Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remembering Shel Dorf

I'm a bit embarrassed to have not posted this sooner (partly because I was trying to track down the graphic above to include with this blog), but I thought it was important to mark the passing of Shel Dorf, who died this past November. Shel was the quintessential comics fan: he was fully committed to boosting comics as an artform (and way before it was fashionably to do so!) and was a major contributor to what today is comics fandom. While he would be the first to say that he was foremost a fan, he also served as an industry professional, serving as the letterer of one of his idols, Milton Caniff, for the last 14 years of Caniff's adventure strip, Steve Canyon.

In the days when fandom was a much smaller concern, he helped build a sense of community among fans and, due to his work befriending of the many comics professionals he admired, he bridged a connection between cartoonists and comic-book artists and the fans. The friendships he formed with many great cartoonists enabled him to invite them to attend the earliest comic-book shows, which have become the template for nearly all subsequent conventions. His legacy is nowhere more apparent than in the San Diego Comic-Con, which he often is credited with founding (or at least co-founding), and played a major role in its development, growth and character in its early years. Although Shel became somewhat disappointed into what Comic-Con had morphed into, the strong intermingling among fans and professionals at the show are part of Shel's legacy.

There are others who can speak more knowledgeably about his legacy and impact, and I have linked to them below. Though I didn't know Shel as well as I could have, I'm glad to say that I did know him and that he was a fan of my work.

If I recall correctly, knowing his connection to Caniff, I initially reached out to him by sending him copies of Rob Hanes Adventures, mentioning that my work was inspired by Caniff. He sent me back a very kind note and after that we stayed in touch periodically.

Though reports state he had not attended the San Diego Comic-Con since 2000 partly for health reasons, I occasionally saw him at the show in some earlier years. He often introduced me to new artists and asked me to give them advice and critique their work.

One year at Comic-Con, Shel even invited me to join him and several others for a dinner in honor of several Golden Age cartoonists. I was honored to be asked to attend.

I'm glad to know that many of Shel's peers acknowledged him and his contributions to comics in his final months, and that his achievements are receiving the recognition they deserve now that he has passed on.

Included with this tribute above is a scan of a holiday card to me from Shel. (As mentioned above, this blog was partly delayed because I wanted to include this scan with this card!)

Additional Links:

Shel Dorf Tribute Page
Shel Dorf in his own words
Comic-Con Tribute
Coverage at the Beat
Coverage at the Comics Reporter
Mark Evanier tribute
San Diego Union Tribune Obituary

R.C. Harvey Tribute (from the Comics Journal website)


David Porta said...

Good post. I had no idea of his contribution to comic conventions until I moved to the west coast.

For me, Phil Sueling in NYC in the late '60s and early '70s had been the father of the modern comic book convention, with panel discussions featuring big-name pros (writers, arists, publishers, e.g. Jim Warren, Frazetta, Al Williamson, Lee, Kirby, Aragones, Steranko, Neal Adams), dealers room, all-night movies, ACBA Awards, $35 Luncheon (couldn't afford it) honoring some pro (it was Caniff one year), etc.

But Phil had the advantage of the industry at that time being centered in the NYC area. I was lucky enough to have grown up in the suburbs. My first Seuling Con was July 1968 when I was 14.

That Shel was able to build Comic Con in such a far-flung place as San Diego, which was *not* a comics industry town by any stretch, was simply *amazing*!

I first learned Dorf's name from a June Foray interview he had in The Buyer's Guide for Comics Fandom circa 1979, when I was in grad school at Virginia Tech.

I landed in California in 1982, connected with L.A. fandom (Golden Apple Comics, the monthly L.A. convention at the Ambassador Hotel, which was lame compared to the Seuling Cons), but moved to Sacramento in 1984 (Sac Con, 2-3 times a year, similar to the L.A. con, being small potatoes, just a dealer-con, essentially), and it was not until 1992 that I discovered San Diego Con, through Christian friend Don Ensign who had been attending since back in the 1970s. My earliest San Diego Cons (1992, 1994, 1996, etc) were a delight, so filled with all the things I had remembered from the Seuling NYC Cons.

San Diego Con had become and still is *the* premier comic book convention. Dorf did it.

Will Clausen said...

I got one of those cards too...I had the honor of going to Kirby's house and Hogarth's with Shel,..I worked for him ( Steve Canyon assist.), and he worked for me..(Leprechaun letterer)..but, best of all...we were friends...thanks for remembering him.....William Clausen.