Dan Vado Discusses the Future of SLG Publishing

For more than a quarter century, Dan Vado has been in charge of SLG Publishing as its owner, publisher and occasional writer. It's been impressive to watch as Vado is always looking for new talent and new ideas to bring into comics, along with new ways to do things. The publisher made a big push releasing books digitally before offering them in print, and titles like "Model A," Sanctuary," "Grubby Smudges of Filth" and more continue its tradition of showcasing new and exciting voices.

SLG has had some complications of late, forced to move from one location to another. But as you can see in our discussion about all things Slave Labor, Vado is clearly interested in making sure that the Boutiki's new location in San Jose remains a vital and vibrant force in the community.

CBR News: You just moved the SLG mothership, which you likely call something else, from downtown San Jose. Tell us a little about the move, and the challenges of finding a new space. You were really a part of the local community, and this was not somehting you had planned to do --

Dan Vado: We called the old place a lot of things, rathole being the most common as the place was, in the end, just overrun with them. When I was first told that we were going to have to leave sooner rather than later, my first instinct was just to move back to my garage and not have a gallery/store or even proper office. I was just kind of looking for storage space when I found the spot we moved into. The local art and music community was really behind us, and I thought maybe this is the world sort of telling me this is what I should be doing. So I took the space in as-is condition and set about repairing the place, which sounds easier than it was. 

Moving across town was the single-most draining thing I have ever done, emotionally, financially and physically. I left a lot of myself in that space in downtown. My sons learned how to play music in that building, we did a lot of neat things there and a lot of family and other stuff happened there that could not have happened anywhere else. There is a lot riding on the new space for me on a personal level and my family and I have put our all into it.

Do you have any new or different plans you're hoping to pursue in the new space?

We are going to have more of a traditional comics store, maybe filling a small regional need for a decent comic shop on this side of town. In actuality, this is sort of me coming full-circle since I started as a comics retailer when I was 17 -- I'll save you doing the math, that's 36 years ago. We're going to go back to having some workshops for aspiring creators and maybe some straight up art classes (my pet project was always to host a life-drawing for comics class).

Then there is, of course, the gallery and live music thing, which I will be continuing to do and really is the whole reason I moved into this building. The live music -- we became one of the more desirable places in the area for a band to play. We started out with just local bands playing, but in the end, we had musicians from all over the world on our stage. 

Do you have plans to continue events like the Zombie-O-Rama and Creator's Studio? The Art Boutiki Ball? Are there any other comics events you have planned for the new space, like The San Jose Comics Festival

The plan is to continue all of those events. Zombie-O-Rama, which is a charity event, is scheduled for August 21.

A lot of the first round, if you will, of titles that SLG released digital-first have now come out in print. Without naming any titles, how have the sales been? What do the numbers of a few years ago, when you were only releasing print titles, look like compared to the past couple years?

Sales of the initial comics were okay, but we run into the same challenges in digital that we did in print; it is very, very difficult to publish something from someone nobody has ever heard of. On the one hand, the free stuff does exceedingly well, with thousands and thousands of downloads, but converting those people into readers has not gone as well as I might have hoped.

Are there any titles that have done especially well in digital? Or ones that haven't but have done better than you might expect in print based on their digital numbers?

It's too early to say on print as we have just kind of started rolling those projects out. I was surprised at how well "The Griffin" did (a series I wrote for DC Comics almost 20 years ago). While it only sold a few hundred copies, it is still the best seller we have had digitally, probably because it looks more like something a DC fan might like.

With SLG's approach to digital, you've done something very different from other companies. For example, I can buy SLG comics at comiXology, but I can also go to your website and buy them as either a pdf or cbz or epub files. Why did you decide to do that and what has the response or success been?

I offered digital on our site because lots of people were concerned about what would happen to their files if say comiXology went under -- with the reader stores, you are only buying a license to read a particular comic, not the comic itself, so if the company licensing you the comic goes under, so does your ability to read that comic. I also felt that if digital was really going to succeed that what you were buying needed to be DRM free and cross-platform.

In the end, it seems like the consumer really wants to use something like comiXology to read their comics as most of the eyes and dollars come from there. We have only sold a few dozen downloads of our best selling book. 

Now, when you say you've only sold a few dozen downloads, you mean directly from the website I hope, and that most sales are from comiXology --

Yes, I meant directly from our website. The system we use is perhaps not best suited for selling downloads, and I am planning on changing it soon. Most of our sales come from comiXology, as I think is probably the case for most publishers.

On a related note, how has your approach to print changed now that you're publishing books digitall-first. For example, I know that some are available as Print on Demand --

I am using PoD and short run printers as a sort of test market, to see how something does on Amazon before I go off and spend money on a 2000 copy print run of something that might not have any legs. In general, I think there is still a demand for a print product, just not as much as there was, say, five years ago.

As you say, it's always a challenge to introduce new voices and new titles. We like to talk about the power of the Internet and other things, but do you think it's easier or is it harder than it has been in the past?

I think harder, much harder, at least in a way that can make a reasonable return or even pay for itself. There is a lot of noise and static out there, lots of people competing for everyone's attention. There is a small window for making an impression on anyone, and when you take all of the things you need to do to, for lack of a better turn, acquire a customer, and you step back and see how much it cost you to sell a few hundred books or downloads, you begin to realize that while it is possible to get a number of readers who might follow your work, it can be a pretty expensive proposition and not for the weak of heart.

That said, there are a lot of people who have gone on to gain large audiences, and it seemed like the size of the audience grew geometrically without much trouble. I think sometimes, if you can get some momentum behind you, you have a real opportunity to acquire an impressive amount of followers/readers who will actually support your work.

So, speaking of upcoming projects, what's new, what's continuing, what is exciting that people need to be on the lookout for?

"Grubby Little Smudges of Filth" by Daniel Reed is a stellar piece of work getting released as a hardcover this summer and only available from Amazon. "Bloody Dreadful" by the mysterious Justin Sane is a cool, old-school horror book that is just now getting some digital releases at comiXology. "Model A," by Jef Bambas is a wordless comic book which people seem to love, now available at comiXology and in print from us.

Birds of Prey Cover Art Reveals the Film's Huntress, Black Canary

More in Comics