Talking Comics with Tim: Dan Vado

The comic book industry is populated with a vast array of good people--and Dan Vado, head of SLG Publishing is one of them. When I heard about this Saturday's San Jose Comics Festival (January 16 from 12 to 5 PM--for the reasonable price of FREE), I sought out Vado for an email interview. We also discussed the SLG Radio podcast (my current favorite comics podcast at present) for a bit.

Tim O'Shea: In discussing the festival recently with CBR's Kiel Phegley you described how successful the San Jose area in terms of festivals, noting that with a past event SLG "managed to get over 1,500 people to come out to downtown San Jose on a Wednesday night". What is it about San Jose that makes it tend to so strongly support festivals/gatherings of this type?

Dan Vado: The snide answer is that there really isn't much going on here, but that would not be the truth. There actually is a lot going on, but not enough that covers the middle ground of people who have slightly older kids to teens and the older music and bar scene. The 1,500 number was in reference to a zombie crawl we sponsored. While we put it together as a pub crawl, the sheer number of people with families that came out was astounding.

O'Shea: With storytellers like Tom Hodges (artist of the Star Wars: Clone Wars webcomic) in attendance--are you hoping to attract the whole family with this festival?

Vado: Yes, kind of the idea. I think one of the things we have gotten away from as an industry as we struggled to get comics taken more seriously is that while comics aren't just for kids, they don't have to NOT be for kids. Or teens. Or Tweens, or whatever. The success of our books in Hot Topic (when they were there) and Manga in bookstores with the sort of audience that we really need, kids who are just starting to spend their own money (or using their parents credit cards) making their buying choices for the first time.

Not everything needs to be a kiddie book, not everything needs to be deadly serious and, hell, not everything needs to be a physically printed comic or graphic novel at this point.

O'Shea: You recently announced a couple of new sponsors for the festival, who has joined the effort to date?

Vado: So far we have the San Jose Downtown Association, which is going to help us promote the event to downtown residents (there aren't that many) and businesses. I worked with the SJDA on the zombie crawl/movie night thing and it was a great partnership. Panelfly, one of the many companies with iPhone comic stores will be there showing off their comic reader app and giving away free t-shirts and stuff. Locally one of the closer comic book stores, Hijinx Comics, will be on hand as well.

O'Shea: As the person who originally developed APE, what kind of aspects of the original APE do you hope to recapture with the new San Jose Comics Festival?

Vado: Well, definitely we want to capture the spirit we had at APE, with people who were doing their own comics as a focal point. Given the way these things tend to get started the people who are first in on a thing like this are usually self-published people or people being published by companies like ours.

But, I don't want this to be JUST about Indy Comics, or JUST about any one genre. I want to see this become as big a tent as possible while keeping our focus on individual creators. I don't want someone who draws or writes a super-hero comic to feel like they should nt be coming to one of our events.

O'Shea: How daunting is it to take on an effort like this in a down economy?

Vado: Very, which is why I am starting the way I am. For now the events will be held in our warehouse, which we have recently converted part of into performance space for the use of local groups (which is a result of a down economy). We have recently held all-ages music shows and a poetry slam here. It is actually very cool looking space. By keeping things here to start we avoid the biggest cost associated with starting something like this which is the venue. As the event grows we plan on trying to expand it to surrounding businesses, we are in a gallery district for lack of a better word. We may also do some part of the event in the public library downtown or at San Jose State. The overall vision is to have one weekend or week of the year where everyone is kind of programing something related to the festival in their local business.

O'Shea: While the inaugural edition of the festival occurs on January 16, you plan on having additional one-day events throughout 2010--will SLG creators be appearing or somehow involved with each event? That being said, I'm correct in thinking it's far from an exclusive SLG-only policy in terms of guests?

Vado: I am already looking ahead to the next event which will be the first Saturday in June. There is a local Arts and music festival with a DIY theme going on that has approached us to add our SJ Comics Fest event to their program, which would be really great as that event turns out several thousand people. Not a done deal yet though.

In the fall we are going to change format and do an education-themed event, one where instead of a bunch of artists are sitting behind a table praying someone will buy their book we will have teachers who have had experience with using comics in the classroom presenting sample lesson plans and sharing their experiences.

As far as guests, the list is pretty heavily SLG people mainly because these people know us, believe in us and I have nothing to prove to any of them. Certainly not limited to SLG people though and we want to have more people involved. Fact of the matter is it will take some time before people get on board with this thing.

O'Shea: What vitals should folks know about the event?

Vado: January 16 12-5 PM

SLG Publishing577 S. Market StreetSan Jose, CA 95113www.sjcomicsfest.com for more info.

Also, I wanted to add that it would be easy for people in the comics industry to be dismissive of a small event that is in a warehouse. But all things that are worthwhile start small and I am hoping that as we grow this event more and more people from all walks of the industry will want to get on board with this.

O'Shea: I wanted to ask you a few questions about SLG Radio: When did you first come up with the idea for doing a podcast?

Vado: It came to me a long time ago, friends who have heard me interviewed on other podcasts and radio shows encouraged me to start my own. I think, though, I make a better guest than host.

O'Shea: How early in the planning stages did you decide to include Evan Dorkin as part of the podcast?

Vado: Originally he was going to be one and done. Evan doesn't really do much for us anymore in terms of new work and the original notion of the podcast was that it would highlight new SLG work. But, Evan and I seem to have an interesting thing going so now the presumed format is half the show on one thing, somewhat related to SLG, the other half Evan and I discussing what we just hear.

Of late it's just been him and I.

O'Shea: Have you seen the podcast positively influence interest in some of the SLG projects you discuss on the show?

Vado: Too early to tell I think. I have gotten no feedback from anyone that there is any increase in interest in anything. We will see, listenership is still small.

O'Shea: Judging by some of your discussion on air, it seems like you're gaining most of the podcast audience through folks listening to the archive. Are you braced for the podcast audience to grow slowly or is this an experiment you might end if your audience does not see major gains in the coming weeks? (Personal aside, I love the podcast, so I hope it continues to grow).

Vado: I will keep it up for as long as it proves not to be a distraction from regular work. I wouldn't mind just shooting the shit with Evan for an hour a week if that's what people want. At some point it has to be worth the time spent though, so we will see.

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