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.
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.
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.
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