Shel Dorf, comics fan, letterer, and the driving force behind the early years of the San Diego Comic-Con, passed away yesterday from complications related to diabetes. He was 76.

Growing up in Detroit, the young Dorf organized fan gatherings and conventions, including the “Triple Fan Fest”, an interest he took with him when he moved to California in the late Sixties. Together with Ken Krueger and other enthusiasts, Dorf put on what become the mighty San Diego Comic-Con. As Mark Evanier writes in a personal reminiscence:

It was his friendship with so many heroes that led him to help put on the Detroit Triple Fan-Fairs in the sixties and then, when he moved to San Diego, to rally fans there to start something similar. I met him in late 1969 or maybe early 1970, shortly before a one-day con that he organized as a kind of “dry run” for the larger convention he hoped to stage. He was enthusiastic. He was optimistic. He was passionate, not just about the convention but about the wonders that could occur just by assembling so many talented creators and fans in the same building. As it turned out, he was right.

Dorf remained Chairman or president of the show for many years, although he was estranged from the show and those running it in recent years. His health had been poor for quite a while, and he was hospitalized for the last year of his life; he died with his brother Michael at his side.

Dorf was also the letterer for Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon newspaper strip for the last 14 years of its run, something he was very very proud of, and he was the inspiration for the character Thud Shelley. Jack Kirby, with whom Dorf is pictured above, on the right, included him in Mister Miracle as Himon.

There’s a Shel Dorf Tribute website, which was set up during his illness, with remembrances of the early days of the con, photos and more. The Comics Reporter and The San Diego Tribune have further obituaries.


  1. Wow –

    I’m stunned.

    When I was living in Ocean Beach, Ca for a brief period of time back in 1992 and 1993, I’d always used to run into him at the local San Diego area comic shops in Point Loma. I always knew when I was walking by his house when I saw a pane of glass with a silhouette of Dick Tracy in his living room window.

    We always struck up a conversation about the magic of volunteering for the con.

    I’ll definitely miss him.



  2. Evanier’s obit closed with this: Those of us who care about comics are forever in his debt.

    Such as this fan: I’d like to thank him and all those other SD local comic books/sf/movie ‘freaks and geeks’ who created something that’s been a touchstone of my summer for the last 20+ years… and hopefully even more so in the future! RIP

  3. I used to hang out with Shel at Caps meetings in the 80s. He was a familiar, friendly face, as Coat recalls. He definitely created something that will outlast him.

  4. So what’s the story behind his leaving his own baby to other creative forces? O.o

    And in the latter years of recent, was he bitter, happy, etc….?

  5. I first met Shel while serving in the U.S. Navy, stationed at NAS Miramar in San Diego, having just returned from Vietnam. I first contacted Richard Alf who was advertising comics for sale in Marvel and he invited me to a meeting where I met Shel and so many others who would be instrumental in organizing what was then known as Golden State Comic-Con. I was so busy on base that my first responsibilities were as security, which, essentially, meant sleeping on the floor to guard merchandise in the dealer’s room and meeting hall.

    Shel was always enthusiastic about comics, but he also loved films. In fact, every year he sent an invitation to Joan Crawford to attend, but she always politely declined. An autographed phot of Joan was one of Shel’s prized possesions. Yet, Shel’s enthusiasm rubbed off on all of us and, in addition to working hard to achieve a better show each year, we all had fun in what we were doing. After all, each of us got to meet our various idols, whether they were involved in the worlds of comics, film or science fiction/fantasy/horror.

    I know that most of us who were there in the beginning will forever remember Shel as the “Founding Father” of Comic-Con.