Dave Sim’ line (I’ve even heard Conor say it on a podcast) when people haven’t read the books, because I honestly feel it detracts from his artwork and story telling abilities. Give this volume a try!


    Here’s a link to the ‘crazy talk’


  12. Great list, Tom. Especially Cerebus. I freaking love that series…err…at least up until vol. 12 (that’s as far as I’ve got).

  13. the sky is falling ! the sky is falling !

    why not read glamourpuss and learn somthing about Mr.Sims passion.

    I am not so thin skinned to be afraid the bad thoughts that come out of an artists little head.

    hmmm..lets see a nasty divorce that most likely had a profound negative of his life. 

    And like all people this would need to be scrubbed from his soul…

    So he was angry and an artist…so he uses his art to stop the pain or work through it….


  14. Word to what Tom Katers, Clobbertron and Johnny Normal said.

  15. Find it hilarious that people need their artists and writers to agree with their social and political beliefs, as if that has anything to do with the work itself.  It’s even worse when people make so many excuses for the mediocre (at best) works of people who agree with their beliefs.

  16. @SirCox  Dave Sim is in no way a misogynist.  Despite what you may have read on the internet.  I brought my family to meet Dave at his Last Signing at Strange Adventures in Halifax.  He was an absolute gentleman to both my wife and my children.

    I urge you to watch the mini video documentary I filmed, and you can make up your own mind.  Keep an eye out for the drunk club girls that show up towards the end, and how he dealt with them wonderfully (in no way misogynistic I assure you).

    Darwyn Cooke and his wife Marsha came out to the Glamourpuss event and it turns out she’s a BIG glamourpuss fan, and went so far as to record a video statement where she specifically says how she does NOT think Dave Sim is a misogynist.

    If he was against anything, it was rampant feminism.  Which is a long way from hating women.  The comic book community really put the man through the wringer over the past decade and it was unwarranted. 

    Cerebus is a great series.
    Right ’til the end.

    I’m a big fan of Jack Staff too! 

  17. @ultraist You seem very passionate about your experience so I will check out the video for sure!

    @everyone else
    You’re right. Anyone want to cone over and have a “Birth of a Nation” viewing part?. We can listen to Skrewdriver records and discuss Mein Kampf afterwards.

  18. @SirCox FWIW not everyone is so easily intimidated into thinking that all opposing viewpoints should be stifled for fear of being called a Nazi(which doesn’t actually make any sense here). Also, (speaking as a black man) any time kiddies try to be hip and call anyone who disagrees with something a racist/Nazi/etc. it doesn’t make you seem progressive or open-minded, it makes you look like a child who probably has no real world experience.  Otherwise you probably wouldn’t throw Nazi and Birth of a Nation references around as a punch line.  Get some new material.

  19. I didn’t call anyone a racist or nazi. I merely am trying to get in to pieces of work that have view points I don’t agree with! I’m so sick of being so weak willed that I can’t enjoy art that I disagree with. I’m sorry for my childish ways!

    But seriously I’m glad that Tom and Ultraist are the only people that made me want to change my opinion on Mr. Sims. Seriously, I will check out Cerebus.