Welcome to A Tribute to Shel Dorf

October 3, 2009

Sheldon L. “Shel” Dorf is a kind man with a big heart who has spent the majority of his life enriching the lives of others. Shel is not a rich man in the classic sense of the word, but he has possessed a seemingly bottomless well of goodwill, which he has shared selflessly with countless strangers and friends alike.

Many of these gestures of good will were done in private – and never related publicly. Other contributions, such as his work in founding the San Diego Comic-Con, are more visible but not always fully perceived, because many parts of the story remain untold.

This Web site is being started to provide a forum for those of us whose lives have directly or indirectly benefited in some way by Shel Dorf’s activities and would like to comment or post something about him to share with others. It is also a place where those who would like to know more about Shel can also go for the “inside scoop” and “behind the scenes stories” that others who knew him may choose to share. It will also become (we hope) a place where the “spirit” of Shel’s generosity and good will may continue to thrive and continue to enrich all of our lives.

The year 2009 saw the 40th annual San Diego Comic-Con, the largest and longest-running comic-con in history. This annual event, which has changed countless people’s lives for the better, was the lifelong dream and ambition of Shel Dorf.

We three – Barry Alfonso, Mike Towry, and I – were among the very first group of fans to join with Shel on his quest to create the San Diego Comic-Con and make it a reality. Our involvement with him changed our lives for the better. We felt this 40th anniversary would be an appropriate occasion to set up this site as a forum through which we and others whose lives have been influenced by Shel can post our reminiscences of him, share anecdotes and recount the history of Shel’s life and accomplishments. We hope you will join with us in this endeavor! Thank you.

—Richard Alf

 

Shel Dorf is a remarkable man. For decades, he championed comic art as a vital part of American popular culture. As a collector and historian in this field, he deserves lasting recognition. But just as importantly, we recall the generosity Shel showed us 40 years ago. He inspired those around him to embrace their love for the arts – and, in the process, to discover their own talents.

We were extraordinarily lucky to have Shel as a mentor at a crucial time in our lives. Speaking personally, he enabled me to plunge into the world of comics as an insider – at age 12, no less. He also showed me that the great artists and writers I admired were not remote demigods, but real people who were willing to meet fans like myself. Shel believed in fandom as something not only beneficial to the fans, but helpful to the creators on the other side of the divide.

Shel was a community-builder long before the term became fashionable. It was a great honor to be a part of this community, one that valued my opinion and helped me to grow and learn invaluable skills. Shel treated me with kindness and respect and showed me that anything was possible – even becoming a character in a comic book by my hero, Jack Kirby. For that, I will always be grateful.

—Barry Alfonso

 

Shel Dorf has lived for comics, for bringing their fans and professional creators together, and for helping many of those fans to become professionals themselves.

In 1969, Shel came to San Diego already possessing years of experience in producing comic conventions and other fan activities along with a host of fan and professional contacts. He was certainly in a position to claim a preeminent place for himself as the chairman, the great leader of the comic convention he proposed for San Diego. It would not have seemed unreasonable had he viewed the inexperienced young fans he gathered as fit only to be his gofers and flunkies. Another man might have done so, but that wasn’t Shel. He always wanted to help his friends and associates to realize their dreams, to discover what they could do, to find their own places in the sun. From the beginning, he always was content to be known simply as Comic-Con’s founder and the advisor to its committee. He was surely those things and more.

At the time we first met Shel in 1969, we ranged in age from 12 to 17. How could we think we could put on our own convention? Shel showed us the way. It was an experience that few kids could have, one that we’ll always remember, one that Shel made possible.

Through Shel, we got to meet the comics pros, something that we had never considered possible – isolated as we were in our sleepy little Navy town in the southwest corner of the United States. And thanks to Shel, we started at the top with our first visit to see Jack “King” Kirby in November of 1969. To us Kirby truly was the King of comics, and because of Shel’s efforts in arranging our visit, we found out first hand that Kirby was a fascinating thinker, full of boundless ideas and creative energies matched only by the kindness and consideration he showed his fans.

Would there have been a Comic-Con in San Diego without Shel? Probably, someday, sure. Would it have been the one we have today? Certainly not. Comic-Con got its spirit, its positive, non-profit, welcoming vision from Shel. The Con committees throughout the years have done a fantastic job in building the Con into what it is today, but, to paraphrase Isaac Newton, “If they have seen further than others, it is because they stood on the shoulders of a giant.”

Shel was always better at doing for others than at doing for himself. How many fans and pros did he bring together, how many fans became pros because of the man and his work: these are questions we hope this site will start to answer for all to see.

Since we three – Richard Alf, Barry Alfonso, and I – were kindly invited to attend Comic-Con this year as 40th-anniversary guests, we’ve come to learn more of the state of knowledge regarding Comic-Con’s founding. That there is a paucity of accurate information available about this matter is perhaps not a surprise as we who were there at the beginning had not before related the facts in public. One purpose of this site is to remedy that situation and thereby assure Shel his just recognition. As the only three of the original founding members of the Comic-Con Committee available, we want to set the story straight and fill in the gaps regarding Comic-Con’s earliest days.

Shel, unfortunately, cannot speak for himself. He has been in the hospital for over a year. He is currently unable to communicate: unable to speak or even to read or hear much of anything. We of course hope that his condition will improve, but we have not been given reason to believe that it will. However, we will be sure to let you know of any change in his condition. If prayer is something that you do, we’re sure you’ll want to pray for Shel.

—Mike Towry

 

So now, with respect, gratitude, and affection, we launch this site in tribute to Shel Dorf. Our best wishes go out to Shel and to all his friends and admirers. Please let us hear from you.

—Richard Alf, Barry Alfonso, and Mike Towry

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

David Williams March 18, 2011 at 10:40 pm

My grandfather was Tom French and growing up with the comic com from when it started. I miss those old days of us working all year to put on the show and in a blink of a eye my grandmother Would say “it’s over already”. I grew up around comic com and meet many people over the years but Shel was a great family friend and will always be loved.

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Louis French II May 11, 2011 at 12:17 am

I stumbled on your post by accident. Tom was my uncle. My dad was his older brother. Who is your mother, Betty?

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Robert Linker March 12, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Hello Mr. Louis French. Tom was my Grandfather as well. Yes Betty is Davids mother. My Mother was Martina. A lot of the family members would love to get ahold of you. I realize this is a shot in the dark, but if you see this, please E-mail me at flatt_l@yahoo.com Thank you Sincerely, Robert Linker.

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Jean Schulz November 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I send my condolences to Shel family and friends. Shel was always a great help to me when I needed information after Sparky died. I remember Shel’s hospitality to us at Comic Con ’74 in San Diego (at the El Cortez, I believe).

I know how much Sparky liked “talking comics” with Shel. Shel became an expert in what he did and Sparky enjoyed his perspective on the comic’s scene. Comic Con owes him a great debt. Shel will be missed.

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Charlie Roberts October 27, 2009 at 1:21 pm

My first personal contact with Shel came in April 1983. My wife Joan and I had driven from our home in York, Pa to the Cartoon Museum in Connecticut for a chalk talk by Milton Caniff ( Caniff had sent me my First original, a “Steve Canyon” daily, in 1966 and I wanted to thank him again). He gave a wonderful chalk talk, including an incredible “Dragon Lady”. When we got home I wrote him about the possibility of a Dragon Lady sketch and sent $ 40, which was all we could afford. We received a great full color Dragon Lady drawing from Caniff and, by separate mail, a color photo of Caniff holding our art from Shel. I’d read Shel’s interview columns for “The Buyer’s Guide”, but didn’t know him at all. The icing on the cake: it turned out that Shel and SD Comic-con dealer table organizer Tom French were doing a video interview with Caniff at his Palm Springs home, and Caniff did our drawing on the video ( it doesn’t get much better than this for a collector !). In July 1983 we had a table at Comic-con. Our goal was to raise $ 800 so we could move to San Diego. We made $ 850, and the Monday after the con we rented a tiny apartment on Voltaire Street, not knowing Shel lived a block and a half away. We got to Ocean Beach August 15, 1983 and I called Shel. We quickly became friends. Within one year: Shel had hired me to rule the lines for Shel’s lettering on “Steve Canyon” and hired Joan to transcribe his interviews, thus giving us our First paychecks in California until we could get more permanent work. I accompanied Shel on several interview trips as unofficial photographer and “gas chipper inner”. Highlights included: George McManus’ long time assistant on “Bringing Up Father” Zeke Zekley, Norman Maurer ( who was married to 3 Stooges Moe Howard’s daughter Joan Howard Maurer), Brad Anderson of “Marmaduke”, and…..Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Blackthorne’s ” Siegel and Shuster: Dateline 1930’s” books. Another perk: Milton Caniff had been invited to Mary Martin’s birthday dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel in L.A. He couldn’t go and Shel couldn’t go, so I was asked to go ….Wowzer!). I rented a tuxedo and drove my little beat up VW to L.A. and parked discreetly around the corner from all the limousines. Attendees included: James Stewart, Gene Autry, Fred MacMurray, Florence Henderson, June Haver, Danny Thomas, Rita Moreno, Robert Preston, Larry Hagman, and Walter Annenburg. I collected autographs, took photos, and could barely eat dinner (!). On a more personal level, I’ve always been a frustrated cartoonist due to a serious lack of basic drawing skills. I came up with “Baby Thid”, a lisping baby going on 40 years old, in a few notes to my wife. I showed it to Shel, and he helped get me started on a modest (very modest !) cartooning career. “Baby Thid Thez” was published as a panel cartoon in the free bi-weekly Point Loma-OB “Beacon” newspaper between 1984 and 1986. I did the gags ( emphasis on “gag” !), simple roughs, and the lettering . Shel was the inker. In 1986 Shel took me to an early meeting of the “Southern California Cartoonist Society” (S.C.C.S.). Founded by Jim “Jimbo” Whiting ( who has had over 12,000 cartoons published!), Shel designed the logo. I’m still a proud member some 23 years later with Karyl Miller as our President……and I still can’t draw too well ! I apologize for going on way too long here, but feel it’s important to honor friends while they are still with us. All of the above happened thanks to Shel, and I’m just One person whose life he affected. The influence of Comic-con on Popular Culture is enormous. Life long friendships have been made, huge deals have been made, and kids have become lifelong comic collectors. Long time friend and noted illustrator Matt Lorentz spent most of this years Comic-con getting sketches and greetings on a large Get Well art board. Shel is still with us this Tuesday Oct. 27. His great younger brother Mike is maintaining a vigil at Shel’s bedside, and things look grim after a long hospital stay but I continue to Thank Shel every day and hold out hope. Thank you for hosting this site. Respectfully, Charlie Roberts

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Shelley Horwitz October 26, 2009 at 12:00 am

I am Shel’s cousin-once-removed and I am so grateful to have learned of this website and to have read the tributes. Shel is my mother’s first cousin and I grew up with his creative, home-made birthday and other congratulatory cards as well as with his stories of the comic world and the annual San Diego convention. My first airplane trip, as a young girl, was from Phoenix to San Diego to visit the Dorfs. Shel and his parents gave me first class treatment including daily, scenic tours of San Diego. Shel loved San Diego and his friends and, most of all, sharing his passion for comics with everyone. Thank you so much for honoring him in this manner and for giving me even more insight into his world at a time when we are all thinking of him.

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Mike Rossi October 13, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I knew Shel Dorf from about 1998 to 2006 when I was his neighbor about three blocks away from his cottage in Ocean Beach in San Diego. I got to know him quite well as I would frequently drive him around to help him with his shopping and running errands.

I can certainly confirm what others have said about his generosity in sharing his contacts with others. Early in our friendship he gave me Jim Steranko’s phone number as he knew that I absolutely idolized Jim. That first call I made to Jim just put me on Cloud Nine!

And Steranko wasn’t the only one. Shel introduced me to so many people in the industry that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and he was always the class act, taking care to present me to these heavyweights as if I were an equal, even though I was nothing more than a diehard fan.

I had the honor of walking around with Shel at the last Con he went to, which I believe was about 2003. We couldn’t walk more than 10 yards without someone shouting, “Hey, Shel”. I was absolutely astounded at who came up to him. I remember saying things like, “My god, you’re Mike Royer! Holy Hannah, you’re Carmine Infantino!” We had lunch that day at the Spaghetti Factory where I sat next to Forry Ackerman at a table of about twenty fans and insiders alike. Surrounding us were several other tables of industry people who all made a point of coming up to Shel to say hi.

That was the thing about Shel. He didn’t hesitate to bring renowned artist and humble fan together at all. I remember that he often said that the comic artist and writer worked in solitude, rarely coming in contact with the fan and getting the acclaim they deserved. He firmly believed in bringing the two together and never tried to ‘hog’ the major players to himself.

I’ll be forever grateful for the time I knew Shel. Whatever is in store for him, I wish him peace, contentment, and happiness.

– Mike Rossi

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Robert Beerbohm October 9, 2009 at 11:54 am

I first met Shel at the very first “real” comicon multi-day event.

Twas at either the US Grant, or the San Diego Union, can’t remember which was which first right about now as I type these words, the following year it was at the other, the 3rd at El Cortez, which i never stayed at, opting for the slightly cheaper motels across the street, so I could have more bucks to buy more stuff from more dealer tables, heading home almost on gas fumes, happy in the memories of another successful Comicon.

Right from the get-go, Shel was bringing in guests which made San Diego a must-go-to city for any comics & film fans – and the show grew over time into a gathering of the tribes for popular culture world wide in scope and still growing.

will come back here and write more about the one man who put it all together to show the path for all those comicon worker bees who were younger than him, mostly all still friends of mine to this day, too bad Shel will probably never be able to read these tributes to him which will grow over time.

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Russ Maheras October 8, 2009 at 9:26 pm

My direct association with Shel Dorf came in 1996, when I was working on a Steve Canyon/USAF 50th anniversary project (more on that later). Compared to many of his other friends and associates, this was very late in the game. But even though I had never met or talked to him before that time, I felt as if I already knew him.

Why? The answer is simple. In addition to every other comics-related activity he was involved with, Shel had a regular interview column in “The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom” (now “Comics Buyer’s Guide”) titled “Shel Dorf and the Fantasy Makers.” I read his column religiously, because, at the time, it was THE premier forum for interviews of professional creators involved with the popular culture industry.

Shel’s first column was published in TBG #163, Dec. 31, 1976, and featured a seven-page interview with Jack Katz of “First Kingdom” fame. Over the next four years, Shel interviewed more than 35 other popular culture luminaries, including Charles Schulz, Harrison Ford, Jack Kirby, Milton Caniff, Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Chester Gould, Neal Adams, Bob Kane, Max Allan Collins, Noel Sickles, Mort Walker, Walter Koenig, and many others.

When I was making preliminary plans in 1996 to pitch a Steve Canyon/USAF 50th anniversary comic book to senior Air Force officials at the Pentagon, tentatively scheduled to be published the following year, I contacted Shel early on in the project because of his long association with the late Milton Caniff – including 10 years as letterer of Caniff’s storied “Steve Canyon” strip. Shel loved the twin anniversary idea and could not have been more helpful – providing contacts and moral support. And while the comic book project never came to pass, I still managed to bring to fruition a very nice Steve Canyon/USAF 50th anniversary comic strip that was published by the weekly newspaper, “Air Force Times,” on June 23, 1997, in a special full-color USAF 50th anniversary magazine supplement.

After Shel saw the finished anniversary strip, he sent me a wonderful note that read, “Splendid job on the 50th remembrance Sunday page you wrote and illustrated. Milt would’ve been pleased and flattered that you put so much work into it. Since he’s not here to tell you, I hope you will accept MY thanks.”

Great guy, and class act all the way!

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Trevor Kimball October 8, 2009 at 6:03 pm

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Shel in person but he’s one of those people that I almost feel like I know because of his many accomplishments. I read his great interviews and articles in the Comic Buyer’s Guide and other places for many years. Like most comic strip fans, I drooled over his recollections of working with Milton Caniff.

When I was 14, I started a Dick Tracy fanzine, in the prehistoric pre-Internet days, called The Crimestopper’s Textbook (what else?). I sent some to Shel. He seemed so genuinely appreciative and complimentary that it spurred me on to continue and to make the cheap little photocopied thing as good as it could be.

Shel even sent me some clippings and free copies of the Tracy book series he was doing at the time. For a kid my age to receive great stuff like that from a pro — inside envelopes covered with Shel-drawn Tracy characters, no less. Well, I was on cloud nine for days and still have every one.

My prayers and thoughts go out to you Shel. Thank you for all you’ve given to the comics community.

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David Scroggy October 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

Great idea to create this site. I’ll put together some posts.

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Mike October 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Thanks, Dave. We’ll look forward to hearing from you again.

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