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I am the Greedy Industrialist [Mar. 6th, 2007|12:27 pm]
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So, I am being Blog-Flogged over some comments I made during a panel at Wondercon. Specifically during a panel I was asked what I would have done differently if I were starting publishing today. My initial reaction was that, having the knowledge that I have now, I would not have gone into publishing at all and done something else with my life.

I sensed, however, that that was not the answer the person was looking for. So I said the following (which is pulled from the Newsarama coverage of my panel since my memory has become faulty enough that I don't remember what my exact words were):

On the serious end, I would not publish creator-owned work. It’s a terrible business model as a publisher.” He said the successful companies in the industry own their characters, mentioning Spider-Man as an example.

“When you’ve got an environment where someone can come in, cut their teeth with you, then turn around and walk out, taking the stuff that you put money into with them, it’s just not a healthy way to do it,” he said. “I would not offer creator-owned contracts, I’d own it; I’d own it all. And sure, maybe there would have been things that wouldn’t have come our way, but I guarantee you if we’d had an equitable way of taking those properties on, if I’d owned Johnny, if I’d owned Milk & Cheese, if I’d owned Lenore, if I’d owned everything I’ve published over the last 20 years, this company would be in a lot better shape as a company. So that’s what I would do differently, and that would be my advice: no creator-owned comics.”

First, to clarify, I was asked what I would do differently, what I might change if I had the chance. You have to understand this about the timing of the question, it was the final question of the panel. Some Star Wars group was making a ruckus's about needing to get into the room, so there was no opportunity for a follow-up or elaboration. But the question was what would you do differently. I answered that question based on my experience of the last 21 years in this business. There was no follow-up or opportunity to elaborate in a public forum.

So a bunch of people have chimed in on the subject, not a major firestorm of any sort, but enough of it that I felt I should post some kind of response to some of the comments. Using the miracle that is Google Finder I was able to find several blog postings about my panel. I'm not the kind of person who likes to go to message boards and engage in endless discourse on minor nonsense and this kind of ego-surfing just bugs me. Neither am I someone who enjoys seeing their name in print, on other people's blogs or even really anywhere. I am a pretty private person and maybe the thing I really would have done 21 years ago when I started this was to come up with someone else to be me so I could just do my thing and never have to read about myself. Which bring me to the first comment I read bout the panel, from Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter:

"What's interesting is that Vado speaks out so infrequently no one knows exactly how to take his statements."

I am not exactly a hermit, when people ask me questions I answer them. I try to be as candid as possible and as anyone who has ever done business with me (hopefully) knows that while you may not always like what I have to say you can make bank on the fact that I am not going to bullshit you. Yeah, I don't blog regularly, I guess in today's day and age that is the equivalent of a monk taking a vow of silence. However I have only turned down one request for an interview in my entire life (although to be honest I have discouraged a lot of them) and if someone WANTS to interview me, well I am right here. I suppose I could take Tom to task for maybe not dropping me a line and asking what I meant by the statement, but then (and I do not mean this in negative way) his website is the Comics REPORTER and not the Comics JOURNALIST. I realize he is reporting on something I said, and that is fair, but the comment about not knowing how to take what I say, that's a matter of opinion and best left out of his reporting.

The award for keeping things in perspective goes to Simon at

"A rather shocking statement from a company with a reputation for being very creator-rights-friendly, but keep in mind he is answering a completely hypothetical question. On one hand, the purpose of a publisher is to monetize the creator’s product, and lopsided terms for the creator will oten end up being too obstructive, ultimately hurting both the publisher and the creator. On the other hand, would SLG have gotten half of the properties for which they’ve become known for had they had a strict publisher ownership policy?"

So, first, three cheers for Simon for noting that my comments were a response to a HYPOTHETICAL question. People seemed to gloss over the first answer that I had to the question, which was given a chance to do it over, I wouldn't have. I can't change THAT either. I found it kind of amusing that the people who found my comments about ownership to be anathema don't seem to care much that my initial reaction was to say that publishing at all was a mistake and that there were a lot better ways to make a living. Sure, maybe some of the people I published would have found other outlets for their work, but I can promise you that a lot of people's lives would have been a lot different had I not been there and gotten them their start.

At The Engine message board James Owen wrote:

“Interesting dichotomy that perspective creates. The thing is, what it’s also saying in hindsight is, ‘I should have figured out a way to take control of what YOU created, so I could profit from it instead of you.’”

I don't know James Owen, he doesn't know me and to be honest I did not go read his post on the board, instead I pulled it from a headline that The Comics Journal's JOURNALISTA (A great site, or at least a great part of the Journal Site and probably the only comics site I read every day). James is drawing an inference from my statement based on whatever personal experiences he has had with whatever people he has worked with. But, I am going to call you back to one part of my statement, one that all the "VADO: I WOULD OWN IT ALL" headlines don't do justice to, which was I guarantee you if we’d had an equitable way of taking those properties on, if I’d owned Johnny, if I’d owned Milk & Cheese, if I’d owned Lenore, if I’d owned everything I’ve published over the last 20 years, this company would be in a lot better shape as a company.

The operative word here is Equitable, which is defined as (and I am pulling the dictionary definition here since it is the EXACT meaning I wanted to convey when I made the statement)

c1.characterized by equity or fairness; just and right; fair; reasonable: equitable treatment of all citizens.

I didn't say if there was a way to rip off every cartoonist I had ever published I would do it, but, if I were approaching publishing today I would have gotten loans and based a business model of buying properties and giving people a financial incentive for selling me their work. Comics publishing is something that sort of found me, I never thought I would still be doing this at this stage of my life. James is assigning a motivation to me I do not have. Not very fair, or equitable, on his part if you ask me.

On her site Colleen Doran shows her creativity by making an obvious joke "Does Vado put the slave in Slave Labor..." which I am unfairly taking out of it's context because I am so sick of hearing that joke that it brings up another possible answer to the question about what I would have done differently; the name of the company. We go by SLG Publishing now (and no not because of our Disney license) and I am pretty open about the fact that, had I known I would still be doing this 21 years later I would certainly have picked a different name. The name sticks, however and no matter what I have tried to call the company people always come back to Slave Labor Graphics. Even the Disney exec in their own press release called us that and her quote wwas the only place in the release where the name of the company appeared that way.

Doran goes on to say "Then again, some of the small publishers are simply lousy at their jobs. Unable to help a book expand its audience, a bad small press publisher can weigh down a creator and keep them from realizing their sales potential. Some creators leave because they simply can’t make a living at their original publishing house".

Like James Owen, I don't know Colleen, she doesn't know me, our paths have never really crossed and they are not likely to, and I am not trying to draw an inference from her comments, but there were a number of postings out there which essentially said the same thing, that I am not very good at what I do. While I am certain we have not met every creator's expectations in all of the time I have been doing this, I feel pretty confident in the work I have done both in the selection of stuff to publish and in the way I have approached the business. Again, to clarify, I am not saying that was what Colleen meant, just using her comment to show a general attitude.

There is a LOT of chatter at The Beat, mostly mixed and way to much to respond to. I did respond to one poster's assertion that we were a "goth comics publisher" and that person did offer an apology when both a number of people (including myself) pointed out the variety of comics we have published over the years.

Then there is James Kochalka, someone whom I have published in the past, taking an opportunity to plug his book coming out from Random House and pointing out "Not only do I still own the copyright, they don’t even take a percentage of film rights or merchandise or anything! So… if creator ownership works for a giant like Random House, it must not be such bad business after all."

Yes James, SLG is not Random House, thanks for pointing that out. Random House's entire foundation (no pun intended) is not really built on creator-owned books but on books developed in-house which they own. Likewise it is doubtful that Random House would have published your early work, so do not compare me to Random House.

Also on The Beat my good friend Rikki Simmons points out "I think in the end all Dan is saying here is that he’s tired of other publishers using him as an unpaid talent scout."

Amen to that brother, and thanks for pointing that out. I am tired of that. DC Comics Minx line of graphic novels probably would not exist if it weren't for the frequent visits that editor Shelly Bond made to our booth over the years. Honestly, Shelly should be sending me part of her paycheck. This past weekend Dan Didio came RIGHT INTO MY BOOTH and sat next to Greg Weisman to pitch him on writing for DC. Now, Greg is a known talent and once worked on staff for DC, so maybe that wasn't that big of a deal. BUt if I wandered into the DC booth and started passing out my card to creators you could be certain I would hear about it. Come on now people, a little respect, please.

Which brings me, in closing, to the comments posted on a Livejournal by a guy who calls himself Eurotard.This guy wins the award for creativity in his posting as he writes:

"Why not eliminate the middleman, Dan? Ditch the company entirely. Dial up people who you'd really like to exploit, get their addresses out of the phone book, go to their houses and punch their loved ones in the face. Grind little Timmy's pet turtle into the carpet with your iron heel. Cut the cat in half with an ironing board. Tear the tubes out Granma's nose and take an icepick to her iron lung. I mean, if you're going to do a thing, don't be a milquetoast. Strip down to your skivvies, hollow Granma out, drink the cat's blood, smear yourself with turtle paste, make a deal with Mephistopheles, then zip into the past (wearing Granma as a suit) and convince Siegal & Shuster to work for YOU."

When someone posted something in my defense, pointing out that I was responding candidly to a hypothetical question Eurotard went on to say:

"Sure, he's answering a question honestly, but he's also providing a quote for anybody in big business who wants to buttress their argument against creator rights. The idea that cultivating goodwill amongst your employees is 'bad for business' is the sort of backward hash I'd expect to hear out of a CEO with a silver spoon in his nose, not a small press publisher. Dan Vado may not be being an evil dick, but he's not fucking helping, either."

I don't know who this guy is, I don't care to and were it not for Google Finder he would never have come on to my radar. However, it is there for all to see and since he addressed me personally in his blog entry I can only assume that his comments were for my consumption. Which brings me to a small tangent here: People who put stuff on their blogs who name me (or anyone else) by name as if they are addressing you but knowing full well that their comments will never be seen by the people they are writing about. You can yell FIRE in an empty theater as much as you like, you can say nasty shit behind people's back all you want I suppose, but I consider it cowardly. Had I not stumbled onto Eurotard accidentally I would never have seen his comments, I do not search for things on the Internet using the search term Vado Eurotard very often. I can only assume that he did not INTEND for me to see his comments since he did not post to any of the sites or boards that had pretty lively discussions on the subject, neither did he choose to email his semi-creative bit of character assassination. My feeling in life and my approach to both what I say and write is that I do not say anything in private about someone that I would not say directly to them, it keeps things simple, for both me and my friends or business associates.

Anyway. I normally don't bite at stuff like this, but it really does call for some kind of response. So here is my two part response.

1) The execs at the giant companies (whom you presumably would want your work to be published by) already know that creator ownership is bad business, that's why they are giant companies. I am not here to help you in your struggle to get a giant media companies to buy your work AND let you own it. You also missed or glossed over the part where I talked about equity and you more than anyone I saw write about what I said assigned motivations and even RESPONSIBILITIES to me that I do not have.

2) Your user name is Eurotard. How can I take you seriously. Take a pill and shut the hell up.

Thanks everyone for reading this perhaps overly long response. Feel free to comment here, but I have spent more time on this subject than it truly deserves so do not expect much of a response.

Dan Vado


[User Picture]From: andiwatson
2007-03-06 09:50 pm (UTC)


Handled with class.
[User Picture]From: doronjosama
2007-03-06 10:21 pm (UTC)



This only increases the respect I have had for you over the years, Dan.
[User Picture]From: mattbayne
2007-03-06 10:41 pm (UTC)


Having read the report and your comments above, here's my follow-up question: Does your experience and hindsight, as expressed in the quote, indicate any change to your contracting paradigm? Can new or returning creators partnering with SLG in the future expect a different arrangement than has been the general model up to now?
[User Picture]From: evandorkin
2007-03-06 11:22 pm (UTC)


This nonsense reminds me of the reasons why I make angry, industry-bashing comics like Milk and Cheese and Eltingville, and why they're published by Dan Vado and SLG. And why they'll continue to be published through SLG until Dan finally gets wise and up and quits this fishbowl/toilet tank. Cause, yeah, 21 years of publishing small press comic books without a backer or a trust fund or a meth lab side business, that's an obvious sign of being lousy at your job.

P.S. I don't think Spurgeon meant anything by his remarks, personally.

P.P.S. Kochalka enter an on-line conversation to plug himself? Say it ain't so, Joe.

P.P.P.S. That lame "slave" crack was about as good as any of Colleen Doran's writing gets, sad to say.

[User Picture]From: evandorkin
2007-03-06 11:24 pm (UTC)


WTF? Sorry about that huge negative zone up there. I'll admit to being a lousy internet poster.
From: danvado
2007-03-06 11:34 pm (UTC)


I thought it was inviso-text. I was looking for spoilers to the next episode of Lost!
[User Picture]From: rikkisimons
2007-03-06 11:46 pm (UTC)


I think he had a sound buried in that space. Oh, wait I found it.

From: (Anonymous)
2007-03-07 03:26 am (UTC)


How on Earth did you do that? That's a neat trick.

- Dirk Deppey,
The Comics Journal
From: danvado
2007-03-08 08:24 am (UTC)


If you contract with SLG all you can really expect is a pair of dimes.

Man, am I funny or what!

Anyway, as much as I toss around the notion of some sort of "we own it forever" contract it's not something I plan on doing, at least as far as ownership is concerned.
[User Picture]From: xoshua
2007-03-07 12:07 am (UTC)


that's what you get for not answering how you initially thought-

in all seriousness, well-handled.
From: (Anonymous)
2007-03-07 01:03 am (UTC)

Here's the rest of what Colleen wrote


" he simply stating what some indy publishers have come to realize: comics creators will stick with you until they get big, then when they get big, they move on to bigger companies leaving the original publisher in the cold with no chance of recouping the investment they made in the creator’s work?"

Sounds like she was just trying to present a balanced view of the issue to me. The hostility toward what she wrote seems misplaced.
[User Picture]From: evandorkin
2007-03-07 02:02 am (UTC)

Re: Here's the rest of what Colleen wrote


" he simply stating what some indy publishers have come to realize: comics creators will stick with you until they get big, then when they get big, they move on to bigger companies leaving the original publisher in the cold with no chance of recouping the investment they made in the creator’s work?"

Holy shit, now somebody tells me!

Dan, I'm done, off to do books for Comico. Ciao!
[User Picture]From: leborcham
2007-03-07 02:11 am (UTC)


Dan, the fact that you have stood by your comments so eloquently and not backed off or said you were misquoted makes me respect you even more. Those of us who have been around long enough how much you have given this industry.
[User Picture]From: coppervale
2007-03-07 02:59 am (UTC)


Hi Dan -

I haven't been nearly as active on the comics scene as I used to be, but we saw each other enough at SD and various parties (some thrown by you) that you'd remember me if you saw me in person. I was part of the whole self-publishing brouhaha through the 90's (STARCHILD was my book), and I've always liked the work you published and respected you as a businessman.

You're dead right in the issue you take with my quote (from the message board that subsequently got reposted various places). I was responding to the overall quote while giving short shrift to the word 'equitable', which changes it considerably.

There are publishers whom I've dealt with who WOULD be better off if they'd followed what you outline above. And there are some who already do. And I've dealt with both types. And it almost always comes down to a relationship. If the relationship is good, then the deal, whatever it involves, is usually equitable.

Something else that hasn't really been addressed is that no creator is compelled to take ANY deal if they don't want to. And part of my remark seems to imply that the talents you publish might not have had a choice - and that's setting up a retroactive straw man. And for that, I sincerely apologize.

I still regularly buy your books, and like a lot of the folks you publish - and if you were not already dealing with them in an equitable manner, they probably wouldn't have remained with SLG.

The fact that you WERE cut off before elaborating on that panel has certainly affected my take on what you said - and I assume that if you'd been given more time, you would have responded in much the same was as you have here.

Best regards,

James A. Owen
From: danvado
2007-03-07 04:41 pm (UTC)

ohhh, JAMES Owen


Okay, did not make the connection in my head. Once I saw your picture I realized we had met a time or two, so my apology if my comment above seemed belittling.

Thanks very much for your note, in retrospect I probably should have not broached that subject as people were getting out of their chairs and Storm Troopers were waiting to use the room.

[User Picture]From: shanmuir
2007-03-07 06:43 am (UTC)


One thing I've admired about you, Dan, in the last couple of years I've come to know you, is that you aren't afraid to speak what you think. I agree having been at that panel you just wound up with insufficient time to speak it in regard to the subject.

I certainly hope what you've been able to say here helps make things clear to everyone.
[User Picture]From: blogner
2007-03-07 03:29 pm (UTC)


I feel I understand what you meant by your original statements, and I think there are lots of people who look for excuses to name scapegoats and pounce on them in an attempt to identify "what's wrong with comics". If nothing else, your recent experiences serve as yet another example of this, and I wish THAT would become the issue to focus on, as it would provide more progress than backbiting a hard working publisher.

Be that as it may:

"People who put stuff on their blogs who name me (or anyone else) by name as if they are addressing you but knowing full well that their comments will never be seen by the people they are writing about. You can yell FIRE in an empty theater as much as you like, you can say nasty shit behind people's back all you want I suppose, but I consider it cowardly."

Not to be a wiseass or anything, but by posting all this on your blog you sort of just did that yourself. :)
From: danvado
2007-03-07 04:47 pm (UTC)


You are not being a wiseass, you called me on my own hypocrisy and I stand corrected. I should have at least let the people whom I was quoting know I was quoting them on my blog and referred them to here so they could comment. I was just trying to save time and keep the discussion to one place as well as not get involved in a bunch of different conversations all over the place.

I guess I have seen my name in other people's blogs so often, with some really unkind stuff associated with me, that I felt fair in doing the same thing ESPECIALLY in regards to Eurotard's comments.

But when you are right you are right. This is why I do not blog much.

From: (Anonymous)
2007-03-07 05:02 pm (UTC)

I don't understand the fuss


Since the comment I read from you was, I thought, pretty self-explanatory. Don't let people with reading comprehension problems get to you. And, while I'm here, I'd like to thank you for publishing lots of great books over the years -- I especially liked Longshot Comics, Bluebeard, Patty Cake, and Scarlet Thunder, but my favorites are Tales from the Heart and The Wretch. Ke3ep up the good work.
From: (Anonymous)
2007-03-07 06:53 pm (UTC)

The comics business is not a damn lottery ticket!


I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the reaction to Mr. Vado's comments, but I am depressed. Does it say something about how hard it is to make a living in comics, that so many fans and pros don't or can't think about it as a business? Instead of worrying about comics as a job, they get wrapped up in the fantasy that they're going to create the next Spider-Man and obsess over "getting screwed" out of what they think they deserve.

Newsflash for comic pros and aspiring pros - Comic publishers do not exist to make money for you.

From: eurotard
2007-03-07 07:30 pm (UTC)


In response to someone who found me via your post, I explained:
" Chicken Little reaction is irritation and outrage with a dash of hyperbole regarding a reputable publisher whose words will very probably be used as an argument AGAINST creator's rights. It's easy to see how Dan Vado's words can be twisted, because we're both doing it now."
I owe you an apology. I'm sure you realize that none of my remarks were explicitly intended to be hurtful, but that doesn't excuse my using your name as the fulcrum for what has essentially become a one-sided slanging match. While I don't particularly believe in self-censorship, my remarks were ill-advised and I would be more than happy to issue an apology and/or retraction. Your call.

Again, I apologize for the offense.
From: eurotard
2007-03-07 07:52 pm (UTC)



[User Picture]From: jellysanjams
2007-03-08 02:53 am (UTC)


A very good point too, don't bash people... they will find out and hook you up to their fathers cow milker.... this is why I am going to be sending my artwork to slave labor.
[User Picture]From: wishlish
2007-03-08 08:11 am (UTC)


Dan, I'd rather judge you by the mountains of great comics you've published over the years than on an afternoon's comments at a panel I wasn't at. Keep up the great work.

(Now, if only you'd sell the Slacker comics on Eyemelt...and some more Skeleton Key comics...hint...hint...)
From: tarpit05
2007-03-09 08:11 am (UTC)


Dan, speaking as someone who's done work for hire for you back in the day, I do hope you made some scratch from those late Hero Sandwich issues.

(I suppose the hysteria reflects a certain anxiety over the state of the industry these days, but man, talk about your misplaced targets. No good will come from those internets.)

Also, hey, if you ever get a script for Tales From The Heart #12...:D

Aldin Baroza
[User Picture]From: ziemael
2007-03-09 08:35 pm (UTC)

My humblest opinon...


Mr. Vado,
Well I have to say I am shocked by the responses and half baked presumptions about what you do. I mean if anything you should be the patron saint of fledgling creators out there. None of those guys posts mentioned what tyrants DC and Marvel are for actually owning all the creators works but blasted you for a mere honest hindsight knee jerk reaction to a live question. That you would do the same thing for fiscal purposes, who wouldn't. What eurotard failed to have noted is that you have taken food from your own families mouths to be a stepping stone rather than the absurd notion that you secretly harbor the desire to be the comic anti-christ. Hell man if I ever get published by you it would be an honor. My personal jesus so to speak. You and therefore SLG Publishing are the Nobel Samaritans of the publishing world and damned be anyone who says other wise. (wipes froth from mouth)
[User Picture]From: the_hyena
2007-03-15 08:33 am (UTC)


this is why i don't visit message boards and read very few blogs, cheers dan
[User Picture]From: sonnyliew
2007-04-03 07:27 am (UTC)


Dan is always looking out for the folks he works with... i can't believe people are making a big deal out of this, such silliness! :p