Artist Brent Anderson Remembers Shel Dorf – Comics’ Greatest Friend

November 16, 2009

Somerset Holmes is ©1983-2009 by Bruce Jones Associates. Artwork ©1983-2009 by Brent Anderson. All rights reserved.

Somerset Holmes is ©1983-2009 by Bruce Jones Associates. Artwork ©1983-2009 by Brent Anderson. All rights reserved.

I was saddened to hear of Shel Dorf’s passing. Shel loved and tirelessly promoted comics, usually to people who generally considered comics were for either children or juvenile delinquents or the mentally deficient. We who were artists knew better than to try and educate people to the wonderfulness of our avocation, but thank God Shel didn’t.

From 1983 to 1990 I lived in San Diego in Pacific Beach, just north of where Shel lived in Ocean Beach. One day Shel called to ask me if I would like to display some of my comics art at an outdoor art show being set up near him. I had attended “normal” art shows before and had no desire to display my comics art in them, but Shel was insistent, and truly felt it was all of our responsibility to promote and elevate the relevance and artistic stature of comics and comics art to the general public. I agreed to participate provided I could display a couple of my Somerset Holmes cover paintings.

During the day, people wandered past, looked at the work and moved on. A few asked questions like “Did you draw this?” and when I affirmed I had, they would make comment: “I didn’t know they still made comics.” “I thought machines drew comics.”

About half way through the day one young woman stopped in front of my cover art to Somerset Holmes #1. I had placed a copy of the published comic book on the easel to show the piece in its comic book context. The woman stared at the painting for awhile, then looked closely at the comic book cover, then stepped back to view the painting at a distance, then picked up the comic book and held it up to the painting, apparently comparing the two. When she set the comic book back on the easel she turned to me and said, “Did you paint this?” I said yes. Just before walking away she said, “It’s very good. It looks exactly like the cover of the magazine”! Shel and I had a good laugh over that!

Uncle Shel was right. There was a lot of work to be done to educate the general public on what a treasure the community had in comics, and Shel worked very hard all of his life to that end. I thank Shel for his undying devotion to comics and comics creators.

Brent Anderson at Ocean Beach Art Show (Photo by Shel Dorf)

Brent Anderson at Ocean Beach Art Show (Photo by Shel Dorf)

Shel introduced me to and/or arranged audiences with Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz and Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Will Eisner and Burne Hogarth, Daws Butler, June Foray, Bob Clampett and Sergio Aragones, Forry Ackerman (and his incredible Acker Mansion), Ray Bradbury and Joe Shuster, Chuck Norris, Kirk Alyn, Walter Koenig, Harlan Ellison and George Clayton Johnson. The list of great people I met through Shel and the San Diego Comic-Con is truly unbelievable. What a legacy he has left us! I am honored to have known him, proud to call him friend and grateful to him for talking me into that art show!

Be well, Shel.

Visit Brent Anderson’s web site at http://www.brentandersonart.com/.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phil Yeh November 18, 2009 at 12:47 pm

The pieces by Matt Lorentz and Brent Anderson today both really captured why Shel was so important to our field. When the world really gets a chance to know what this man did “behind the scenes” to help so many of us get to know other professionals and this “business”, they will have a better appreciation for the founder of Comic-Con than just that one title.

I believe that Shel’s story can be an inspiration to people throughout the world. Shel loved and promoted cartoons and comics and the people who made them but his example of mentoring young artists and of sharing contacts can be applied to any field anywhere in the world. If young people do not have mentors who can help them when they are just starting their careers, we are all lost. As Matt put it so beautifully, “before the internet, there was Shel”.

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