EXPIRED: 11/03/09 – Sheldon “Shel” Dorf, 76, lived and breathed comics.
When he wasn’t reading them, he was drawing them. When he wasn’t drawing, he was talking about them, sharing them and promoting them. No wonder he started the annual convention that today is a leader in the industry, Comic-Con.
Dorf, a Detroit native, attended the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a freelance art designer in New York. But his life was changed early in 1970, when he helped his parents move from Detroit to pursue their retirement in Southern California. He fell in love with San Diego.
A prominent collector of “Dick Tracy” comics and memorabilia, Dorf had run Detroit’s “Triple Fan Fest,” a convention dedicated to comics, sci-fi science fiction and movies. When he met Ken Krueger, owner of Alert Books in Ocean Beach, they and a band of teenaged enthusiasts began planning something similar for San Diego.
This group organized the first Golden State Comic Con in 1970.
He wasn’t in it for the money. Comics was Dorf’s passion. And when it started to become a business with a capital dollar sign, Dorf walked away.
By the mid-1980s, the convention was becoming the nation’s foremost pop-culture extravaganza. Today, Comic-Con is San Diego’s largest convention, annually drawing 125,000 attendees.
To Dorf that was just too big.
But he often attended the Con to cheer on new comic writers and artists. And they returned the favor. In his “Steve Canyon” strip, Milton Caniff turned Dorf into “Thud Shelley,” a football player. Jack Kirby drew Dorf into his “Mister Miracle” series, as the hero’s mentor, “Himon.” When Warren Beatty filmed “Dick Tracy” in 1990, Dorf was hired as a consultant.
In 2008, Dorf, suffering from diabetes, checked into the hospital. He never returned home.
Last month, members of the first Comic-Con organizing committee visited Dorf at hospice, each with a homemade badge which read, “Shel Dorf Fan Club.”
It was fitting that the fan became the idol.