Slave Labor Graphics was started in 1986 by Dan Vado, who remains the company's president and publisher.
The first book Slave Labor Graphics published was Shadow Star #3, a female superhero character previously published independently by some of Vado's friends. Slave Labor Graphics's first major success was Samurai Penguin #1 by Dan and Mark Buck, which sold 58,000 copies in the summer of 1986. The first few titles, such as Hero Sandwich and It's Science With Dr. Radium, were all created by friends of Vado's from high school. Other successes were Milk & Cheese, a comic about mean-spirited anthropomorphic dairy products by Evan Dorkin and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, a comic about the adventures of a serial killer by Jhonen Vasquez. In this time period, comic book speculation was rampant, so Slave Labor Graphics was able to sell its entire print run of many titles. However, at the end of the speculation bubble, some distributors went out of business without paying Slave Labor Graphics.
In 1995, Slave Labor Graphics added an imprint called "Amaze Ink" intended to be for all audiences and more genre-oriented; the "stranger, more adult, and more difficult to categorize material" would still be published under the "Slave Labor" imprint.
In September 2008, SLG were remodelling their lobby to be a smaller gallery/shop which opened as Boutiki in San Jose in December 2008 The gallery/shop is still operating (with name of Art Boutiki) as of 2014 December.
In late 2010, Slave Labor Graphics established an independent record label entitled Slab Yard Sound Company.