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 year’s 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.