When the San Diego Comic-Con International opens its annual run at the Convention
Center Wednesday night, Shel Dorf won't be there.
The man widely considered the founder of the convention is 73. The last time he went,
several years ago, he was in a wheelchair because of diabetes and he couldn't make his
way through the throng.
LAURA EMBRY / Union-Tribune
A drawing of Comic-Con founder Shel Dorf is on a wall of fame at the Palm Restaurant in
downtown San Diego.
“We had no idea it would get this big,” he said in a recent phone interview. “To me, it's just
become an ordeal. I don't know of any way to make it smaller, though. I guess in some
ways it's become too much of a success.”
He isn't bitter, not publicly anyway. He figures he had his run. He was actively involved in
the convention for the first 15 years, using contacts he'd built from a lifetime of loving the
comics to bring some of the industry's biggest names to San Diego.
The convention also helped him get more work as an artist and a writer and enhanced his
reputation as a historian of comics. When Warren Beatty turned Dick Tracy into a movie
in 1990, Dorf was a consultant.
But now, being in the background is fine with him. He declined to be interviewed in
person at his Ocean Beach home. “I'm not seeing people,” he said.
Comic-Con's creator SCCS' own Shel Dorf
Thanks Shel !
by Charlie Roberts
the San Diego Comic-Con but had never been able to attend. I'd
also read pieces by Shel and seen photos he'd taken, but never
In April 1983 my wife Joan and I drove from Pa. to the "Cartoon
Museum" when it was still in in Connecticut for a chalk talk by "
Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon" comic strip creator
Milton Caniff. The presentation was excellent, and Caniff was
incredibly gracious, signing autographs and talking to everyone.
During the chalk talk he had done an incredible "Dragon Lady" in
color. When we got home I wrote Caniff, inquiring about
commissioning a color "Dragon Lady" for the collection and
sending him the incredible amount of $ 40 (well, $ 40 in 1983 would
be equal to $ 42 today!). A few weeks later we received a great
specially done "Dragon Lady" original from Caniff, and within a day
or two Shel sent us a superb color photo he'd taken of Caniff with
our drawing. It turns out Shel and Tom French happened to be
doing a video interview with Caniff in Palm Springs when Caniff
received our request . The video actually shows Caniff doing our
art (Ta Daa !).
We moved to San Diego in August 1983 and, wanting to be near the
ocean, moved to Ocean Beach not realizing we were just around
the corner from Shel. We soon became friends, and Shel gave us
our first paychecks. I had a part-time job ruling the lines for Shel's
lettering on "Steve Canyon", and Joan transcribed some of Shel's
I also went along as unofficial photographer on several trips with
Shel. Highlights included : "
"Superman" creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for "Superman"
creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Blackthorne's "Dateline
1930's" book, and the home studios of Sergio Aragones, Zeke
Zekley ( who was George McManus' assistant on " Bringing Up
Father" from 1935 to 1954), Norman Maurer ( who was married to
"Three Stooge" Moe Howard's daughter Joan ), and Brad
"Marmaduke" Anderson. Shel also took me to my first "Southern
California Cartoonist Society" meeting in late 1986, where I first
met Jimbo Whiting and Paul Norris.
late 1986, where I first met Jimbo Whiting and Paul Norris.
In the early 1980's I'd come up with a cartoon panel idea based on
a sketch I'd done for my wife : "Baby Thid Thez", a lisping baby
going on 40 years old. Frankly, I can't draw too well so I would write
the gag, do a "rough" (real rough !!!!) and letter the panel. I
showed it to Shel, and we worked on it together for a year or so.
Shel inked everything but "Thid's " head. "Baby Thid" ran for 2 +
years in the Ocean Beach "Beacon".
block and a half from the beach, visiting movie stars and
legendary cartoonists, and I had a cartoon being published in a
newspaper... 90% of which was due to Shel Dorf !