Art Boutiki

The Comic Evolution

I think we will use technology to break down the barriers and grow the audience for comic books.

SHAZAM! Anyone who knows The Dark Knight from Watchmen will want to beam into SLG Publishing’s Art Boutiki & Gallery. Smartly dressed crimefighters have been seen stalking the shelves. The quirky gallery offers the graphic novel connoisseur more than the standard dusty stacks of comic books; it is also a thriving venue for all-ages music nights. Dan Vado, like most traditional print business owners, is riding the wave as SLG evolves from print to digital publishing.

How did SLG Art Boutiki & Gallery start publishing comics?
I’ve been writing and editing comics for 25 years. I was going to school and needed to figure out what else I was going to do with my life. I owned a comic book store on Bascom Avenue and decided I wanted to write a comic. After I published my first story, Samurai Penguin, people started coming to me and asking if I would publish their work. It naturally progressed into publishing, and we are hitting our 25th anniversary this year.

Yeah, well, it’s been a rough year. As with anything ink on paper or with books, it’s been rough. Borders going out of business took out a big chunk of our sales. Barnes & Noble is constricting, and these were big places where we sold our books. You have to have a vigorous online presence and direct your customers to Amazon and hope that it works.

How has technology affected comics?
The places you can sell physical books have evaporated as the cost of publishing print books has risen. There is a pressure to develop a new way to deliver content to people, and digital is truly it. Whether it will work or not, I don’t know. We are looking at what will be a good—low cost way to deliver content to our readers—and we are doing this through a variety of ways; whether it is through the iTunes store or through apps-based companies that sell comic readers. We are literally creating a new marketplace. We are trying to get people to rethink their devotion to print. We are trying to win back the people who stopped buying print comics years ago, and we are trying to introduce comics to people who don’t even know what comics are.

You mentioned that you are creating a new marketplace. Would you say this creation is industry wide?
Definitely. There is a big paradigm shift in attitude. We have this marketplace for comics that has done nothing but shrink over the past fifteen years, and there is a potentially larger, untapped marketplace. And publishers can benefit from it, whether you are a large publishing house or a small one like ours. The current process of ordering/buying comics is too hard. Digital will help publishers break down the barrier between the marketing and purchasing of a comic book. I don’t think it will affect comic book stores because the people who frequent comic book stores are people who enjoy the physical copy. Most people who are big-time comic book fans are saying that they won’t go to digital because they like the idea and feel of the physical book. But it is too small a pie, and it is a pie that isn’t going to continue growing. I think we will use technology to break down the barriers and grow the audience for comic books.

So, there is a group of people who remain loyal to print?

Do they take the idea of digitally expanding the marketplace seriously, or do they view it as selling out?
I don’t know. I know retailers can be emotional about it because they feel publishing houses they have supported for years are undermining their business. But we can’t have comics be the lone holdout as we make a transition into a digital world. We can’t devote ourselves to a segment of the industry that has proven unable to grow itself over the years.

How has San Jose responded to the comic book scene?
You know, for a long time, San Jose was really a hotbed of comics. Back when I was a kid, there were four comic book stores in downtown San Jose. We used to run comic book conventions here, too. It was a real hotbed. It has declined over the years, but so has the whole business, and we are the only ones left in downtown San Jose. [Art Boutiki has relocated to just outside of the downtown core since this article was originally published.]

How has the City of San Jose helped you as a business?
I enjoy a nice relationship with the San Jose Downtown Association. They are a nonprofit that is not actually associated with the City of San Jose, but we work together on events such as the Zombie-O-Rama. We haven’t gotten much more than moral support from the city itself. We don’t get money from the city for our sidewalks because this part of the street is technically a part of a state highway. Plus, there really is no money in San Jose, and businesses are on their own. I think it’s good because it’s teaching businesses how to be businesses again.

Do you see the potential for comics to become a hot market in San Jose again?
Maybe. I think the comics out right now are not very good, and I think this has something to do with the fact that the audience has somewhat deserted comics. That is part of the reason we are looking at ourselves as a more event-driven business. We’ve done small comic book conventions in here, we’ve done classes in here, and we host concerts several times a month.

There’s so much more to SLG Publishing’s Art Boutiki & Gallery than meets the eye. Dan Vado has not only built a successful publishing house, he’s on a mission to foster the development of San Jose’s culture, while creating a new marketplace for comics in a digital word. Fight on, Dan. You are truly San Jose’s very own comic book hero.

Interview by Stacy Ernst
Photography by Daniel Garcia

This article originally appeared in Issue 4.0 “Tech”

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