Airport Aviation Mural Honors Shel Dorf

June 14, 2011

Shel Dorf in panel six of the "The Sky's the Limit!" mural

Shel Dorf in panel six of the "The Sky's the Limit!" mural

"The Sky's the Limit!" mural

"The Sky's the Limit!" mural (Click for larger image.)

The new cartoon art mural titled “The Sky’s the Limit!” at San Diego’s International Airport was unveiled on Memorial Day weekend 2011 and pays homage to San Diego’s rich aviation and comic art histories. A caricature of Comic-Con Founder Shel Dorf and airborne characters Steve Canyon, Snoopy, and Phil Yeh’s Winged Tiger are featured along side cartooned versions of pilots and aircraft from Lindbergh Field . This tribute to the friendly skies and imagination is located on the Sky Bridge at Terminal 1.

(Click on thumbnail images below to view full-size images.)

It was created in Adobe Illustrator by 19 cartoonists hailing from San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Colorado, Austin, and Hawaii. The artwork was printed and installed by Brett O’Connell and Robert Garrison at Quantum Digital Imaging in San Diego. Non-toxic, biodegradable latex based inks were screened onto vinyl to produce the final print. Inspired by the murals of friend Phil Yeh, the idea for this mural sprung from the imaginations of Greg Koudoulian and Richard Alf, founders of The Official Shel Dorf FanClub and Entourage. They contacted artist and mural art director Matt Lorentz, who enlisted 16 other cartoonists and illustrators, as well as the studios of the late comic greats Charles Schulz and Milt Caniff, to collaborate on the cartoon jam piece. The mural will be up until 2012.

Both Charles Lindbergh and Shel Dorf serve as bookends to the mural. Lindbergh is in a similar pose as he appears in the long standing Lindbergh Wall at the airport. Both Lindbergh and Dorf were born in Detroit and later called San Diego home. Lindbergh’s mother was a teacher at Cass Technical High School, where Shel later graduated with a major in commercial art. Shel founded the San Diego Comic Con in 1969 and in 1974 his good friends Charles Schulz and Milton Caniff attended as Guests of Honors.

Writer-artist Milton Caniff’s pilot character Steve Canyon appears in the mural. Steve Canyon was often described as the “unofficial spokesman” for the Air Force. Shel Dorf lettered the Steve Canyon comic strip and even appeared in cartoon form as a football player named Thud Shelly in the adventure strip, which ran from 1947 to 1988. Prior to his work on Steve Canyon, Milt drew the world famous Terry and the Pirates series. Caniff was also one of the founders of the National Cartoonists Society. Shel often referred to Milt as “the Rembrandt of Comics.”

In 1969 the Apollo 10 lunar module was nicknamed “Snoopy” and the command module “Charlie Brown” thus the two iconic characters by legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz became semi-official mascots for the mission. Schulz also drew special mission-related artwork for NASA, as well as several daily strips involving the historic moon mission. Snoopy, piloting his “Sopwith Camel” (aka his doghouse), is featured in the logo of Charles M. Schulz- Sonoma County Airport. This exact same image is the one featured in The Sky’s the Limit! mural. Charles Schulz’s Peanuts proved to be the most popular and influential comic in the history of the medium and is still widely reprinted on a daily basis.

Cartoonist Phil Yeh drew a tribute to Del Mar’s popular hot air balloons. Yeh began his professional career in 1970 in Southern California shortly after attending the very first San Diego Comic Con. In 1977 he wrote, illustrated and published one of the first modern American graphic novels, Even Cazco Gets the Blues. To date, Phil has written and illustrated over 80 published books. Phil founded Cartoonists Across America & The World in 1985 after being inspired by Wally Amos to do something about the literacy crisis on the planet. They have painted more than 1700 murals in 49 states in the United States as well as more than a dozen countries working with some of the most talented artists on the planet to promote reading and the arts.

San Diego illustrator Ari Wells created, Spacey, an alien-spacecraft toon to emphasize the sci-fi culture of Comic-Con. She included the initials of the Official Shel Dorf Fan Club and Entourage on the spaceship.

Tony Gleeson’s biplane is a composite of several classic planes that conveys the sense of fearless gusto of early aviators, complete with flamboyant scarf and attitude– something that would fit in well with the spirit of Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel, Lindy in his Spirit of St. Louis, or any of those countless fearless pioneers who leaped into the skies with bravado– for that matter, even a more modern Steve Canyon in his Air Force jet. Tony also was delighted to participate in honoring and remembering his friend Shel Dorf, a generous, giving gentleman whom he first met in the early 1990s and was proud to call his friend.

R.C. Harvey is a cartoonist and author of The Art of the Funnies, The Art of the Comic Book, and Meanwhile… A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. Harvey’s alter-ego Cahoots the Rabbit appears in the mural.

Encinitas cartoonist Jim Whiting (The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and LOOK) established the Southern California Cartoonists Society (SCCS) locally in 1986. His yellow paper airplane is a tribute to the club and bears the SCCS logo designed by Shel. Jim served as President of SCCS for many years.

Hawaii based cartoonist and art educator Dave Thorne is the creator of the Thorney’s Zoo comic strip which regularly appears in the island’s Sunday Star Advertiser. Dave provided the zoo and sea life characters for this mural as a nod to San Diego’s popular attractions.
Oahu cartoonist Jon J Murakami drew his Dragon of Hawaii character along with an alien and various birds, fish, and a dolphin.

The Wee Bee plane makes an appearance in The Sky’s the Limit! courtesy of action sports artist Matt Lorentz. The all-metal Wee Bee was designed in 1948 at Montgomery Field by San Diegans Karl Montijo, William Chand, and Kenneth Coward. This American ultralight 14 foot 2 inch monoplane was designed and built locally at Beecraft Associates. The Wee Bee is known as “the world’s smallest plane!” and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s lightest aircraft. The Wee Bee also appeared in a 1949 Sunday page of the Smiling Jack comic strip! Matt Lorentz also drew a plane from the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels. The Blue Angels first performed in 1946 and is currently the oldest formal flying aerobatic team, which promotes Navy recruitment and international goodwill.

Sony Online animator Brad Constantine’s glider is flown by John Montgomery, who made the first non-powered flight in Otay Mesa in 1884. Montgomery Field is named after him. A Gibbs biplane is shown being flown by Bill Gibbs, who founded Gibbs’ Air Tours at Montgomery Field. Gibbs flew guests from the 1935 exposition in his plane. Brad also drew Charles Lindbergh and Shel Dorf.

Local artist Dan Bois has produced graphics for the Aerospace Museum in Balboa Park. Bois drew the PBY Catalina, which was produced locally at Consolidated Aircraft. Dan’s Aunt Barbara and her sister Janelle worked there on B-24 bombers during WWII. The Spirit of St Louis is the iconic aircraft built here in San Diego. Officially known as the Ryan NYP (for New York to Paris), the single-engine monoplane was designed by Donald A. Hall of the aircraft manufacturer Ryan Airlines. Bois also drew the P-40 and the P-47-like planes to represent inline and Radial engine WWII fighters used in the area. The pink one is a nod to the women both in aviation like the WASPS and the thousands of women that were in the aviation industry in WWII. When Dan Bois was a young boy traveling down Harbor Drive, he would always see “Pelican Pete” standing on a piling by the bridge near the USS recruit at NTC San Diego.

Jason T. Reyes cartooned a Curtiss Model D Biplane also known as the Curtiss Pusher because the petrol engine and propeller was behind the pilot. The Curtiss Pusher was the first aircraft model that first took off from a ship and the first aircraft to land back on a ship. The Model Ds were purchased by the US Army and Navy as observation aircrafts.

Vista’s own David Lozeau selected the Curtis Biplane for it’s blend of being one of the last of the biplanes. It is an example of a hybrid aircraft, as it combined new and old technology.

Creative thinker and visionary Leonardo da Vinci was the first European interested in a practical solution to flight. He designed a multitude of mechanical devices, including parachutes, and studied the flight of birds. Around 1485 he drew detailed plans for a human-powered ornithopter (a wing-flapping device intended to fly). There is no evidence that he actually attempted to build such a device, although the image he presented was a powerful one. Da Vinci is shown here with his flying machine courtesy of Austin based artist Wardell Brown.

Aerospace Museum and Hall of Champions premiere artist Christopher Paluso has vivid memories from his childhood of hearing jet engines being tested in San Diego. He remembers the local TV News’ reportings of the Convair Pogo and its vertical take off and landing capabilities, which only added to the excitement of seeing its story. It was first tested in late 1954, but after determining that the plane had certain difficulties in controlling flight operations, it was abandoned by the Navy in 1956. Christopher’s choice of the Convair XFY-1 Pogo comes from those experiences and pride of Convair’s contribution to aviation history as a San Diego manufacturing company.

Orange County based children’s book illustrator and surf cartoonist JR Johnson included his tribal trigger fish and illustrator Christina Hall designed the butterflies for the mural!

The above press release and images courtesy of Matt Lorentz.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim December 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm

As Shel had strong ties with Michigan, anyone who has a background in MI comics fandom might want to check out a new page on Facebook at


Barry Alfonso July 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

This is great to see. I wouldn’t have known about it if it hadn’t been for this site. i especially like the tie-in between San Diego’s aviation history and the Comic-Con — both have contributed mightily to the city’s international profile. I’m sure Shel is smiling somewhere over this.


Linda Lorentz June 16, 2011 at 7:34 am

The mural is a great tribute to San Diego’s contribution to the history of aviation. It is a unique welcome to all departing and arriving passengers.


William Clausen June 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

Many thanks to all involved in Shel’s mural,…I was down there with the group,and it is spectacular.


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