A homicidal maniac who obeys a wall of blood; a dead little girl with a ghoulish sense of humor; a living cheese wedge and carton of milk ("dairy products gone bad") who take out their aggression on an unsuspecting world—these are the star characters at Slave Labor Graphics, a pop culture explosion masquerading as a comic book company.

After 17 years in business, Slave Labor has established itself as a home for some of the most outrageous comics on the market. "Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge and Evan Dorkin are our most popular creators," said publisher Dan Vado. "That's true both for comics stores and bookstores." Collections by all three are among Slave Labor's perennial bestsellers.

Vasquez, creator of the cartoon Invader Zim on Nickelodeon, has a devoted cult following based on his darkly humorous Johnny, the Homicidal Maniac, the story of a young man who must kill. Vasquez's rare convention appearances routinely draw huge lines. Dirge's Lenore is an Edward Gorey—esque black comedy about a dead girl who creates trouble for the living. Evan Dorkin, creator of Milk and Cheese and the anthology Dork!, is a savage humorist who knows comics geek knowledge inside out but isn't afraid to skewer the fanboys who take it all a little too seriously. Dorkin's characters have spawned a cartoon pilot for the Cartoon Network and won multiple Eisner awards.

Both Vasquez and Dirge are sometimes thought of as "goth" cartoonists because of their comic interest in gloom and doom, and Slave Labor has had success at Hot Topic, the nationwide chain of goth mall stores. Several other popular Slave Labor books, like Little Gloomy and Gloomcookie, are in the same vein, but Vado dismisses the idea. "I think the goth stereotype gets overplayed a bit. People make assumptions based on who shows up at our convention appearances, as opposed to who is actually buying our books."

Vado recently signed with Diamond Book Distribution, and while the preliminary results are encouraging so far, he said it's still too early to quantify. However, Slave Labor's sales through Amazon.com have been increasing "fairly dramatically over the past few months," Vado said. "Our sales through Amazon have been very impressive, to a point where they're now more than a small player to us, which they were a few months ago."

While the work of all three of SLG's heavy hitters remains in print, only Dorkin has a new collection coming in 2003. However, Vado has many other projects on tap: "We're collecting some older series, including Phil Hester's The Wretch. And we're very high on a collection Scott Saavedra's Comic Book Heaven. It looks at the stranger, odder side of old comics. There hasn't been a product like that in the bookstores."