At the end of his WonderCon retrospective panel, Dan Vado, President and Publisher of SLG Publishing, was told he was out of time and the session was done. “I’ve been done for about 20 years, actually,” he said. Not quite. SLG is currently celebrating its first quarter-century and Vado had some announcements about projects in the pipeline.
Vado opened the panel with a handful of announcements regarding upcoming releases. SLG has partnered with comiXology, Panelfly and iVerse to get some of their titles distributed digitally. It’s fairly new terrain for Vado who previously avoided digital comics, but a recent demo of other comics on an iPad changed his mind. While he’s optimistic about the potential for success, Vado is also a little wary about web consumers’ need for low prices. “We’ve created a sense of entitlement where everything needs to be free,” he said about the web. “Creators want you to price up, consumers want you to price down.”
Vado is also concerned that online comics are not yet as open and convertible as other digital entertainment. Perhaps when comics become as multifunctional as music files, the medium will really take off. “The ultimate destination will be doing stuff in [an] open format,” Vada said. To those who prefer printed books, Vado added, “Buy them if you like them.”
“Digital is just a part of the plan for overall publishing,” Vado said. SLG has focused on distribution to libraries of late, which he said “respond to slick marketing.” It is “not an issue of building separate pillars, it’s an issue of building a table that has four legs.”
The digital experiment is still building momentum at SLG. Even Vado is not sure what will have traction. “What we want is a million people downloading this thing for free so that we can sell 30,000 of them later on,” Vado said, while sticking with the goals of quality and visibility in the marketplace. “Without the content. The platform doesn’t mean anything,” Vado added.
Among the lines titles going digital are “Byron” by Karl Christian Krumpholz, “Monstrosis” by Chris Wisnia and “Peabody & D’Gorath” by M.D. Penneman. “Byron” will continue the existing series and “Monstrosis” follows up on “Doris Danger.” Penneman was just signed to the publisher.
Other new graphic novels include the brand new “Amity Blamity” from Bay Area local Mike White. It’s in the vein of “Bloom County,” but not necessarily a kid’s comic. Also out is “The Floundering Time” by Katy Weselcouch. This title is “college-level humor” with a gender-confusion bent. “Don’t we all just live in ‘Loserville,'” said Vado about Alex Cox’s book. “It’s a story with a ton of heart.”
Vado grew SLG out of his comic shop in 1986 just as the industry was experiencing what he deemed a “rebirth” with fresh titles and takes changing the medium. “Everyone’s copying the same thing that was successful yesterday,” Vado said, trying to find a formula for SLG’s success. Unable to pin it down, he felt that the industry taking chances, looking toward the future and giving new projects time to develop might be the best plan. “Plant a seed for a cherry tree, you’re not making pie next year.”
Some of SLG’s greatest success came less from risky gambles and more from good luck. Although “Fish Masters” was never their premiere title, the comic tie-in to a local television show did score the young SLG exposure to late-night television watchers. Among the insomniacs was an aspiring comic book creator who grabbed the address for Vado’s storefront off the screen and drove by to drop off a sample of his work. Jhonen Vasquez’s envelope containing sat on Vado’s desk for a good while before Vado figured out he had something with potential in Vasquez and “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.”
For every one published title, Vado said he wades through some 30 not-so-good proposals. “I’ve read more bad comics than anybody should have the curse, the right to read,” he said. Imitators especially dismay Vado. “We got a lot of things with different dairy products,” said Vado after “Milk and Cheese” achieved its success.
For years, duplication was key at SLG. When they worked with Disney, they had to push out frequent books and it challenged their very infrastructure. “I don’t really fault Disney at all,” Vado said. His arrangement with the entertainment powerhouse was intended to make the independent publisher financially secure. The comics business is a relatively fickle one and everyone is at constant risk of failure. “How do you make a small fortune publishing comics?” Vado asked the audience. “Start with a large one,” an audience member answered.
SLG remains very tied to its independent spirits. After a drunk driver rammed a car into their showroom floor, they remodeled that room into an art gallery where they host frequent exhibitions and weekly concerts. The Art Boutiki and Art Gallery is “hopping” on Friday nights. Vado also promised a series of workshops on the craft of comics this summer. He compared the sessions to “25 monkeys writing Shakespeare,” but said The Creator’s Studio “is one of the best things we do.”
“Twenty-five years. Is that something, or what?” said Vado.