SLG Publishing founder Dan Vado laid out the San Jose publisher's plans for the next several months and spoke bluntly about his feelings on the comics industry in a panel Sunday afternoon at WonderCon in San Francisco, CA.
"We're transitioning slowly from comics to graphic novels," Vado declared, arguing the market isn't supporting serialized comics from small publishers and that retailers would be less likely to order a trade collection of a series that sold poorly than they would a new original graphic novel.
Vado previewed several new and upcoming projects, speaking especially highly of writer/artist Ethan Nicolle, whose book "Chumble Spuzz Volume 1: Kill the Devil" is available now and tells the story of a pig possessed by Satan. "Ethan is amazingly talented, and he's great at selling his work to people," Vado said. "If I came up here every year and told you, 'We've got this new guy and he can't miss,' you'd stop believing me. So I don't say that kind of stuff too often. But this guy can not miss."
Vado said Nicolle is the funniest comics artist he's met since "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" and "Invader Zim" creator Jhonen Vasquez, and easily in his top five of all time. Vado tried to show a YouTube video of Nicolle promoting the book, but technical difficulties prevailed. You can see that video right here:
Later, Vado discussed "MuZz," a new book arriving in April by writer/artist Foo Swee Chin. The story will follow a woman who wakes up not knowing who she is, and travels to MuZz, "the place where unspoken, untold dreams and secrets go when those who made and hid them expired." Vado said the book will spotlight Chin's "weird, stunning visuals," with a style combining manga with "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
"Dead Eyes Open," by writer Matthew Shepherd and artist Ray Boney, is the latest in a series of zombie books published by SLG, but Vado said the book turns the genre on its ear. The zombies in the world of this book aren't mindless brain-eaters, but people who wake from death with normal minds who want to return to society. In one scene, a coroner is studying a body trying to find out what's causing the dead to return, picking through the body's guts for clues, only for the next page to reveal that he is studying his own corpse.
Vado also confirmed that "Halo and Sprocket" will return with a 64-page self-contained story in July, and Jamie Smart, creator behind the "Bear" series, has three projects in the works.
The SLG head also mentioned new titles "Ubu Bubu" is a series about "cute, evil kittens" and just launched last month; "Bodhate," schedule for a March release, a one-shot book about squids; and "Fat Chunk" is a three-volume anthology series beginning in May, with the second two scheduled loosely over the next year and a half.
When he finished the presentation, Vado opened the panel to questions, when one fan asked for an explanation of the publisher's original name, Slave Labor Graphics. "Our first book was called 'Samurai Penguin,' and I told the artist he was only going to get paid if we made some money," explained Vado. "He said, 'That sounds like slave labor,' and I said, 'yeah.'"
Vado said if he'd known the business would last so long – "Samurai Penguin" came out 22 years ago – he would have given it a different name.
"Heading into the south for the first time as a publisher, I realized that name probably wasn't going to fly. 'Slave Labor' has a different context down there," Vado said. "I filled out a form and handed it to some guy, and he read it and looked back at me, and said, 'You funnin' me, boy?' So yeah, if I could go back I'd change the name. I've tried just calling us 'SLG' but nobody ever forgets the Slave Labor thing."
Earlier in the panel, Vado alluded to some dissatisfaction with his career, and an audience member followed up on that. Vado said, "I'm not having fun." When the questioner pressed, asking why he'd bother to keep working in comics if he wasn't having fun, Vado said, "You ever just been stuck in something? I have a family, I have kids to feed. I can't just walk away."
He clarified that he does enjoy the actual comics; it's the business end of the work he doesn't like, largely because he's found fellow professionals disappointing. "I think Evan Dorkin put it best when he said, 'In this business people will stab you in the back with a pitchfork for a nickel,'" Vado said.
Finally, Vado admitted to having pitched a comic based on "The Big Lebowski" to the Coen brothers. "It was going to be about Walter and his security company," Vado said. "Thank God they never wrote back. It would have been horrible."
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