WC: SLG Publishing

SLG Publishing's owner and publisher Dan Vado spoke to fans at last weekend's WonderCon about upcoming projects and gave an update on the state of his business under the new Diamond order minimums.

First, the good news - on sale this week is "Strongman," about a washed-out Mexican wrestler who fell out of the limelight when he became a womanizing alcoholic. "He's approached by a beautiful woman because she's embroiled in an organ smuggling scheme," Vado said. "Because if you're involved in an illegal smuggling scheme of any kind, the person you're going to go to get you out of trouble will of course be a drunken Mexican wrestler."

The book is written by newcomer Charles Soule with art by Alan Gladfelter, who is illustrating the covers for BOOM! Studios' "Cars" series, based on the Pixar film.

Vado said that Luche Libre wrestlers are very much like superheroes. "If you like your superheroes ridiculous, then 'Strongman' is really for you."

Vado also showed artwork from "Warlord of IO and Other Stories," a collection of short stories by James Turner, creator of "Rex Libris." The book stars Jon Jett, Warlord of IO and a hero in the vein of Buck Rogers. It comes out in May. "He comes up against an evil emperor who wants to make his name in the universe," Vado said. "Hijinks and adventure ensue. Turner writes at a very cerebral level, he's very well read."

The one-shot also includes an introduction to a graphic novel called "Hell Lost."

Vado confirmed SLG's plans to publish the remaining issues of "Gargoyles," #7-12, in a collection this summer, as well as a collection of the "Gargoyles: Bad Guys" miniseries. In March, Disney will publish a hardcover collection of "Wonderland," which SLG first published as a six-issue series.

In June, SLG will publish the first issue of "Captain Blood: Odyssey," a miniseries that adapts the 1922 novel "Captain Blood: His Odyssey" by Rafael Sabatini. The miniseries is written by Matt Shepherd and drawn by Mike Shoyket. The story follows an Irishman, Peter Blood, as he travels through Europe, ends up exiled to a Caribbean prison and escapes to become an infamous pirate. Vado said the novel was "ground zero for pirate fiction in the early part of the century and inspired a lot of other pirate fiction."

The book will be printed so the paper resembles parchment, "given that it's pirates," Vado said. "We had wanted to do a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' comic book, and it didn't work out, so then I thought, 'Let's go back to the source of all this stuff.'"

Vado said whether or not a second issue would be published depended on how the first issue did, "Because there are issues in comic book distribution right now that could get in the way of actually publishing comic book format stuff for small publishers like myself," he said, referencing new restrictions put in place at Diamond Comics Distributors. Previously, a comic book had to sell roughly $2,500 at retail or roughly $1,500 wholesale in order to be carried in "Previews," the Diamond catalogue with which most retailers purchase their merchandise. "And to be honest with you, anything not making $2,500 at retail value was probably not worth our continuing to do it," Vado said.

The benchmark has been increased to more than $6,000 retail. So a $2.95 comic would have to sell more than 2,000 copies instead of 1,200 copies. If a first issue falls shy of that, Diamond may not list the second issue.

"It means that we're being pushed toward more expensive formats, which is counter to what our plan was for the year, seeing that the economy was getting rough," Vado said.

SLG had planned to start publishing more books at a lower price point, as Vado said it was getting "harder to sell a graphic novel by a new guy who no one's ever heard of that costs between 12-15 bucks."

Vado said if sales start to drop due to the economy and the preponderance of higher-priced books, even a $10-15 graphic novel may have a hard time meeting Diamond's minimums. "I've done this for 23 years," Vado said. "I can't say we'll make it to the end of 2009. And that's shocking to say because I've lived through a lot of crap."

The new policy also affects SLG's backlist and what they can list multiple times in "Previews." "Where we live and where we do our best is in selling stuff that's come out and selling it over and over again," he said. "In the book business, most of the business is backlist. Now we're all being shoved over to being a frontlist publisher of more expensive material that'll never get another shot in 'Previews.'"

Vado said he thinks the change will eventually lead to competition for Diamond. "They need to do what they're gonna do," he said. "It sucks, and in the end, what they're going to end up doing is creating the competition they've been trying to squelch for years."

Vado said Diamond has changed their terms of sale with all publishers. "It only affects us down at the bottom, but they've done it with all of us," he said. "So basically, any agreement they've made, in my opinion, with a publisher that would have included an exclusive, that is now out the window."

If and when the economy improves, Vado said the comics industry will see more and better distribution arrangements. "In the long run, that would be a good thing."

Vado said SLG is distributing its own backlist now, and have invited other publishers to join their system. "It's not gonna be a cure, but it's hopefully a stopgap measure to help everybody get through and get people used to ordering from sources other than Diamond."

The publisher also sees an opportunity for someone to service small press publishers who may be disenfranchised by Diamond's new practice. "What Diamond has said is, 'At this end of the business, we don't want it anymore,'" Vado said. "I'm saying, 'At that end of the business, there's something that a smaller operation can make work.' We'll see if that's true or not."

Vado also pointed out that everyone is doing what they can to make it through the recession, not just Diamond. "I'm not one of those guys that jumps out here and says that everything Diamond ever does is bad. I know a lot of people have bad experiences with them," he said. "They're trying to get through the same way everybody else is trying to get through. I mean, Christ, the ['San Francisco] Chronicle' is going to close down. The 'Chronicle.' What are we supposed to do? What is Diamond supposed to do? Comic books are a niche of a niche. I can see Borders going out of business. Barnes & Noble will contract. It's a tough time, and this Diamond thing is like one more nail."

Vado joked that with the recession going on, they had a lot of free time at SLG, so they've started up two different initiatives. The first is the return of their Creator's Studio series, where they cover topics of interest to aspiring creators in the Bay Area. It includes sessions for writers on thinking visually, as well as a business class on the realities of making a living in comics.

The second initiative is a monthly art show to coincide with downtown San Jose's art crawl on the first Friday of every month. Vado said the events include live music and refreshments. This coming Friday's exhibit is Barflies, Boozers and Bastards, a collection of portraits by Karl Christian Krumpholz of "the most famous drunks of our time."

Information on both events can be found at slgcomic.com.

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