Dan Vado with his dog Homer at SLG Publishing Art Boutiki & Gallery.
Dan Vado founded Slave Labor Graphics Publishing more than 25 years ago and began publishing independent comics and making toys. The self-proclaimed “Coolest Comics Publisher in America” aims to provide opportunities for new artists to break into the industry and fosters a diverse group of talent.
After SLG Publishing shifted its focus away from making toys, Vado opened SLG Publishing and Art Boutiki & Gallery on South Market Street, a frequent participant in the First Friday Art Walk. The gallery has also become a popular downtown venues for local artists to showcase their talents, as well a host for live music events like the monthly Jazz Warehouse Jam.
How long have you lived/worked in San Jose and what made you decide to make this your home?
I’m a San Jose native. I like it here so I’ve never had the urge to go away and live somewhere else. This is where I grew up.
What is your favorite thing about San Jose?
I love the weather, for one. I like that it’s a small town and a big city all rolled into one. I really dig the fact that there’s some really nice people here, and I’ve managed to kind of grow up without having a lot of the big city problems. The city’s not dirty like San Francisco, or depressing to visit like Detroit. It’s a nice place.
What was your favorite comic as a kid?
My favorite comic book as a kid was the Legion of Superheroes. I think it was because those characters were younger and, being a kid, you could see yourself in that role easier than say, Superman.
At what point did you decide to make comics your career?
I think comics decided for me; I don’t think I really had any choice. There was never any point where I said, “This is what I’m gonna do.” Comics was always something I was going to do while I’d figure out what it I was gonna do, and I guess I never really figured it out.
How did you earn the title of “Supreme Commander”?
It was self-appointed. Although, because the new leader of North Korea is the Supreme Commander now, I’m thinking of taking a poll to get me a new title.
In the history of SLG, what has been your top seller?
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is the best-selling comic we’ve ever done. It achieved a level of success I don’t think anyone could have ever predicted.
Have you had any celebrity encounters in the shop?
Kevin Smith! He came in when I wasn’t here. He was here during the NHL All-Star Game, and I guess he must have been looking for comic book shops in downtown San Jose. He was with his daughter.
What made you decide to combine your comic shop with a music venue?
We used to make toys, and then we stopped, so we had the space. We converted the front of the space into a book store and art gallery. My kids are both musicians, and they were coming in here at night to practice, so we started having some all-ages shows for free.
Once we realized there was a demand for the space, we became much more of a music venue than a book store. And music sounds amazing in here—Jazz especially. Anything with horns just really resonates in here.
Where in San Jose do you like to hang out when you’re not at the shop?
You can find me at Rollin’ Ice. I play hockey on Tuesday nights, and sometimes if there’s a big Sharks game my buddies and I will meet down there at the High Five and watch hockey. It’s a really cool place to hang out if you like sports.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?
There are a couple of my favorite homeless people here. There was the dude on the corner of Reed who wrote all these weird signs and set up stuffed animals everywhere, and he would preach some variation of the Gospel, as known to him, to people as they drove by.
He became the subject of a thing I was writing where I pretended he was a time traveler and that time travel drove him insane. Maybe I made him more interesting in my head than he actually was.