Shel Dorf

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Shel Dorf
Shel Dorf (2085929919) (cropped).jpg
Dorf in April 1988
Born Sheldon Dorf
(1933-07-05)July 5, 1933
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died November 3, 2009(2009-11-03) (aged 76)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Area(s) comic book convention pioneer, letterer
Notable works
San Diego Comic-Con International
Steve Canyon (lettering only)
Awards Inkpot Award, 1975

Sheldon "Shel" Dorf (July 5, 1933 November 3, 2009) was an American comic book enthusiast and the founder of the San Diego Comic-Con International.[1][2][3] Dorf was also a freelance artist and graphic designer, who lettered the Steve Canyon comic strip for the last 12 to 14[4] years of the strip's run.[3][5]


Early life[edit]

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Dorf was a fan of comic books and comic strips, particularly Chester Gould's work on the daily strip Dick Tracy.[2][6]

Dorf studied at Chicago's Art Institute before moving to New York and beginning his career as a freelancer in the field of commercial design.[2] In the 1960s, Dorf had made the acquaintance of a number of creators working in the two fields, among them Jack Kirby, upon whom Dorf would occasionally call.[7]


In 1964 back in Detroit, teenager Robert Brusch organised a convention for fans of the comics medium, which Dorf and Jerry Bails, the "father of comics fandom," attended.[6] The next year Dorf and Bails took over the event, christening it the "Detroit Triple Fan Fair" (referring to fantasy literature, fantasy films, and comic art)[8] and organizing it as an annual event. The Detroit Triple Fan Fair (DTFF) is credited as being the first regularly held convention featuring comic books as a major component.[9] Dorf went on to produce the DTFF in 1967[10] and 1968 as well.

In 1970, Dorf moved to San Diego, California,[11] to take care of his aging parents. Almost immediately, he organized a one-day convention "as a kind of 'dry run' for the larger convention he hoped to stage,"[3] with Forrest J Ackerman as the star attraction.

Dorf's first three-day San Diego comics convention, the Golden State Comic-Con,[11] was held at the U. S. Grant Hotel[11] from August 1–3, 1970.[12] It would eventually grow into the San Diego Comic-Con International,[13] now considered the standard bearer for U.S. comic conventions. The convention moved in subsequent years to the El Cortez Hotel; the University of California, San Diego; and Golden Hall, before settling into the San Diego Convention center in 1991.[14]

Later endeavors[edit]

As "'Founding Father' of San Diego Comic-Con," Dorf received an Inkpot Award at the 1975 San Diego Comic-Con.[15]

In 1984 Dorf began compilation and editing of the Dick Tracy comic strips in comic book format for Blackthorne Publishing, "proudly"[16] publishing ninety-nine issues and collecting the material again in twenty-four collections.[16]

Chester Gould's daughter, Jean Gould O'Connell credits Dorf with bringing "Tracy out to another generation."[16] Comics historian Mark Evanier said Caniff "honored Shel by making him into a character. It was a well-meaning football player named "Thud Shelley" who appeared a few times in the Canyon strip. Jack Kirby also made Shel into a character ... a father figure named Himon who appeared in Mister Miracle.[3] In 1990, Dorf was employed as a consultant on Warren Beatty's big-screen adaptation of Dick Tracy.[2][17]

Dorf would also contribute interviews to the comics press and movie collector magazines (including for The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom [TBG] and Film Collector's World), and his conversations with Milton Caniff and Mort Walker have both been collected in the University Press of Mississippi's Milton Caniff: Conversations and Mort Walker: Conversations respectively. His interview with Wally Wood (among the few to see print) for TBG was reprinted in Comic Book Artist #14 (July 2001).


Dorf died aged 76 on November 3, 2009, from diabetes-related complications[18] in Sharp Memorial Hospital, San Diego. He was survived by his brother Michael.[19]

Shel Dorf Awards[edit]

Since 2010, the Shel Dorf Awards have been presented at conventions in Michigan, including Detroit Fanfare and C4 (the Cherry Capital Comic Con).[20]


  1. ^ "Founder of San Diego Comic-Con dies at 76", Associated Press, 4 November 2009. Accessed 4 November 2009. Archived 4 November 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Spurgeon, Tom. "Shel Dorf, 1933-2009", The Comics Reporter (self-published), 4 November 2009. Accessed 4 November 2009. Archived 4 November 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d Evanier, Mark, "[1]", POV Online (self published), November 3, 2009. Accessed 4 November 2009. Archived 4 November 2009.
  4. ^ Although R.C. Harvey gives it as 12 years in the 2002 Milton Caniff: Conversations, Mark Evanier states 14 in his 2009 tribute to Dorf.
  5. ^ Caniff, Milton and Harvey, R.C., Milton Caniff: Conversations, University Press of Mississippi, 2002, p88. ISBN 1-57806-438-4
  6. ^ a b "Historian Collects Comics: They Are Works of Art," Detroit News (1965).
  7. ^ Morrow, John and Kirby, Jack. Collected Jack Kirby Collector: Volume 2 of The Collected Jack Kirby Collector, Morrow, John ed. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2004, p 48. ISBN 1-893905-01-2
  8. ^ Detroit Triple Fan Fair program book (Detroit Triple Fan Fair, 1972).
  9. ^ Henrickson, Eric. "New comic convention, Detroit Fanfare, coming this fall," Detroit News blog (July 7, 2010).
  10. ^ Thompson, Maggie. Newfangles #2 (May 1967), p. 2.
  11. ^ a b c "Founder of Comic-Con Dies at 76", City News Service via, November 4, 2009
  12. ^ Rowe, Peter. "Obituary: Sheldon Dorf; Comic-Con co-founder, The San Diego Union-Tribune / Sign On San Diego, November 4, 2009
  13. ^ Harvey, Robert C. The Art of the Comic Book, University Press of Mississippi, 1996, p47. ISBN 0-87805-758-7
  14. ^ Malloy, Elizabeth (2008-04-18). "Charting Comic-Con's Hulk-like growth". The Daily Transcript. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  15. ^ "Comic-Con International's Inkpot Awards",, 2009. Accessed 4 November 2009. Archived 4 November 2009.
  16. ^ a b c Gould O'Connell, Jean and Locher, Dick. Chester Gould: A Daughter's Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy, McFarland, 2007, p.203. ISBN 0-7864-2825-2
  17. ^ John Wilkens (16 July 2006). "Comic-Con's Dorf watches sadly from the sidelines as T-shirts trump talent". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 27 May 2013. When Warren Beatty turned Dick Tracy into a movie in 1990, Dorf was a consultant. 
  18. ^ "RIP Sheldon Dorf, San Diego Comic-Con Co-Founder". DreadCentral. 
  19. ^ "Shel Dorf dies at 76; architect behind San Diego's Comic-Con". Los Angeles Times. November 6, 2009. 
  20. ^ Shel Dorf Awards official site. Accessed Feb. 9, 2016.

External links[edit]